Normalization of Racism:
The Importance of Not Rebranding White Supremacy
On November 19, 2016, two weeks after Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump pulled off a striking political upset by snatching the Electoral College victory out of the hands of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for President of the United States, White Supremacist think tank National Policy Institute (or NPI) hold a conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D. C. The purpose of the conference, according to the press release, was to discuss the 2016 election, “growth and professionalization” of the movement, the movement’s relationship to Trump, and how to turn ideas into policy (National Policy Institute). The event garnered international coverage, but to the chagrin of many (especially to non-white minorities), the domestic coverage was not nearly as critical as they would have hoped, whereas foreign media — particularly in England — the coverage was significantly more critical. This is a serious problem. The National Policy Institute must be branded — by the media — to accurately reflect their policies. Journalists should not use rhetoric or terms with soft connotations, the end result is rebranding, as well as an elimination or reduction of controversy.
When discussing the NPI it is important to think about what they want, and the historical precedents of the paradigm. Psychologist and Columbia Professor, Dr. Derald Wing Sue, in his essay “Whiteness and Ethnocentric Monoculturalism: Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible” explains that Ethnocentric Monoculturalism is the idea that one ethnic background is superior to another, and therefore must be preserved (even at the expense of another). This is what NPI wants, and the paradigm has dangerous historical precedents; the most notorious example being the Holocaust. But, what makes this even more dangerous, is that these ideas can be easily masked in untarnished rhetoric that makes these ideas seem harmless, and to some, virtuous. According to the NPI’s website they are an: “independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world” (NPI). At first glance this does not seem so sinister — Black History month exists, why not White History month? Why not work to preserve all cultures and histories? The rhetoric sounds similar to “All Lives Matter” — a counter response to the cries of the activist fighting for African-American equity under the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” But, the deeper down the rabbit hole you go, you realize it is not about equity, it is about superiority.
In a video titled “Who Are We,” NPI’s president and director Richard B. Spenser further works to the heart of what NPI is all about — identity. He emphasizes: “I’m talking about your connection to a culture, a history, a destiny, an identity” (“Who Are We?”). The four minute monologue is a call to arms for White Americans to embrace their heritage and stand in solidarity and take back their “Identity.” Abstractions like “Democracy. Freedom. Tolerance. Multiculturalism” are not “identity” he claims, but because we believe these abstractions to be our identity we have, as a race, become lost (“Who Are We?”). He attacks these “abstractions” by claiming that, “[A] country for everyone, and that’s a country for no one…It’s a country in which we, ourselves, have become strangers… Man doesn’t live, and man doesn’t die for abstraction — like Freedom. Man lives and dies for a homeland” (“Who Are We?”). Spenser and the NPI seek a white nation — Monoculturalism. He justifies his monoculturalistic belief by claiming that denying our [white] identity — while, supposedly everyone else is claiming their own identities (this is an allusion to Black Lives Matters) — we will become dispossessed, we will have no future, and we will never have the opportunity to make a white ethnocentric nation (“Who Are We?”). He ends the video with a challenge to the viewer: “So who are we? I guess the real question is: are we ready to become who we are” (“Who Are We?”). NPI is clearly dissatisfied with the growing equity of minority groups and the blending of cultures. He perceives it as the path to extinction of white identity. Most of the rhetoric used in the video is coded with layers of vagueness, but at the NPI conference the layers melted away.
At the Conference Spencer did not hold back punches. His speech was streamed to the White Supremacist YouTube channel “RedIce.TV” and along with his disdain for the media — to which he called them Lügenpresse (German for lying media — a nazi slur) and “Soulless Golem’s” (wondering aloud if they were even people) — were also criticisms of multiculturalism, and remarks on how “a white who takes pride in his ancestors accomplishments is evil, but a white who refuses to accept guilt for his ancestors’ sins is also evil, and maybe even more so” (“Richard Spencer”). The disquisition was hailed with cheers and claps, and as shown in a video by The Atlantic, some individuals even used the Nazi salute (“Richard Spencer”).
Calling them anything other than what they are is dangerous, and reduces their controversy.
Continuing his idolization of being white he creates an “us” vs. “them” binary, “Whites do, and other groups don’t. To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward. And we recognize the central lie of race relations,” he then asserts his belief of white superiority by saying, “We don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us and not the other way around” (“Richard Spencer”). He further notes his disdain for other races by referring to them as “despicable creatures” in his statement: “We were not meant to live in shame or weakness or disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet” (“Richard Spencer”). Between NPI’s “About Us” page to their “Who Are We” video to Spenser’s thirty minute speech at NPI’s Conference, it is clear it is a movement of White Supremacy. Calling them anything other than what they are is dangerous, and reduces their controversy.
Rebranding a term (like White Supremacy) that wields large amounts of weight in its connotation is not a new technique. In 2008 we referred to the crash of the subprime mortgage crisis “the Great Recession,” not Depression, despite the uncanny similarities. Why? To some extent due to the power it wielded in the public consciousness. Likewise, the NPI and Spencer, are careful to distance themselves from the term “White Supremacist.” Instead, they rebrand themselves as Identitarian, Alt-Right, or White Nationalist. Regardless, the two terms “White Nationalist” and “White Supremacist” are essentially synonymous. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, “White nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhite,” they go on to explain the spectrum of these groups as, “[ranging] from those that use racial slurs and issue calls for violence to others that present themselves as serious, non-violent organizations and employ the language of academia” (SPLC). Distinctions that not every Nationalist believes their race is superior to the others can be made, but those that do should not be branded as Nationalists. Instead, their rhetoric must be held accountable — they are White Supremacists — and the media must not shy away from calling them as such.
One of the purposes of the media, is to be an Informing Agent. They play a major role in shaping public opinion. This necessitates accurate and concise reporting. The media must not soften their rhetoric when dealing with movements like this. In the 1920’s, The New York Times softly reported on Hitler’s rhetoric amidst his rise to power, “Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded,” the piece goes on to claim that Hitler’s rhetoric was merely a tool. History has since told us otherwise (Bulik). The media, by choosing to be merely passive bystanders rather than critical informers, act as accomplices to the softening of dangerous rhetoric. The New York Times participated in the legitimization of what eventually became a brutal dictator. Yet again, it seems, domestic media has not learned their lesson which should be to challenge propagators of hateful rhetoric.
Five major domestic news publications — The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio — were present at the NPI conference, they had the opportunity to hear, see and speak with attendees as well as leaders of the Institute. Yet, reporting of the event was remarkably soft. Contrast this, with four European publications — The Independent, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Telegraph — whose reports were highly critical of the event and the movement. By closely examining the differences between foreign and domestic the titles of articles and the content, it is clear that domestic media does not understand importance of refraining from rebranding dangerous movements.
Two common themes between domestic press was usage of the lesser known term “White Nationalist” and connecting the Conference with Trump. Although the former theme was a good decision to highlight, bringing a sense of relevancy and importance to the conference. The fact that the press were too scared to call the movement as what they are — White Supremacists — lead ultimately to flaccid headlines. The Los Angeles Times ran the headline, “White Nationalists dress up and come to Washington in hopes of influencing Trump” (Mascaro). Of all the Headlines, this one is by far the worst. It dismisses them with words like “hopes” and phrases like “dress up.” The Washington Post’s headline was slightly better, “After Trump victory, attendance rises at annual white nationalist conference in D.C.” (Hendrix and Cox). This headline clearly tried to be as objective as possible. They used neutral language like “attendance rises” instead of other, more active, verbiage. Nonetheless, this title, because of its neutrality, is ineffectual. It does not relate to the reader the urgency of learning more about this dangerous movement. The New York Times, however, begins to amp up some of the language, their headline reads, “White Nationalists Celebrate ‘an Awakening’ After Donald Trump’s Victory” (Rappeport and Weiland). This title is clearly better than the other two, by having more urgency with words like “Celebrate” and “Victory.” They also relate it to Trump’s win, but the problem with this title is it doesn’t draw the connection that the conference is more than just a victory party. The conference was a gathering of White Supremacists and a White Supremacist Think Tank to discuss where the movement should go, how to lobby the Trump Presidency, and how to make themselves more professional and united. The final two — The Atlantic and NPR — were by far the best of the five, each evoking more urgency and highlighting the danger of the conference than the other three. “‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President Elect,” is the title The Atlantic ran with, and because of their video linked to the article it was a fitting title (Lombroso and Appelbaum). NPR, however, ran the headline, “Energized By Trump’s Win, White Nationalists Gather to ‘Change The World’” (Taylor). Both of these titles are strong in their own regard, but are also flawed. The Atlantic’s title is very evocative by citing the word “Hail,” but it ultimately lacks any substance. It does not reflect that this conference is more than a gathering of Trump cheerleaders. On the other hand, however, NPR’s verbiage was active in evoking a sense of urgency of the movement, but also reflected on the ultimate goal — “change.” Ultimately, however, the publications walked right into the trap — rebranding. Every articles headline referred to the movement as “White Nationalists,” yes, they may be, however, it is important to call the group and the movement what they are despite the words weight — after all, it is what they are. In every headline, “Nationalist” should be replaced with “Supremacist.” The nuances can be laid out later in the article, but in a world where an articles vitality and virality is often based off of titles, not calling the group by their uglier name, both handicaps the spread of awareness and allow the movement to rebrand themselves.
Foreign media, however, did not hesitate to call the movement for what they are — White Supremacists. The Sydney Morning Herald ran the headline, “Germans, Israelis watch with fear as white supremacists ride Donald Trump wave” (Barkin and Baker). Obviously, not a perfect headline, and it doesn’t highlight the full purpose of the group being in D. C., but it is still much better than any of the domestic headlines. The Independent had the strongest title evoking Trump’s relationship to the event while also calling the group “White Supremacists” and connecting them to Hitler, “White supremacists chant ‘hail Trump’ while performing Hitler salutes at alt-right conference” (Dearden). This title combined many important factors present at the conference, while not letting the movement rebrand or dissociate themselves from the infamous Adolf Hitler — who shares many things in common with the movement. The Guardian and The Telegraph also have strong titles that share many similarities with the other two papers, but in the end the key thing that foreign media does right, in comparison to domestic press, is that they all refer to the movement by what they are — White Supremacists. This is crucial to preventing the movement from normalizing their agenda, and the term nicely sums up their beliefs without challenging terminology. But, the differences in semantics is not the only major differences between the foreign press and domestic press.
From images to the depth at which they chose to play an investigative role at the conference, the foreign media took the opportunity to highlight the movements with content regarding Hitler-esque actions and rhetoric, the international perspective of the event, and what the movement wants. In The Sydney Morning Herald, after a link airing The Atlantic’s highlight video of the conference, they immediately remind us of the historical precedent of this “White Supremacist” mindset via pictures of Nazi concentration camps (Barkin and Baker). They also cite, in German, Spencer final words, “Heil Trump, heil our people, heil victory,” whereas, many of the other publications anglicized the spelling (Barkin and Baker). This is a mistake. It removes the weight and power from the words. If someone uses “Heil” in conjunction with the Nazi salute, as is shown in a picture later in the article, it should be spelled properly (Barkin and Baker). Likewise, other foreign publications also highlight the Hitler salute, and note the “Heil’s.” However, unlike many of the other papers, The Sydney Morning Herald cites the perspectives of both the Israelis and the Germans for their piece as well. Yair Lapid, an Israelis Foreign Defense and Affairs committee member, is quoted calling the content of the highlight video “sickening” and “intolerable” (Barkin and Baker). He goes on to discuss the historical implications of not challenging this rhetoric and the inherent danger to humanity (Barkin and Baker). Finally, in the other foreign papers, especially in the pieces by the Guardian and the Telegraph, the end game of this movement is highlighted. The Telegraph reports that Mr. Spencer advocates for “Peaceful ethnic cleansing” and the creation of a “New Society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans” (Graham). The Guardian highlights a few conversations that allow an insight into what the group wants, and it all returns to the preservation of white nationality above others (Gabbatt).
The content of domestic media, however, was mostly in the form brief surveys of the event, who was present, and the fact that the movement believes they can effectively influence Trump. Where domestic press was most successful at highlighting the danger of the conference was with drawing the lines to Trump through his Chief Operating Officer Steve Bannon, and his connection to the Alt-Right news outlet Breitbart and back to NPI. NPR reported on this connection by quoting Spencer discussing how the Alt-Right is not going anywhere (Taylor). He further explains that he believes that the Alt-right can be a “intellectual vanguard” for trump and his policies (Taylor). The Washington Post reported that one of their main policy goals to encourage Trump to enact is a ban on Immigration for 50 years (Hendrix and Cox). However, Spencer also voices his feelings that perhaps if any immigrants were to be taken in, Europeans would be given preference (Hendrix and Cox). Ultimately, however, domestic press lacked urgency, and the content seemed to try to present an objective look at the conference rather than draw conclusions that foreign media had no problem making.
As we progress into a time where hate groups like the NPI and others feel the capability to express their racist and bigoted perspectives openly, it is crucial that the press and the media address them as what they are. If the press and the media chooses to not go this route, the consequences will be dire. It should be noted that not all domestic media chose to use the “White National” rebrand, in fact, Christian Science Monitor ran an article that was fairly balanced titled “White Supremacists convene in celebration of Trump victory” (Kauffman). However, it should also be noted that the article was incredibly short and followed a similar trend of the other domestic papers by giving a brief survey of the event. The difference is they choose to use stronger rhetoric. Ultimately, the media should not address hate groups by the brand they wish to be called, but by the brand that best fits their ideology as per what they have expressed. Perhaps the media could acknowledge their desire to be re-branded through quotation marks or with the prefaces “so-called” and “self-described” if any sort of leniency is to be given. The AP has guidelines when writing about the Alt-right, and that, “‘Alt-right’ (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the ‘self-described’ or ‘so-called alt-right’ in stories discussing what the movement says about itself” (Daniszewski). Thus, by using these techniques, groups like NPI are not given the power of normalization they seek. Boiling a movement down to their atomic level and addressing those views with the most fitting label is key to preventing the normalization of racism.
Barkin, Noah, and Luke Baker. “Germans, Israelis watch with fear as white supremacists ride Donald Trump wave.” The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Nov. 2016, www.smh.com.au/world/germans-israelis-watch-with-fear-as-white-supremacists-ride-donald-trump-wave-20161122-gsva5y.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Bulik, Mark. “1922: Hitler in Bavaria.” The New York Times, New York Times, 10 Feb. 2015, www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2015/02/10/1922-hitler-in-bavaria/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Daniszewski, John. “Writing about the ‘alt-right’.” AP Definitive Source, AP, 28 Nov. 2016, blog.ap.org/behind-the-news/writing-about-the-alt-right. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.
Dearden, Lizzie. “White supremacists chant ‘hail Trump’ while performing Hitler salutes at alt-right conference.” The Independent, Independent, 22 Nov. 2016, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-president-elect-alt-right-white-supremacists-nazi-hitler-salutes-richard-b-spencer-a7431216.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Gabbatt, Adam. “Hitler salutes and white supremacism: a weekend with the ‘alt-right.’” The Guardian, Guardian, 21 Nov. 2016, www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/21/alt-right-conference-richard-spencer-white-nationalists. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Graham, Chris. “Nazi salutes and white supremacism: Who is Richard Spencer, the ‘racist academic’ behind the ‘Alt right’ movement.” The Telegraph, Telegraph, 22 Nov. 2016, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/richard-spencer-white-nationalist-leading-alt-right-movement/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Hendrix, Steve, and John Woodrow Cox. “After Trump victory, attendance rises at annual white nationalist conference in D.C.” The Washington Post, Washington Post, 19 Nov. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/local/attendance-rises-at-annual-white-nationalist-conference-in-dc-after-trump-victory/2016/11/19/cbe66884-ae88-11e6-977a-1030f822fc35_story.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Kauffman, Gretel. “White supremacists convene in celebration of Trump victory.” Christian Science Monitor, 20 Nov. 2016, www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2016/1120/White-supremacists-convene-in-celebration-of-Trump-victory. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Lombroso, Daniel, and Yoni Appelbaum. “‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President Elect.” The Atlantic, Atlantic, 21 Nov. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Mascaro, Lisa. “White nationalists dress up and come to Washington in hopes of influencing Trump.” The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Nov. 2016, www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-white-nationalists-thinktank-20161119-story.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
National Policy Institute. “Press Conference.” NPI Events, National Policy Institute, npievents.com/press-conference/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
NPI. “The National Policy Institute.” The National Policy Institute, National Policy Institute, www.npiamerica.org/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Rappeport, Alan, and Noah Weiland. “White Nationalists Celebrate ‘an Awakening’ After Donald Trump’s Victory.” The New York Times, New York Times, 19 Nov. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/us/politics/white-nationalists-celebrate-an-awakening-after-donald-trumps-victory.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
“Richard Spencer — NPI 2016, Full Speech.” YouTube, uploaded by Red Ice TV, 21 Nov. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq-LnO2DOGE. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
SPLC. “White Nationalist.” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/white-nationalist. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Sue, Derald Wing. “Whiteness and Ethnocentric Monoculturalism: Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible.” American Psychologist, no. 8, 2004, pp. 761–69, doi:10.1037/0003–066X.59.8.761. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
Taylor, Jessica. “Energized By Trump’s Win, White Nationalists Gather To ‘Change The World.’” NPR, 20 Nov. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/11/20/502719871/energized-by-trumps-win-white-nationalists-gather-to-change-the-world. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
“Who Are We?” YouTube, uploaded by NPI/Radix, 12 Dec. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rnRPhEwELo. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.
This was written for my University Writing Class at Columbia University Fall 2016.
Kevin is a Navy veteran who has been writing for many years, and has an interest in helping others realize their talent. He has been published in an anthology of short stories which you can purchase from Amazon. Currently he lives in NYC and studies at Columbia University. Kevin also produces music under the alias of Bass Savage and you can listen to his music and find his affiliated social media on his website. You can also connect with Kevin at his LinkedIn and support his work at Patreon.