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The presidency of Barack Obama dominated political events in 2009.  Whether it was discussion of the bank bailouts last winter or the continuing failure of the government to solve the problem of depression-era unemployment, the blame or success will be laid on the doorstep of Obama’s White House.  Whether or not Congress passes meaningful health care reform, it will be on this president’s watch.  After announcing an American troop surge in Afghanistan, this administration now owns that war. And whether the fortunes of the far right and white nationalist movements rose or fell during the past year, Barack Hussein Obama will be regarded—rightly or wrongly—as the cause.

A militia revival, as noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others, did start during the last year.  The militia movement was a ubiquitous feature of the white supremacist landscape throughout the mid-1990s, but faded after the Clinton administration cracked down hard in its last years.  Many of the issues that spurred militia activity fifteen years ago are absent today. No martyrs to the cause exist, like the Weaver family in 1992 and the Branch Davidians in 1993 did.  Further, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Second Amendment insures an individual’s right to bear arms, and the Obama administration, unlike Clinton’s, has not made gun control a legislative priority. Support for  Second Amendment rights and opposition to gun control are always in the sights of gunners  Hence, there appears to be a smaller political space for militias this time around.  Whatever their limitations now, however, any time that white paramilitary groups gather strength, the potential for organized racist and bigoted violence increases exponentially.

The assassination of a doctor, the shooting death of a Holocaust museum guard and the point-blank murders of a Latino man and his nine-year old daughter, among other crimes, occurred during the first half of the year.  Coupled with an exceedingly high number of death threats against the first black president, it began to look as if United States might enter a new period of heightened racist and bigoted violence.  According to the Secret Service, the death threats slowed down in the last half of the year, however, and the first year of the Obama administration ended mixed, with up-tics for some racists and down-notes for others.

The stunning failure of David Irving’s multi-city speaking American tour to reach any new audiences in 2009—and in several notable instances to find any audience at all—had nothing to do with Barack Obama.  The market for Holocaust denial material is virtually saturated in the United States. In fact, so few Americans have been buying the stuff that Mark Weber’s Institute for Historical Review gave up the game and decided to just sell unabashed and unvarnished anti-Semitic propaganda. (See, “Defiance, Valkyrie, Major Remer, Mark Weber and the Limits of Holocaust Denial, January 24, 2009,”

Throughout the year, in the states of Missouri, Arizona, California and elsewhere, the National Socialist Movement engaged in set-piece street theatre. These were public rallies where uniformed swastika-emblazoned NSM members were protected by police from large and usually effective anti-racists protests.  New members that have joined the NSM do so because of the organizational disarray in other sectors of the national socialist universe, and Barack Obama is at most a backdrop to those events.

Similarly, David Duke drew an audience of less than 75 people in a Washington D.C. hotel on 7 November, at a conference sponsored by Willis Carto’s American Free Press.  The small size of the crowd was mostly due to the diminished attraction of events sponsored by Carto, not because Obama is president.

The Council of Conservative Citizens touted increased traffic on its web site after Obama’s inauguration.  Last June, at a Council conference in the heart of the organization’s territory, Jackson, Mississippi, however, attendance was lower than it had been in previous years.  While the white-ists claimed that 200 travelled to this Mississippi meet, a more realistic estimate–based on pictures of the event—is that about 100 showed up.  By contrast, at a similar conference in Greenville, South Carolina in 2007, about 250 people attended.

In Jackson, white nationalist attorney Sam Dickson, said that it was a good thing Barack Obama was in office, “so that we can see that the people who hate us are running this country.”  In the same speech he averred, “We are no longer conservatives, we are revolutionaries.”   In those two short sentences, he reiterated the long-standing presumption by white nationalists that the government of the United States is in the complete grasp of their “racial enemies,” and nothing short of “revolution” will fulfil their quest for “white power.”  Obama confirmed this notion and did not change it.

Obama’s election did coincide with new support for a strategy to carve a whites-only territory out of North America through racial partition.  An organization calling itself the Northwest Front opened up shop in Oregon and Washington.  Operating under the tutelage of Harold Covington, who has recently written four race-war novels that argue for a white republic in the Pacific Northwest, this group has attracted a few young acolytes.  Covington has a long and unhappy history in the national socialist netherworld, however, and this new Front’s connection with him almost guarantees that the organization will remain relatively small and ingrown.

Nevertheless, the idea of partition gained a new and slightly more coherent advocate during 2009. An essay sponsored by The Occidental Quarterly, argues forcefully and coherently for a partition strategy.  The Occidental Quarterly, with an advisory board of a half dozen PhDs, has emerged as the central address for the most advanced strategic thinking among intellectual anti-Semites,  scientific racists and anti-immigrant white nationalists.  And this essay, “Towards the White Republic” by Michael o’ Meara, addresses itself to objections to the partition strategy raised by the late Sam Francis and others who did not wish to abandon all hope of recapturing the United States government in its entirety.  “Partition” rests on the premise that white nationalist forces are not strong enough to win the entire country back.

A second tendency, opposite in effect from the partition strategy, emerged with new vigour in 2009:  the “Take Our Country Back” Tea Partiers. In contrast to the highly developed white nationalist consciousness of partition advocates, Tea Partiers are more ideologically diffuse, and in many cases deny that they are racists.  Denials aside, Tea Party protests are chock full of explicitly racist sloganeering, and their emergence in 2009 are the largest and most direct response by white racists to the election of Barack Obama.  It is a developing phenomenon (see Searchlight October “Tea parties, race, Republicans and the Opposition to Obama”), and we can expect to see much more of it in 2010.  If Obama manages to bring comprehensive immigration reform forward in the Congress next year, anti-racists should expect to find the Tea Partiers standing with the anti-immigrant forces that have long been waiting in the rut, hoping to shoot down any legislation that contain any form of amnesty for undocumented workers.

It will be on that ground that the battle for the future will first be fought.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Searchlight Magazine.

Leonard Zeskind is the president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights and author of the new book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream.


Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

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