Inside the White Supremist Movement

I don’t usually listen to podcasts. When I’m working at my computer, I prefer tomb-like quiet. My commute is one flight of stairs. And when I run, I listen to an embarrassing mix of country, rap, and Beyoncé.

But this morning I couldn’t run, because all my running bras were in the wash. So, I walked two miles instead. For some reason, power walks require podcasts, not an embarrassing mix of country, rap, and Beyoncé. I pulled up The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily (Tuesday, August 22) on Spotify.

Michael Barbaro interviewed Derek Black, a former white nationalist whose father was the former grandmaster of the KKK. Black grew up with those people. His father also ran one of the big white supremacist websites. Black started up his own blog for white supremacist kids at age 12.

In the podcast, he describes the ideas that are at the root of the movement. For example, he says that they don’t just hate black people. Anti-Semitism is a big part of their ideology, as we saw on display at Charlotteville. The members wouldn’t describe themselves as a hate group. They just think that the world would be better, if different people lived in their own zones. They oppose globalism. Lots more in the podcast.

And then he went to college. And his views changed. His views didn’t change because professors were indoctrinating him or yelling at him. No, his views changed because he became good friends with an observant Jew, who even knowing about Black’s political views, invited him every week to Shabbat services at his house. There, around the table, he talked politics and social ideas with the other guests. They slowly, over the course of the year and during many conversations, convinced Black that he was wrong about his ideas. They brought information and studies to show him that countered the arguments that he had grown up believing.


Okay, rant over.

Black walked away from the white supremacists. His family barely speaks to him anymore. And the pain of the rejection was palpable on the podcast.

He talked about the content of Trump’s speeches and pointed out lines — lines that were meaningless to me — that echoed and supported white supremacist messages. White supremacists, he said, were a small fringe movement, but some of their ideas have been absorbed by Republicans.

Why is this Black guy not a regular on CNN? He knows more about the movement than any of the other pundits that their show. I learned more from this podcast than I did from hours and hours of CNN viewing this week.

36 thoughts on “Inside the White Supremist Movement

  1. I just don’t know about this. Why is Black’s anecdotal experience any more valid than my own? My BIL has been a part of my family since the late 1990s. Because we love him, we talk about our political views with our typical mix of passion, humor, and reasonability. And he still voted for Trump.


    1. This guy is part of a family that runs the biggest white supremist website and his dad was the former KKK leader. Since I doubt your BIL was walking around shouting “blood and soil” last week, I think this guy’s insight is very relevant.

      Sure, sometimes reasonable talk doesn’t work. Probably often times. But you know what never works? Shunning people and not talking to them at all.


      1. I agree that shunning won’t work as far as converting white supremacists, but I don’t see why I should worry about that. It’s not a political concern and politics needs to operate given human failings, not be required to fix them before starting. The point of shunning is to make it clear to people attacked or threatened by white supremacists that they are not without support and to make it clear to people thinking of opportunistically using white supremacists for commercial or political gain that there will be a cost for doing so. There is a coalition to be built and it isn’t going to be built by trying everything possible to solicit the good graces of those most opposed to it while ignoring the people who are basically in support of it.


      2. Right. The observant Jew who invited this Black guy to his house sounds like a saint. From a strategy point of view, there’s no harm in shunning white supremacists. There are too few of them to matter. It makes more sense to invite the Trump voters into the house, because there are 62 million of them. But listening to Black today helps me understand that movement and their influence on the mainstream Republican Party. You can’t fight something that you don’t understand.


      3. You’re conflating unembarassable extremists with embarassable extremists. People who support Trump have already accepted his white supremacist ideas. They’re just too embarrassed to admit it.

        So yes, I believe embarrassment is a strategy that works. Because if the embarrassable extremists do not talk about their views, then they don’t pass them down to the next generation through exposure.

        I’ve read about Derek Black, and it’s heartwarming to believe I have the power to change Nazis’ opinions just by being nice to them. I’m not sure I entirely believe his narrative though, or rather his own ability to understand what happened to him. Going to college in the first place, much less a liberal SLAC, was probably his first act of rebellion, even if he didn’t realize it. He wanted something more than what white supremacism was giving him.

        Then he gets there, and “He attended an introductory college meeting about diversity and concluded that the quickest way to be ostracized was to proclaim himself a racist.” So he had to change his behavior and not speak about his opinions in order for people to talk to him. So hey, ostracism had a role to play. (Via

        I feel very strongly about free speech rights. I’m definitely not in favor of government shutting down free speech; I think it’s generally better to counter speech I don’t like with other speech, with assembly, with protest. I think these forms of first amendment rights are important and are good strategies because most white supremacists are embarrassed about their views. If people have to fake it until they become it (fake being a decent person until they become one), I am okay with that.


  2. “Why is this Black guy not a regular on CNN? He knows more about the movement than any of the other pundits that their show”

    I think you just answered your own question, Laura.


  3. This paragraph from Lilla’s book has been quoted online multiple times: Electoral politics is a little like fishing. When you fish you get up early in the morning and go to where the fish are — not to where you might wish them to be. You then drop bait into the water (bait being defined as something they want to eat, not as “healthy choices”). Once the fish realize they are hooked they may resist. Let them; loosen your line. Eventually they will calm down and you can slowly reel them in, careful not to provoke them unnecessarily. The identity liberals’ approach to fishing is to remain on shore, yelling at the fish about the historical wrongs visited on them by the sea, and the need for aquatic life to renounce its privilege. All in the hope that the fish will collectively confess their sins and swim to shore to be netted. If that is your approach to fishing, you had better become a vegan.


    1. There are certainly leftists who operate like that, but in numbers I don’t think they are more significant to the left than white supremacists are to the right. I think what happens is there is a whole news machine to search out and magnify every little incident. And I think the left needs to see if it can’t duplicate that machine except attacking the right in the same way.


    2. “If that is your approach to fishing, you had better become a vegan.”

      FTR, I don’t eat fish, never have. 😀

      I’d also like to suggest that the analogy is flawed because seafood is often poisoned by pollution (caused by the capitalist system dumping its waste into our waterways), and if you did ingest the fish, you’re likely to be poisoned as well.

      I’ll hang out on the shore and leave the fish be. 😉


  4. My mother was a civil rights lawyer in the PNW. I grew up in skinhead central. I could recognize a neo-Nazi skinhead by age 5. I never remember a time without swastikas spray-painted on local businesses. From age 12-18, I read the the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group newsletter every week. At one point, I could quote you the FBI hate crime statistics from every state in 1998. I used to attend professional conferences with my mother. I can tell you the difference between American vs. Nazi-based hate groups. I can tell you about Middle American Radicals (the 90s term for Trump voters), and the genealogical between various hate groups. My mother (who did not work with hate groups) exists in the same professional circuit with people who work full time to reform hate group members. She knows Jewish people who do outreach with neo-Nazis, black people who work with the Klan. These people are amazing and brave humans, and they do incredible, important work. That said, it’s exhausting, dangerous, and hard. Even my mother, a Nice White Lady, has gotten death threats for her much more mundane work in civil rights. I know what it’s like to inspect a car for sabotage before getting in it, just in case someone was trying to make it blow up. My mother has, in the late 90s, gotten called a ni**er lover and a race traitor as part of her job. Again, this is important work, but it is in *no way* the responsibility of Jews, people of color, or heck, anyone, to do this work. It is NOT the job of the hated to make the haters like them. Celebrate heroism, but don’t normalize it. If people want to shun people who hate them, who want them dead, that is a normal, acceptable response. If people want to shun or hate people who want their friends and neighbors dead, that is an entirely appropriate response. Good for you that you don’t have any experience or knowledge of white supremacy. That’s a form of privilege, of race and of class. From that position, PLEASE do not tell people how they ought to treat white supremacists. PLEASE do not tell people that they need to embrace neo-Nazis with open arms. If you want to take up that task, I will greatly admire you for that. Similarly, if you want to do open water deep sea rescue, or smoke jumping, I would also be impressed.

    And also, I agree that it’s important for decent people to shun white supremacists also to signal to the almost 40% of Americans who aren’t white that they are welcome here. I’m ok with being in a coalition with the (hopefully) vast majority of Americans that don’t include Nazis. You want to peel off Nazis, reform them into decent people, great. I agree with others, however, that that is not necessary for creating a viable political coalition. If they’re so few people, it’s not necessary. If so many Americans are openly white supremacist that we can’t form a viable political coalition without them, then America is facing a much larger problem than which politician wins the next election.




    If you, personally, happen to be a saint, and converting hateful people by being lovingly open toward them regardless of their beliefs or behavior is something you’re up for, you should do that. But I’m not going to judge anyone who can’t, and I’m certainly not going to believe that if we can’t transform every liberal into that kind of saint we should give up.


  6. One dishonest thing that is happening in these conversations is that we’re conflating the most ridiculous demands of tumblr identitarian leftists with the pretty basic requirement to not like Nazis. Again, *no one* is asking mainstream Americans to recognize demisexuals or otherkin as valid. No one is losing their job in corporate America for saying “transgendered” instead of “transgender.” There are tons of ridiculous identiarian leftists. No one, outside of of the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate’s office, is taking these people seriously. No. One. What people are asking is that Jews, black people, homosexuals, and women be viewed as human. Humans deserving of life and basic human decency. This is really not complicated.

    I’m also going to say this. If people being obnoxious on the internet, or on a college campus, causes people to want to kill them and others like them, the problem is not the people being obnoxious. Part of being human is being obnoxious. We don’t give rights to women or black people or gay people or Jews only if they are perfect. We give them rights because they are people, fundamentally deserving of rights. So what if feminists, or college students, or black people are obnoxious? Does that mean they don’t deserve to vote? To own property? To leave the house? To live? We haven’t undone racism if we only allow people of color, or women, or Jews to exist in narrow parameters of being perfect in a way that doesn’t ruffle the feathers of white men. Going on about how the “left” brings it on by being obnoxious misses this giant point.


  7. First of all, I agree totally with everything Laura has written since the events in Charlottesville. That doesn’t always happen.

    Second, I find a lot of the discussion misguided in the way it conflates the mass of Trump supporters, the mass of conservatives/Republicans, and the very small mass of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. There are quite a few people who voted for Trump after previously voting for Obama, and there are quite a few conservatives who declined to vote for Trump. These are the people Democrats need to reel in if they are going to win, and it isn’t going to be done with insult and vituperation.

    Finally, although Nazis probably have nothing useful to say,* and aren’t numerically significant in America today, attempts by either government or powerful corporations to suppress their speech are dangerous. What will happen if some legislature declares that Black Lives Matter is a “hate group”? The only safe way to assure your own freedom of expression to to concede that same freedom to others.

    *Opinions differ as to whether, e.g., Heidegger had something useful to say.


  8. Also, for people opposed to postmodernism, you’re pretty committed to words and actions not having meaning. No one is pulling the Nazi connection out of a hat. We actually had Nazis marching with guns and torches shouting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” We actually had a Republican president claiming that the Nazis included some “fine people.” The connection between Republicans and Nazis has been made by Republicans falling over themselves to defend Nazism, starting from the POTUS. I pretty much despise everything about Ted Cruz, but he is not a Nazi, and he was able to call Charlottesville for what it was, a demonstration of white terrorism. If Trump had said the same thing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. What for the life of me I can’t understand is why people who insist they’re not Nazis are picking this hill to die on.

    Related to “words have meaning,” Black Lives Matter is not a hate group, unless you think, well, black lives don’t matter. With that hypothetical, anything could be a hate group. The Red Cross, or the Southern Baptist Women’s Convention. I don’t oppose fighting white supremacy because the American Cancer Association could, in some dystopian alternate world, be declared a hate group. I live in this reality, where we have actual Nazis, wielding actual guns, threatening actual Americans.


    1. Making white people sad is a hate group.

      Personally, I’m waiting for the class warfare to start. I think it will go better, electorally. Especially after no Republican job creation.


  9. I was never the saintly type. I think Gandhi’s movement of Satyagraha succeeded in kicking the English out of India and the beginning of the end of empire because the Nazi’s destroyed Europe.

    I have heard Black’s story (on NPR, I think, because it is all I listen to). I think that he should be spending his time spent kindly talking his own tribe out of their hate, not being an ambassador to me on how to tolerate and love them out of hate.

    I have always been moved by Elie Wiesel’s quote on taking sides and speaking up. But I discovered a new one in the discussion on Charlottesville: “What hurts the victim most is the not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander”.

    When hate is directed towards me (like Richard Spencer’s segregationist world) most people dismiss Spencer himself. As you say, Nazis are not a big party in the US. They will not gain power by themselves. But, when others don’t take a stand, targets can’t know the degree of sympathy and it is with the bystanders silence or support that evil gains power. I have been feeling this fear of silence quite personally these days, and one of the things that raises my hope is when people who generally remain silent take a stand; I’ve been discovering that a surprising number of white rich people I know have decided that they do have to take a stand. It makes a personal difference to me. My daughter recently entered a public space and a group of girl scouts surrounded her, she thinks, to provide a safe space, to stand with her. She was amused that they thought she needed that support, in our liberal city, but also pleased.

    I am not going to fight this battle with kindness. I’m also not going to fight it with violence. But, I will fight it with power — social power, economic power, political power. I don’t know who will win that fight. Some of the anger, the unwillingness to either be kind to Nazis or to reel fish in slowly, might indeed drive some others to the other camp. Those are real risks. But, we don’t need to convince Nazi’s of anything; under no condition can they be part of any coalition I support. Trump voters are a minority in the country now (even if the structure of US democracy currently favors them). Their demographic minority is growing smaller. And, Republicans have shown themselves incapable of governing. So I am hopeful.


  10. As a blue state liberal with deep red state roots, I’ve been dismayed at the way my fellow liberals talk (and post) about Trump voters and their concerns, because it displays a worrisome ignorance about ~46% of the population – your fellow citizens, like it or not – and often outright hatred, and it has hurt us in the long run. Even if the electoral college worked differently and Hilary was president, the fact that 46% of the voters even CONSIDERED voting for him should have had us quaking in our boots and considering how the hell we got here.

    I have no idea how to win over hardened white supremacists in any numbers, but if you consider the lunatic fringe is acting out the worst incarnation of a vast number of Trump voters’ fears that have been ignored, mocked and belittled, maybe ignoring, mocking and belittling things like half the country’s religion and fear of culture change and concern that an everything-but-open-borders policy will change their home in ways they don’t want hasn’t served us well in the long run?

    We on the left have taken a strong and moral stand that what looks like poor decision making and misguided values in the underclass or misogyny from some immigrant cultures be viewed within some cultural context, but seem mostly unable to doing that with the other almost-half of our country.

    Othering and dehumanizing language and attitudes aren’t any less ugly when applied to our own citizens, than it is when applied to ethnic minorities and Syrian refugees.

    When I hear people defend that kind of thing by claiming they are making sure minorities and LBGTQ people feel safer and know they have allies, I’m reminded of the people who loudly shame fat people in public “for their own good – so they don’t think being fat is healthy.” I call bullshit. You are perfectly capable of signaling alliance and support to one set of people without dehumanizing another set and you know it. I know righteous fury is a ton of fun, but please indulge yourself in private if you can’t control it. Displaying it in public only makes it more likely that we’ll be dealing with Trump and Pence for 7 more years instead of 3.


    1. I don’t think I’ve been dehumanizing the other. I think that anything I do will be considered dehumanizing of Trump voters by Fox and other news sources. I don’t see the ground to stand on that would be taken as both supporting minorities and not attacking Trump voters. I don’t see how the left has taken away that ground. If you’re going to take defense of equal voting righs as an attack on white people, you’re going to feel under attack from me and I don’t see anything I can do about it.


    2. Anyway, I am very nice in person dealing with red state white people. I have to be as my roots are about as deep red state as they come. But I’m not going to extend the same kindness I would extend to a cousin or a person I went to high school with to elected people who are willing to work with Trump or to people who use “liberal” continually as a slur. And I’m not going to hector my new neighbors and coworkers about how they should be nice to people who are attacking them.


    3. I think you have to address your comments at the particular liberals who are engaging in the behavior that you are describing. Wanting there to be a safe space for LBGTQ people and minorities certainly doesn’t preclude wanting the same space for fat people.

      I try hard not to mock, at all, even in private (though I certainly sometimes fail). You, however, are engaging in a false equivalencing. It is not possible to signal alliance with those being targeted without stating clearly that the beliefs, even fundamental beliefs of those doing the targeting are wrong, and sometimes evil. That’s true for white Nazis and white supremacists and religious people who think that being gay is a sin. It’s also true for the “underclass” who share those views (including anti-gay non-christian religious sentiment). Stating clearly that certain ideas and behavior are unacceptable is not mocking. But, as MH points out, any disagreement with the beliefs of certain groups of Trump voters (and Trump himself) is seen as mocking, fake, and a personal attack. So, I see no way to avoid the reaction.

      Almost half the country has had evil views before, and we didn’t suppress those views by winning them over. We fought a war and then gave up while the evil reasserted itself (with confederate statues, and voter suppression and segregation). Those things didn’t change until we abandoned silence as allies. Maybe the civil rights movement changed the minds of some of the segregationists who didn’t thinks blacks should vote, but the current climate suggests that those who changed their minds might have been a pretty small group.


  11. Historically, have these groups, and not just individuals ever been over? I do not see how that’s ever won over the extremists. When we look at the anti-colonial movements, slavery, segregation, apartheid, what we see is a combination of resistance that made life at least uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) for those supporting the wrong side and allies whose group grew larger by drawing people who could not stomach the wrongness. I have no hope of winning over Nazis, and won’t try. But, Michael Gerson, Chris Vance, the Bush family? Will some of them leave the Republicans? Chris Vance is identifying himself as a “former Republican” now.


  12. Clearly stating your beliefs isn’t mocking, no matter what Fox News says.

    But what I see constantly on blogs, on social media, in my local paper every day goes beyond stating beliefs into mocking and othering. When you post a series of pictures of badly spelled signs at an alt-right rally, that’s mocking. When you post something saying “will trade fascists for refugees,” you’ve just confirmed their worst (and possibly legitimate) fears – that liberals and elites privilege anyone from another country over our white working class and would be happy, in fact, if our white working class would just die off – and, yes, that’s dehumanizing. When you applaud some small town cake maker going out of business over her refusal to do something that was legal the month before and that the religion she’s followed since childhood (no matter how loathsome you and I both find it) forbids, you are increasing the divide.

    If you aren’t doing that, I’m not talking to you. But over and over again, we (as liberals) ARE doing that and we need to stop.

    My belief is that if we better understood the concerns of Trump voters, we would be able to sell our own values a whole lot better without compromising them. But that’s hard and it’s a lot more fun to rant and rave.


    1. My belief is that if we better understood the concerns of Trump voters, we would be able to sell our own values a whole lot better without compromising them.

      There has been a slew of new articles about what is going in the minds of working-class, white Trump voters every week since the election. I’ve read several of these articles and have learned not one new, helpful thing that could be used to persuade them to vote Democrat.

      Since we’re creating a comprehensive list of all of the things that are wrong with liberals, I’ll add this pollyannaish idea that if we just learn more about what Trump voters are thinking, then we’ll be able to appeal to their better selves. We already know what Trump voters are thinking and, as it turns out, it mostly ain’t pretty. The idea that we can somehow reason them out of unappealing views that are primarily driven by emotion is silly and it won’t work. It’s like trying to reason with anti-vaxxers who’ve gone full down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories involving the FDA and big Pharma and Monsanto.

      And also? A huge part of Trump’s base are suburban and exurban whites who are completely economically comfortable. These are the people that are willing to throw basically everyone under the bus to get their $33 tax cut. This is the real scourge of the Republican party. Why aren’t their most exposes on them?


      1. And there is also so much anger based on the idea of “payback” and vengeance against liberals. If it makes liberals unhappy, Trump voters love it. I don’t know what to do with that.


      2. And also? A huge part of Trump’s base are suburban and exurban whites who are completely economically comfortable. These are the people that are willing to throw basically everyone under the bus to get their $33 tax cut. This is the real scourge of the Republican party. Why aren’t their most exposes on them?

        Oh, yes. I do mock those suburbanites.

        I didn’t mock the small town cake maker who went out of business but I did mock the pizza maker who refused to give pizzas at gay weddings because how often is somebody going to ask for pizza at their wedding?


      3. The Trump voters I know are comfortable and white. The single biggest thing that liberals could do to win them over would be to permit free debate on campuses. But you won’t do that. You won’t apologize to Allison Stanger and she-who-must-not-be-named at Yale. You won’t apologize for preventing Heather Macdonald from speaking. You won’t apologize for the president of Emory’s vow to use surveillance cameras to identify anyone chalking Trump slogans on campus. If you won’t make any overture to people in your own socio-economic-cultural group, what possible hope do you have of reaching the working class?


    2. It’s not only more fun, it gets you status in the left-liberal Amen Chorus. People have so much fun fishing for compliments from their fellow believers that they omit any thought about the wider society. As the rightist blogger Instapundit (who our commenter MH tells us he is too pure to read) often says:
      ‘You want more Trump? This is how you get more Trump’. Nora, you have it exactly right.


      1. But that’s the thing. I don’t want or need a coalition with comfortable suburban white men who believe in white supremacy and women’s inferiority. I really don’t. I want a coalition with people who I agree with, on some level, who share the same policy goals and vision of society with. I’m more than happy to form a coalition with wealthy white men, but not at the expense of everything I agree on, including my own bodily autonomy, safety, or even life. (I had a nonviable pregnancy require lifesaving emergency. In a Mike Pence world, I could easily be dead or unable to ever have children if I survived). I could also move to Syria and volunteer my services to ISIS, but I don’t because that would be counterproductive for my vision of a future world.

        If wealthy white men are worked up because college campuses are spaces where they’re not automatically in control of the conversation, I really don’t care, and I really don’t see how it’s applicable to most of the people in America. A vast majority of Americans will never step foot on the campuses of Yale, or Oberlin, or Stanford. What happens at these places is irrelevant to 99% of American society. And if people actually care about the white working class, beyond using them as a fig leaf to score cheap shots at those who want to redistribute social resources more equitably, then support policies that help the white working class. Advocate for widespread opioid programs and find a president who will put this front and center (Trump’s refusing to declare it an emergency). Advocate for healthcare and job training and sustainable economic industries in the Rustbelt, West, and Appalachia. Instead, you’re promoting programs that further immiserate the white working class while claiming your political opponents far poorer than you, far more connected with the working class, are the “real” elitists. (At least some of us grew up raised by white working class people, and there used to be a white working class commenter.)

        Secondly, I don’t know what is more insulting to the white working class than to assume that they can’t help but be Nazis or KKK members. Neo-Nazism isn’t “white working class culture,” as wannabe anthropologists seem to assume on this blog. I’m also sort of flummoxed by the idea we need a second, much lower set of moral or ethical standards by which to judge white working class people. It seems pretty insulting to then, and last time I checked, white working class people weren’t really into the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (to quote a former president), anymore than anyone else is.


      2. As the rightist blogger Instapundit (who our commenter MH tells us he is too pure to read) often says

        I said nothing of the sort. I said I read it for years and eventually realized it had nothing to offer.


      3. Secondly, I don’t know what is more insulting to the white working class than to assume that they can’t help but be Nazis or KKK members.

        Yes. And to assume that the Nazis and KKK members aren’t middle class whites in many cases. Because this stuff is flowing down from the top in an deliberately created movement lead by well-off white people, not up.


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