The SPLC estimates that since 2000, the number of hate groups in the United States has rocketed by 67%, thanks to an uncertain economy, growing extremism in political and social policy, and tolerance for such groups among the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting their citizens. Many of these groups are directly linked to the ‘white power’ movement, including groups that actively identify themselves as white nationalist organisations as well as neo-Nazi, Klu Klux Klan, skinhead groups, and more.
The flowering of white nationalism in the US is nothing short of disgusting, full stop. It’s a very sour reflection of where the US stands as a whole, and what kinds of behaviours the nation tolerates collectively. While these groups are of course exercising their Constitutional rights to assembly and free speech, they are treading a thin and dangerous line, for incitements to violence are not Constitutionally protected, and nor are groups that form with the express intent of committing acts of violence.
Intriguingly, the government has been very aggressive when it comes to hunting down environmental groups, accusing environmentalists of terrorism, and vigorously pursuing cases of environmental sabotage to the fullest extent of the law. The government is sending a clear and inescapable message to such groups: organise and plan if you want, but you will face significant legal consequences for it, and claiming that you’re acting in defense of the Earth is not going to allow you to avoid your day in court. Such groups aren’t just severely punished when they’re caught: they’re also under tight surveillance, and some have accused agencies like the FBI of planting agents within their organisations.
Yet, white power groups seem to be left largely alone, along with conservative groups bent on restricting access to abortion services; it’s apparently not okay to build a treehouse and hang out in it for a while, but it’s perfectly fine to bomb an abortion clinic. Or to build up a compound filled with armed people who strongly believe that they are ‘America’s heritage’ and that they have the right to dominate this country because people of other races are inferior and must be swept aside in order to allow the country to realise its full potential. These are the people the government doesn’t seem to have identified as a concern, or if it has, it’s kept such concern curiously low on the radar.
Prosecution of environmental groups has been very high profile, and such groups have played a big role in making sure their stories stay in the news. Meanwhile, we rarely hear about investigations being conducted into white power groups, and even more rarely do we receive notice that such groups have been prosecuted for breaking the law; as some most definitely do and have. While many white power groups tend to be insular and distrusting of the media, which would make it less likely that we’d see them advocating for themselves in the news, it’s striking that there’s been such a total silence on the issue, suggesting that government investigation into such groups must be virtually nonexistent.
The question to ask, then, is: why? Why is the government not interested in white nationalist groups. What is it about such groups that isn’t a threat, when other organisations are considered worthy targets for investigation? Why, collectively, has the country decided not to make white nationalism a priority when it comes to identifying potential internal risks and neutralising or eliminating them? Is it simply because people want to fall back on a dubious ‘free speech’ argument as justification to leave them alone?
Obviously not. It has a tremendous amount to do with the targets of such groups; immigrants, people of colour across the nation, and nonwhite residents of the United States, those who occupy some of our most marginalised roles. White power groups aren’t going after people in positions of dominance (like the capitalists who profit from environmental exploitation), and thus the people who make and impose policy don’t see a pressing need to go after them. Which is not terribly surprising, since racism is rife at every level of US policy—in fact, some official policy positions seem indistinguishable from that of white power groups, like attempting to keep immigrants out of this country on the grounds that they’re a ‘drain on society.’
By so doing, the government of course reinforces the position of these groups, making them feel more secure and supported in their beliefs and aims. The failure of meaningful action means that organisations advocating white supremacy can feel confident that they are operating in moral righteousness, that the government itself at least covertly supports them, because it makes no move against them. And surely, the government will welcome their envisioned world of a United States of Whiteness, a nation ‘cleansed’ of the alleged impurities that stain it today.
And thus, what of the white citizenry that stands by in the face of this? For surely, we play a role in this too, and that role is stark. Not enough of us have said ‘no’ to the ludicrous concept of ‘white power’ clearly and loudly enough to make our voices heard in a larger political and social discussion. Not enough of us have made it clear that we have no interest in the United States these people are trying to build, that we actively oppose it, that we want to see such groups deconstructed. For while everyone has a right to free speech, this is not speech: it is the advocacy of hate, and it must end, because no matter what people might want to tell themselves, white power groups are dangerous.
And it’s groups like the SPLC that work to fight them, since the government will not. As a white individual confronting such groups, you may feel like you are powerless, but that’s not necessarily the case. Simply speaking is an exertion of power, and directly supporting the work of groups like the SPLC also contributes to the fight. Because we can live in a different US, if you want it.