Trump’s Word are Solace to White Supremacists

Solace emboldens and helps to mainstream.

donald-trump-hatR. Derek Black has an essay via the NYT that I highly recommend, as it provides clear and direct insight into the significance of Trump’s words last week:   What White Nationalism Gets Right About American History.

I would note that Black is the son of the founder of the Daily Stormer, and is David Duke’s godson.  He was, at one point, considered to be the heir of the American white nationalist movement.  He has since renounced these views and there is a fascinating profile of him in WaPo from last year that is also worth a read:  The white flight of Derek Black.

His essay in the Times starts as follows:

My dad often gave me the advice that white nationalists are not looking to recruit people on the fringes of American culture, but rather the people who start a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist, but …”

The most effective tactics for white nationalists are to associate American history with themselves and to suggest that the collective efforts to turn away from our white supremacist past are the same as abandoning American culture. My father, the founder of the white nationalist website Stormfront, knew this well. It’s a message that erases people of color and their essential role in American life, but one that also appeals to large numbers of white people who would agree with the statement, “I’m not racist, but I don’t want American history dishonored, and this statue of Robert E. Lee shouldn’t be removed.”

He continues later in the essay (emphasis mine):

We have all observed the administration’s decisions over the past several months that aligned with the white nationalist agenda, such as limiting or completely cutting off legal and illegal immigration, especially of Hispanics and Muslims; denigrating black communities as criminal and poor, threatening to unleash an even greater police force on them; and going after affirmative action as antiwhite discrimination. But I had never believed Trump’s administration would have trouble distancing itself from the actual white nationalist movement.

Yet President Trump stepped in to salvage the message that the rally organizers had originally hoped to project: “George Washington was a slave owner,” he said, and asked, “So will George Washington now lose his status?” Then: “How about Thomas Jefferson?” he asked. “Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?” He added: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

Until Trump’s comments, few critics seemed to identify the larger relationship the alt-right sees between its beliefs and the ideals of the American founders. 


Until Tuesday I believed the organizers of the rally had failed in their goal to make their movement more appealing to average white Americans. The rally superimposed Jefferson’s image on that of a pseudo K.K.K. rally and brought the overlap between Jefferson and white nationalist ideas to mind for anyone looking to find them. But the horrific violence that followed seemed to hurt their cause.

And then President Trump intervened. His comments supporting the rally gave new purpose to the white nationalist movement, unlike any endorsement it has ever received. Among its followers, being at that rally will become something to brag about, and some people who didn’t want to be associated with extremism will now see the cause as more mainstream. When the president doesn’t provide condemnation that he has been pressed to give, what message does that send but encouragement?

This is not just Black who sees this, and he certainly has a history that would allow him to understand how his former allies would interpret the president’s words (again, I recommend the WaPo profile). We know that David Duke and Richard Spencer took solace in Trump’s words as well.

At a less prominent level I have certainly see plenty of individuals online more than willing to decide that Black Lives Matters, to name one group, is just a left-wing version of neo-nazis.  Anyone who has been on Facebook or Twitter the last week has seen this.

Black is also correct that our history does contain substantial amounts of white supremacy.  But the challenge is not to extol and cultivate that aspect of our past, but to understand and it to elevate ourselves beyond it.

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.

The president’s words legitimized the worst of our country, and now the white nationalist movement could be poised to grow. To challenge these messages, we need to acknowledge the continuity of white nationalist thought in American history, and the appeal it still holds.

It is a fringe movement not because its ideas are completely alien to our culture, but because we work constantly to argue against it, expose its inconsistencies and persuade our citizens to counter it. We can no longer count on the country’s leader to do this, so it’s now incumbent upon all of us.

That last sentence is chillingly true.  Of all the things we typically would expect of a President, a reflexive criticism of neo-nazis in an important, but low bar.  Yet, it is not one that the current occupant of the office can attain.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    “God bless President Trump.” — The Daily Stormer, Tuesday, August 15, 2017

    Doesn’t that say it all?

  2. Kylopod says:

    @CSK: I should note that the issue isn’t merely that Trump has been praised by extremists. That happens to a lot of politicians, and it isn’t always their fault. In 2008, Obama was praised to high heaven by Louis Farrakhan. Hillary and others tried to make an issue of it during the campaign. But unlike Trump with white nationalist groups, Obama sharply repudiated Farrakhan’s endorsement and denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments.

    What has been so shocking and unprecedented now is not so much that white nationalist groups have expressed support for Trump, but that he has been anemic at best in distancing himself from them. That’s what happened last year when David Duke endorsed him–first Trump (falsely) claimed never to have heard of Duke, then after being raked over the coals by the media for a couple of days he finally said “I disavow.” Those were his only two words on the subject–“I disavow.” He declined to elaborate on who he was disavowing, let alone why.

    The recent Charlottesville controversy followed the same script: first he makes a remark that utterly fails to single out neo-Nazis and white supremacists in his condemnation and makes an outrageous false equivalence between the white hate groups and those protesting against them. Then, after several days he finally makes a still somewhat ambiguous remark in which he at least mentions the white hate groups by name.

    The difference between now and last year is that this time someone was actually murdered by a member of one of the groups he failed to condemn. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, in helping encourage these groups over the last year he is indirectly responsible for the young woman’s death.

  3. Mikey says:

    Of all the things we typically would expect of a President, a reflexive criticism of neo-nazis in an important, but low bar.

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned the last few months, it’s that there’s no bar so low Trump won’t fail to meet it.

  4. DrDaveT says:

    Nazis want to exterminate Jews.
    Jews want to put an end to Nazism.

    See — both sides do it.

    If this argument seems right to you, seek professional help immediately.

  5. CSK says:


    I agree. But here’s the thing: I have not been able to find an incident of a major party presidential candidate in recent times who’s been endorsed by the Klan and the Nazis.

    It’s not just that Trump won’t disavow them, it’s the fact they so quickly glommed onto him as their savior. Something about this man inspired them to crawl out from under their rocks and give him their full-throated support. It wasn’t just his public remarks. They act as if there’s a secret about Trump that they know, pleasing to them, but would be appalling to the rest of us if we were privy to it.

    By the way, I’m not startled that Trump won’t repudiate the Klan and the Nazis. Where would he be without them?

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Anecdotal evidence that the public’s reaction to Charlottesville and to Trump maybe having an effect on white supremacist fellow travelers. Some guy has been driving around here all summer, a Gadsden flag and the Confederate battle flag streaming behind his too loud pickup. Saw him today, the battle flag is gone replaced by a US flag.

    Coming home from work, I pass a garage that when the door is open you can see a displayed Confederate flag. Came past there yesterday, the door was open and the flag no longer is visible.

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    Trump is helping White Supremacists everywhere, not just in the US. I’m seeing this effect among Brazilian Far Right(There was a demonstration with Islamophobe signs in Rio de janeiro some weeks ago). And normalizing opposition to Non-White immigration is going to help White Supremacists.

  8. Kylopod says:


    But here’s the thing: I have not been able to find an incident of a major party presidential candidate in recent times who’s been endorsed by the Klan and the Nazis.

    A nominee, no. But Don Black donated money to Ron Paul’s campaign in 2008, and Paul refused to return it.

    When I went to Stormfront some years ago, I found that the people there had no love for Rush Limbaugh–they tended to see him as a Zionist neocon tool. Glenn Beck, on the other hand, they loved. It was a distinction that made me squint, because from my perception I can scarcely see any difference between the two as far as race-baiting is concerned. And as for the Jooz? They’re both hawkishly pro-Israel, and they both initially supported the Iraq War. But Beck said some things that were widely perceived as anti-Semitic dogwhistles, from his descriptions of Soros as a puppetmaster to recommending an obscure author who referred to President Eisenhower as “Ike the K*ke.” Still, before Trump came along it wasn’t always obvious why the Stormfront crowd latched onto certain figures and not others.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: You ‘went to stormfront a couple of years ago’?! Wow. Is there a video or a transcript?

  10. Kylopod says:

    @JohnMcC: Understand that I never actually posted there. Jesus! I’d actually be a little scared to do that. I did go through a phase where I was reading it, sporadically. I read the FAQ, and I used to Google the site to see the “white nationalist” perspective on various topics. I got sick of it before long; the stuff was just ugly. Being an American Jew born in the late 1970s, I don’t have much experience seeing anti-Semitism up close, and it was somewhat of a revelation for me that there are still people out there who hold views like this. I mean, I knew it in the abstract, but it was quite another seeing it directly.

    If you want to see some of the results of this “research,” go to this post of mine from 2010:

    I have one other anecdote about my encounter with hate groups on the web. I’ve mentioned it here before. There’s a website with the innocuous-sounding name of “Metapedia.” It’s actually a neo-Nazi version of Wikipedia. It has the same format, the same visual look. It features positive articles about Adolf Hitler. (No joke!) It refers to the Holocaust as “politically correct history.” You get the idea.

    Anyway, I had no idea the site even existed when someone notified me I was mentioned on one of the pages. Or, rather, my Wikipedia screen name (marbeh raglaim) was. Basically, for a while they kept an entire page featuring Wikipedia contributors they didn’t like, most of them self-identifying Jews. It described us as “Enforcers” promoting “Zionist propaganda.” I’d been involved in collecting some quotes from the late Roald Dahl, who publicly made a series of anti-Semitic remarks in the 1980s. (One I remember: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does tend to provoke animosity… Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t pick on them for no reason.”) Metapedia had me under a column in which it identified me and another Wikipedia contributor as “Marbehraglaim and RolandR, two Jews.” It said that I had perpetuated “the ‘anti-Semite’ canard” against Dahl.

  11. adamtheadam says:

    At a less prominent level I have certainly see plenty of individuals online more than willing to decide that Black Lives Matters, to name one group, is just a left-wing version of neo-nazis.

    That’s a strange equivalence; the neo-nazis get permits when they protest.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: Thank you for the reply. I guess living in the south where virtually anyone you meet on the street might well be a klansman and armed has sort of prepared me for this present political era.

    I look at what I just wrote and sit and think about it and … well … maybe feel like silently weeping for my country. Or a long hike in deep woods. It’s too early for drinking.

  13. teve tory says:

    This is Trump’s legacy. Because of his total inability to concentrate or lead, he will likely never do anything meaningful with the real governmental power he possesses – if he had a tenth of the managerial skills of Hitler, we’d be in impossibly deep shit right now. But as an enabler of behavior, as a stoker of arguments and hardener of resentments, he has no equal. Under Trump, racists become more racist, the woke necessarily become more woke, and areas of compromise among all quickly dwindle and disappear. He has us arguing about things that weren’t even questions a few minutes ago, like, are Nazis bad?

    Trump has shown, once again, that his power to bring out the worst in people is limitless. And we should know by now that he’s never finished, never beaten. Historically, he’s most dangerous when he’s at his lowest. And he’s never been lower than now.

    Taibbi: Why trump can’t quit the alt-right