Throughout his campaign and subsequent presidency, Trump has done everything he can to provide a platform for ultra-rightist white supremacist groups. Not only has he justified the protests of white supremacist outfits, but has also promoted the talking points of the Alternative Right. He has cultivated the beliefs and views that provide the groundwork for domestic, ultra-rightist terrorism.
Let us examine these claims in detail below.
Trump’s social media sharing is part of an ongoing pattern of promoting and normalising ultra-rightist and white supremacist viewpoints. He is deliberately encouraging neo-Confederate and white ultra-right organisations, building a base of support among them. Trump’s presidential campaign served as a lightning rod, attracting the various far-right groups and white supremacist organisations that collectively make up the coalition of ideologies collectively known as the Alternative Right. Trump received endorsements from ultra-rightist patriot groups, former Ku Klux Klan leaders, and white racist politicians.
Britain First and Judeo-Christian values
Britain First is an ultra-rightist and neo-fascistic group in the UK, which has a long history of attacking ethnic minorities, instigating violence against minority groups, and of conducting Islamophobic campaigns. Carrying large white crosses (reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan) and forming “Christian patrols” to target Muslim communities, Britain First members have co-opted Christian symbolism in its self-declared “crusade” against immigration and multiculturalism.
There are other groups that co-opt religious symbolism for their political project (Islamic State comes to mind), but Britain First is particularly vocal and aggressive in its self-promotion as a “Crusader” force resisting the – false – threat of Muslim immigration. Britain First members regard the Muslim community as an alien presence in Britain, a potential fifth column ready to subvert the entire existing political order.
The veracity of the shared videos from Britain First was questioned by many experts and commentators. Be that as it may, the fact that Trump re-circulated these videos purporting to show examples of organised violence by Muslims – without any comment – demonstrates that Trump is willingly promoting the talking points and moral panics of the far-right.
The inaccurate and deceitful tropes of “Islamisation” are regularly regurgitated by the ultra-right and racist groups to exclude racial and ethnic minorities, and establish a fortress-mentality. Invoking ‘Judeo-Christian’ values is an insular, tribalistic myth promoted by the far-right which only serves to fertilise the ground for further racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia.
The expression ‘Judeo-Christian’, while seeming to imply that Judaism and Christianity have shared values, serves to deliberately exclude Islam – and by extension the entire Islamic philosophy and community – from any participation or inclusion in Western society. Trump has used this phrase on several occasions, mirroring the talking points of the ultra-right. This label serves to build a false scaffolding upon which a tribal vision takes hold – excluding the ‘other’ – in this case the Muslim – and feeding a false sense of Christian persecution. We can rest assured that Trump and his supporters are not being persecuted in the country where they reside.
Trump offends a decency he cannot understand
Brendan Cox is the widower of former Labour MP Jox Cox. An activist from Britain First, with extensive ties to ultra-right and white supremacist groups, murdered Jo Cox in June 2016 in the context of the Brexit vote. The killer, Thomas Mair, shot and stabbed Jo Cox multiple times, shouting “Britain First” as he committed the murder. This was an act of ultra-right domestic terrorism, and Mair was radicalised by the writings and propaganda materials of white supremacist organisations, including Britain First.
In an article for the Guardian newspaper, Brendan Cox wrote that Trump, by re-circulating the Britain First videos, offends a decency he cannot understand. When the president of the United States promotes the viewpoints of hate preachers – and that is what Britain First members are – Trump is making the political environment more permissive for hatred to spread and become mainstream. Hate preachers do not necessarily wear Islamic garments only, nor do they exist exclusively on the Islamist side of the spectrum.
In his article, Cox made the accurate connection between hate preachers of the ultra-right and domestic terrorism. His late wife was killed by a white supremacist who had steeped himself in the hate-literature of the white supremacist world. Trump, throughout his time as president, has excused or justified the political violence of those on the neo-Confederate and white supremacist side. This normalisation of hate creates an environment conducive for ultra-right terrorism to make its lethal mark on society.
Charlottesville and Confederate statues
Trump’s sympathy for ultra-rightist racists was on display in the aftermath of the Charlottesville killing. In August 2017, after months of deliberate planning and organisation, a “Unite the Right” rally occurred in Charlottesville, ostensibly to defend a Confederate statue from being demolished. Far from being a peaceful protest, this was a massive race riot, a show of force by neo-Nazi, white supremacist and ultra-right groups. Anti-racist organisers converged on Charlottesville to protest this racial uprising, only to be confronted by a violent rampage by the white supremacists. An anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer, was killed by an ultra-rightist militant.
Trump went on to blame both sides for the Charlottesville violence, and explicitly stating that the white supremacist rioters contained “some very fine people”. We now confront a situation where the American President openly defends the violent actions of neo-Nazi and white supremacist rioters, and ignores the growing problem of ultra-right terrorism. This defence, while shocking, is not entirely surprising, if we understand the history of white supremacy and its essential role in the emergence of American capitalism.
John Wight, writing in Sputnik News magazine, stated that in the wake of the Charlottesville attacks, we may see that the US civil war never ended. White supremacy, in the form of the neo-Confederate “Lost Cause”, made a resurgence, particularly during the era when Reconstruction ended, and segregationist laws were implemented by the white racist authorities in southern US states. Interestingly, from the 1880s onwards, Confederate statue-building went into hyperdrive, as monuments celebrating the racist cause were erected throughout the American south.
The establishment of Confederate statues across the United States was not undertaken as noble exercises in commemorating the painful history of the US Civil War. They were not erected by history-aficionados who were concerned that all aspects of the traumatic civil war be remembered. These statues were constructed as pushback against any civil rights measures, to counter the movement of African Americans for racial equality.
The majority of these monuments were built at times when the Southern white legislatures combatted political measures to achieve at least a degree of enfranchisement and empowerment of African American communities. They were built to further a white supremacist future. Miles Parks, writing in the NPR web magazine, explained that such statues were being erected as late as the 1950s and 1960s, when the civil rights movement was gaining ground in dismantling the vestiges of legalised discrimination.
The late 1890s and early 1900s saw many pieces of segregation legislation enacted – Jim Crow measures – that legalised the disenfranchisement and exclusion of African American communities. These are the times when there was a flurry of Confederate statue activity, which sent a message to the wider society – creating a historical cloak to legitimise the naked push for white supremacy.
The rise of ultra-right terrorism
The Charlottesville attack brought into the spotlight the issue of ultra-right terrorism. Since the September 11 2001 terrorist outrage, the focus of the US authorities has been almost exclusively on terrorism from groups allegedly inspired by Islamism. This singular fixation has resulted in a glaring omission – the rise of white supremacist and ultra-rightist groups in the United States.
Coalescing under the banner of Alternative Right, these groups and ideologies express dissatisfaction with traditional mainstream conservatism as exemplified by the Republican Party. This observation does not ignore the many sympathetic voices that the ultra-right have found within the Republican Party for decades. With the Trump campaign however, the ultra-right found a solid ally and friend in the White House.
Homegrown terrorism, originating in ultra-right bigotry and carried out by neo-Confederate and white supremacist groups, has been on the increase for many years prior to Charlottesville. While the ugly events of Charlottesville refocused attention on these groups, the threat of ultra-rightist terrorism did not arise out of nowhere. While the threat of far-right groups has gained greater attention in the wake of Charlottesville, there is a lack of background analysis into how and why we ended up with a US president who is a fascist sympathiser. The latter description may seem unduly harsh, but it is an accurate portrayal of President Trump’s way of thinking. Normalising racial hatred seems to be main skill that Trump has brought to the Oval Office.
The numbers are quite clear – most terrorism on American soil originates in the cesspit of ultra-right bigotry. Domestic white supremacist terrorism is a far greater threat than Islamist-fundamentalist organisations. To speak of ultra-right terrorism is to make oneself vulnerable to accusations of being “soft” on Islamist groups. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is easy for us in the West to criticise Islamically-based groups, because Islam is viewed as a foreign ideology. We can take comfort in banal platitudes about our supposed lack of religious fundamentalism in our societies. White supremacy and the Alternative Right are native ideologies – indigenous to white American capitalism, that is. It is enormously difficult – but not impossible – to question the tribal insularity in which we wrap ourselves.
The phrase Alternative Right is relatively recent, but the ideologies it advocates have a long pedigree. That subject, along with the nature and activities of the ultra-right, will be examined in the next article.