The Psychopathology of White Anglo Saxon Protestant Supremacy: Part I
How the Psychopathology of Nazi Germany is Similar to that of the United States
Lone Wolf, Troubled Individuals or Mentally Ill White Supremacists?
Almost immediately after Dylan Roof went on trial for the murder of nine people at a prayer meeting in 2015 at the Emanuel African Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a flurry of debate arose as to whether or not the 19-year old self-avowed white supremacist was mentally ill.
In researching for this article, what I found most interesting is that practically every reference I found to Roof framed him as a lone wolf, disturbed young man whose actions were the result of his own individual, personal issues. The debate over his mental condition ranged from somber New York Times articles that reported evidence of Roof being mentally ill had been found in his court records, to highly emotionally arguments against the possibility that Roof was not in any way mentally ill, and carefully crafted middle-of-the-road arguments that attempted to frame him as possibly disturbed, but not psychologically impaired enough to not have to face trial for the murders.
Additionally, although Roof ascribed to white supremacist ideologies, and there was evidence that he contributed content to white supremacist online publications, the link between him and other white supremacists, and the social implications of those links was rarely, if ever, discussed in reference ot his mental condition.
Fragmented, contradictory and sometimes convoluted analyses and opinions served to isolate Dylan Roof within the framework of merely being a disturbed and violent young man. However, by weaving together the ragged threads of these disconnected perspectives, a whole piece of cloth emerges — one whose pattern makes it impossible to separate Roof’s beliefs and actions from a long history of similar thinking and behaviours in the United States.
What Dylan Roof did is not new. The targeted murder of people who are not included in the mythically superior White Anglo Saxon Protestant race has been going on, unabated, since the founding of the United States. Some historical eras have witnessed a lull in this activity. However, it has recently escalated, with over 7,000 violent hate crimes being reported and documented in 2016.
Dylan Roof’s ideologies and actions do not exist in isolation. According to the Southern Povery Law Centre’s (SPLC) Hate Map, his way of thinking is shared by a variety of well-organized groups, which include 22 anti-immigrant, 51 anti-LGBT, 113 anti-Muslim, 10 Holocaust denial, 72 chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, 31 neo-Conferedate, 122 neo-Nazi, 28 neo-Volksih, 71 racist skinhead, and 100 white nationalist organisations. Additionally, the SPLC website contains a section entitled Hate in the White House, which documents incidents of hate in that public office. For the month of January 2019, 16 incidents were recorded.
Other elements in the network of white supremacist communities in the United States include a significant number of online and print publications, publishing houses, radio shows, You Tube channels, community television channels and events.
It is impossible to know the exact number of people involved in these activities, due to the fact that many maintain high levels of secrecy. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)and national, state, and local law enforcement and criminal justice agencies have confidentiality policies which, whilst attempting to protect victims of white supremacist hate crimes, inadvertently support their ability to maintain secrecy by not naming groups and individuals responsible for those crimes. In 2017, the FBI prosecuted 8,437 hate crimes, of which 79.8% of the known offenders identified themselves as white, and nearly 20% were under the age of 18.
Although the figure of 8,437 reported hate crimes may seem a small amount in a nation of over 323,000,000 people, this is only because they are reported annually, as if they exist separately from all the years that came before them. When placed in the context of hundreds of years of continuous hate crime, as well as the genocidal destruction of an estimated 95% of the indigenous population, these crimes are part of an overall pattern of the murder of millions upon millions of people.
There is no way of knowing how many more hate crimes have gone unreported. And, available statistics do not reveal how many of the known hate crimes resulted in the death of the victim or victims. It is only when the media or word of mouth informs us that yet another person has lost their life (or lives) that we are made aware of yet another hate crime murder.
The fact that millions upon millions of people have been consistently murdered by hate crime, throughout the entire history of the United States, makes it clear that white supremacist ideology and its attendant violence is a serious problem.
What is disturbing, but offers an opportunity for enquiry, is that white supremacist ideologies, and hate crimes that result from them, have rarely been analysed in terms of the social or political psychology of the United States. Whenever people like Dylan Roof perpetrate racially motivated violence on others, psychological and psychiatric measurements of the mental condition of individuals like him is restricted to individual analysis and almost never extended to the groups, organisations and communities who believe in those ideologies and/or take action based upon them.
Yet, the empirical methods and tools exist for such enquiries and have been applied to another nation that witnessed atrocities committed by people who adhered to white supremacist beliefs — Nazi Germany.
The Psychopathology of Nazi Germany
In 1947, psychologist Gustave Gilbert and psychiatrist Douglass Kelley collected psychological profile data about 22 Nazis who were being tried at Nuremberg. The practioners utilised empirically proven psychological testing tools of the era — the Thematic Apperception Test, Rorschach Inkblot Test and the German translation of the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Test — to assess whether or not the Nazis were fit to stand trail.
While they concluded that the majority of the Nazis being held at Nuremberg were legally sane enough to stand trial, both practioners wrote books about their findings that presented interesting implications for potential links between psychopathology, notions of white supremacy, and the ability to murder specific persons, whether at the individual or group level.
In his 1950 book, The Psychology of Dictatorship, Gilbert identified three personality types in the Nazis waiting to stand trial at Nuremberg: schizoid, paranoid, and narcissistic. Whether presenting singly, dually, or as all three, these symptoms were ones that Gilbert concluded were pathologies that enabled them to engage in their horrific activities. Gilbert’s theoretical framework emphasises the socio-cultural and political contexts of Nazi Germany, which he asserts was an enabling factor that normalised these psychopathologies.
This normalisation was possible because the social, cultural and political environment of Nazi Germany was one in which intelligence and reason were foregone in favor of a blind deference to the authoritarian, nationalist ideologies that informed the Nazi regime. Gilbert postulated that this type of blind obedience on a mass scale was due to a lack of critical thinking at all levels of society — from the level of education of individuals, to collective ideologies presented in common, everyday media and popular culture, as well as ideas of nationhood promoted by specialised, exclusive levels of government and leadership.
Gilbert’s colleague Kelley’s findings focused mostly on an analysis of the individual psychopathology of each of the 22 Nazis on trial, and the conclusion of his 1947 book Twenty Two at Nuremberg made reference to his own cultural context. Kelley warned that a Nazi-style government was entirely possible in the United States, because this type of government was based upon a socio-cultural disease born of pathologies of narcissism, delusion and paranoia, which he observed at many levels of American society, including individuals, economic and educational institutions, government agencies, and popular culture.
Although Gilbert and Kelley’s findings indicated significant levels of mental illness in the Nazis, both professionals also concluded that their psychopathology did not impair their cognitive functioning. That is, the subjects were fully capable of making decisions, carrying them out, understanding and explaining what they had done, as well as offer justifications for their activities. Both Gilbert and Kelley concluded that the Nazi personality profiles, while psychopathological, did not prevent them from participating in mainstream society, because the society they inhabited supported their mental condition and the action they carried out were considered to be logical and normal ones that citizens should perform in order to preserve the sanctity of their culture, “race” and nation.
During the 1950s, when Gilbert and Kelley were publishing their results and analyses, not many other psychology and psychatry professionals contributed professional opinions about the psychopatholgy of the Nazis who were on trial at Nuremberg. Nor did many take up the question of how Nazi society was a venue in which those mental health conditions, and the activities they produced, were supported. Therefore, very little scientific or intellectual discussion ensued regarding Gilbert’s and Kelley’s findings about the potential that the psychopathology of the 22 Nazis existed within a broader mental illness that formed the basis for creating an entire society. based on ideologies of white supremacy.
However, in the 1970s, clinical psychologist Molly Harrower used a double-blind procedure to have the Rorschach Inkblot Test results collected from the Nazis by Gilbert and Kelley examined by a team of 10 expert psychiatrists.
Harrower’s method was to include the Nazi test results with other Rorschach results that she had collected from clergymen and mental hospital patients. She presented all these tests together, without identifying from whom they had been collected, to the team of experts for analysis. Additionally, Harrower conducted her own analysis of the Nazi test results.
The findings in both Harrower’s and the 10 experts who participated in her double-blind study mirrored that of Gilbert’s and Kelley’s. Harrower found that the all Nazis who took the Rorschach test demonstrated various levels and combinations of psychopathology. What is interesting is that the conclusions of the experts Harrower contracted for the double-blind analysis concluded that, not only did the Nazis show signs of psychopathology, their Rorschach tests also revealed “that Nazi Leaders were seemingly no different from average Americans.” (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/03/nazi).
Same or Different?: Some Brief Considerations
Dr. Harrower was not the only mental health professional who attempted to analyse the psychopathology of the 22 Nazis who were tried and convicted at the Nuremberg trials. In 1975, in their book The Nuremberg Mind: The Psychology of Nazi Leaders, Florence Miele, a psychologist, and Michael Seltzer, a political scientist, conducted what is considered to be the most complete analysis of the Nazi’s Rorschach tests. They concluded that the test results indicated the Nazi leaders were not only individually and collectively psychologically disordered, but that they also shared a common ideology and personality structure with their most devoted followers.
Although Miele and Seltzer’s study presented seminal findings, the psychology of those devoted followers received little attention from the psychological or psychiatric community. It was over 30 years later, that a narrative analysis of interviews of surviving bystanders and sympathizers who were witness to the Nazi atrocities was conducted in 2008 by Kristen Kenwick Monroe, a political scientist who specialises in political psychology. This study concluded that the characteristics that enabled people to either actively participate in supporting the Nazis, or passively stand by whilst they carried out their atrocities, was a relational sense of identity.
That is, the sense of self for these individuals was directed related to the way they perceived others. Their thoughts, feelings and behaviours were influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. In the case of the Nazis, specific groups — Jews, intellectuals, LGBT persons, persons with disabilities, Roma people, and all others who did not fit into the category of an imagined superior White Anglo Saxon race were cognitively classified as threatening “others” who could be dehumanised and acted upon — exiled, deported, treated with violence, and/or murdered — with a sense of moral salience.
Not unlike the Nazi leaders and their loyal followers, Dylan Roof acted on his white supremacist ideologies with a sense of moral salience. For the Nazis, “others” were a threat to them that laid the foundation for the systematic murders of millions of people. Dylan Roof told acquaintances that he believed “others” were taking over the world and he intended to kill as many people as possible, as well as start a race war, in which he hoped whites would emerge victorious. In this way, Roof’s actions where seen by himself as morally correct, because, according to white supremacist ideologies, it is completely ethical to elimiate those who post whatever threat to their “race” that has been constructed in their minds.
The Nazis targeted specific groups that were seen by them to be threatening, adovating and justifiying the wholesale slaughter of people who belonged to those groups. In one of his manifestos Dylan targeted blacks, Jews, East Asians, and Hispanics as being a threat to the whites of the United States, and also expressed his admiration for the 1979 incident in Greensboro, North Carolina, where members of the Ku Klan Klan shot and killed four members of the Communist Workers Party and one trade unionist and wounded 11 others, all of whom supported employment rights for black textile workers.
The Nazi’s utilised a variety of symbols to create their notion of a superior racial identity, such as the swastika, runic letters, and a flag that was designed specifically for the Third Reich. They also had a series of code numbers to signify their allegiance to their leaders, including 88, symbolising loyalty to Hitler and 1488, symbolising their belief that they must secure the existence of their people for the future of white children only.
Amongst the symbolic items Dylan Roof displayed in photographs of himself were the Nazi flag, and flags of regions founded upon ideologies of white supremacy, such as the Confederate States of America, colonial Rhodesia, and apartheid South Africa. In these photos, Roof wrote the Nazi number 88 and 1488 prominently in the sand in front of his feet.
The Nazis systematically murdered millions of people using a sophisticated bureaucracy that was supported by a heavily armed, high-tech military. Dylan Roof made extensive lists that detailed persons he intended to murder, locations he intended destroy, was easily able to obtain an efficient weapon and ammunition to carry out his plans.
The Nazis publicized their intent to rid Germany of “others”, using posters. films, and other media of the era and garnered support for their cause by creating a network of convincing propaganda. Dylan Roof stated that he had self-educated himself using white supremacist materials that included posters, films, videos, and the online media resources of his era.
The 22 Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trials were psychologically and psychiatrically evaluated and declared competent to stand trial. Dylan Roof was psychologically and psychiatrically evaluated and found fit to stand trial.
At the height of their power, an estimated 7.7. million people in Germany supported the Nazi Party and it has been theorized by eyewitnesses to the raise of the Nazis that the majority of German people either actively or passively knew of, and collaborated with, the activities perpetrated on millions of “others.”
It is uncertain how many people actively and passively have historically, and still do, support white supremacist organisations in the United States. However, the fact that there is such a long history of violence and murder based on these ideolgies suggests the numbers would be in the millions.
These similarities between Dylan Roof’s ideological perspective and actions that give good cause to consider the parallels with similar ideas and behaviours of Nazi Germany.
It is not unreasonable to believe that what Dylan Roof did as an individual was easily supported in a society that has normalised violence that is the result of white supremacist ideologies, just as such activity was normalised in Nazi German society.
It is also not unreasonable to believe that had Dylan Roof been one of the subjects whose Rorschach ink blot test was blindly compared to the 22 Nazi leaders who were on trial at Nuremberg, his results would have lent credibility to the experts’ conclusion that Nazi Leaders were seemingly no different from average Americans.
Implications for Future Research
The word illness is defined as sickness: a disordered, unsound condition.
A synonym for the word sickness is disease: any harmful, depraved, or morbid condition, as of the mind or society.
Combining the words mental and illness create the phrase mental illness: a wide range of disorders of the mind that affect mood, thinking and behavior, of the mind or society.
Since the 1970s, some psychological and psychiatric professionals have lobbied the American Psychological Association to include prejudice and racism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders. According to one of these professionals, Dr, Alvin Poussaint, this is important because prejudice and racism, when measured scientifically by empircally proven methods, reveals a personality type that is charaterised by delusional psychotic symptoms whose major theme is that a group of individuals who share a defining characteristic, and who are in one’s environment, have a particular and unusual significance, and these delusions are usually of a negative or pejorative nature, may be grandiose in content, and, when these delusions are extreme, may be acted out to attempt to harm, and even murder, members of the despised group.
Writing in 2002, Dr. Poussaint stressed the importance of clinical guidelines for recognising prejudice and racism as delusional extremes, in order to take measures to treat persons who display these symptoms, so that they do not act out their deadly delusions.
The foundation of the United States was built on delusional prejudices and racism that caused the genocide of indigenous people and systematic violence against people who were, and still are, considered “other” than members of a mythically superior White Anglo Saxon Protestant race.
The foundation of Nazi Germany was built on delusional prejudices and racism, based on the Nazi concept of an Anglo Saxon race which was mythically superior. Interestingly enough, the Nazis borrowed from the long tradition of white supremacist ideologies and eugenics in the United States to construct their belief system.
According to Dr. Poussaint, people who suffer delusional psychotic symptoms of prejudice and racism represent an immediate danger to themselves and others.
This immediate danger has had murderous consequences in the United States for 400 years. This immediate danger had murderous consequence in Germany for about 20 years.
Why have these delusional psychotic symptoms persisted for so long in the United States? Could it be that many people in this country either actively support, or passively stand by, when these ideologies are made known and’or result in harm to others? And, how many people here have incorporated notions of white supremacy into their worldview to the point where these ways of thinking and their consequences are normalised?
If so, does that not imply the need to analyse them in the light of the collective social and political psychology of the country, as was done with studies of similar phenomenon in Nazi Germany?
Perhaps it is time to administer empirically proven psychological and psychiatric methods, in order to properly identify the serious nature of these symptoms, rather than, as Dr. Poussaint has pointed out, continue seeing them as a cultural problem and not an indication of psychopathology in an entire society.
The tools and methods exist that can not only define this psychopathology, but discover ways to contain, treat, and eventually eliminate it. However, so long as it is considered normative, delusional prejudice and racism, based on the mythically dangerous notions of a non-existent, allegedly superior White Anglo Saxon Protestant race, will not be seen for what it is — a major psychiatric disorder that is not the unfortunate condition of lone wolf, troubled individuals, but a pervasive, and perhaps even ingrained, characteristic of an entire society.