What white supremacists don’t want you to know
Last week, I was interviewing Amir Malik from the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Minnesota when he made a simple but important point: bigotry often sounds louder than tolerance.
We were discussing the recent bombing of a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, one that didn’t elicit an immediate response from the White House and that locals felt received too little coverage by the national media. Afterwards, Malik said Bloomington’s streets were full of pro-diversity protesters and Minnesotans who wanted to show the Muslim community love.
“It kind of shows that while the bigots make a lot of noise, they are definitely a minority,” he said.
On Saturday, in a tragic turn of events in Virginia, a self-identified white nationalist, part of the online coalition described as the alt-right, was charged with driving his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing one and injuring 19 more. The driver was identified, but I will not write his name here. His profile is an echo of what appears to be a rising tide of white nationalism. He told his mom he was going to an alt-right rally, the pseudo-conservative coalition of racist Internet trolls, famous for viral images, dominating comment sections of online articles, and their unrelenting support of President Donald Trump (and his Twitter feed). The alt-right thrust themselves into national political conversation during the 2016 election.
As a result, the talk in the news and on social media this week has been all about the alt-right and white nationalism, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. The effect of this coverage is chilling: it helps to manufacture the sensation that these groups of people are much larger than they likely are.
Take Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit who used to write for Breitbart. After leaving the website, once described as a “platform for the alt-right” by White House strategist and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, the Anti-Defamation League said Shapiro — who is Jewish — was the most targeted journalist online. He received 8,000 anti-Semitic tweets during the election cycle from alt-right associated accounts. But as Shapiro noted on Sunday, “The alt-right has successfully created the impression there are lots of them. There aren’t.” It turned out the 8,000 tweets came from just 1,600 accounts. And the number of people behind those accounts could be even fewer.
Meanwhile, the biggest white supremacists groups historically, such as the KKK, are on their last legs. In the 1920s, there were between 1.5 million and 4 million members of the KKK. Today, there are between 5,000 and 8,000, according to the Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC). To put it another way, the KKK’s membership is now approximately .3 percent of the what it was 100 years ago.
That, of course, doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat. They are. An April, 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office said this: “Since September 12, 2001, the number of fatalities caused by domestic violent extremists has ranged from 1 to 49 in a given year… Fatalities resulting from attacks by far-right wing violent extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years, and were the same in 3 of the years since September 12, 2001.” White men are being radicalized online, as demonstrated by investigations into multiple mass shootings.
So it is time that we defeated white supremacy as a country united against the hate it represents — hate we fought in World War II, hate our civil rights icons protested in the 1960s, and hatred our nation pushed back against when we elected Barack Obama, the first African-American president.
Beating white supremacy requires respecting white nationalists’ right to free speech while not respecting the ideas they use it to espouse. It requires supporting groups like the ACLU and NAACP, which defend victims of white nationalism, even if — in the case of the ACLU — those groups also protect the rights of the white nationalists to exist. It requires defeating them with sound ideas and simple facts — like being able to explain why immigration is good for America.
It also requires listening to groups like Life After Hate, founded and run by former neo-Nazis and far right radicals. The organization has set up private support groups online to give members of those groups a new community to lean on. One Life After Hate co-founder has been explicit that it’s White people who need to step up and get other White Americans to leave these groups.
Then, of course, there are the government programs like the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism sector. They have conceded that online recruitment makes conventional tactics useless, leaving them with the need to address terrorism by infiltrating Internet chat rooms and social media groups. And while funding for some parts of the DHS, specifically a $400,000 grant to Life After Hate, was recently cut, the Countering Violent Extremism branch is still using “tech sector engagement” to help “identify and amplify credible voices online and promote counter-narratives against violent extremist messaging.”
Beating white supremacy and the alt-right in America won’t be easy. But, despite the din, as evidenced by their shrinking numbers, it’s doable.
A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
By A Plus’ Isaac Saul