White Nationalists

White Supremacy Is a Dead End For White People

Courtesy will get you farther than tiki torches.


Photo credit: Shay Horse/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom

The white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville last weekend, as well as their confederates who cheered from afar, are now learning just how expensive it is to own those views in public. In the week since "Unite the Right,"

Nick Gillespie wrote about the freedom to associate and all of its implication last week, so I won't go into that, beyond pointing out that if you click on that Cloudflare link, you'll see the company's CEO has some mixed feelings about terminating The Daily Stormer's contract. (He doesn't have a lick of sympathy for the site's members or mission, but he was able to erase their presence on the internet with the click of a button, and he's not sure anyone should have that power.)

Instead, I'd like to piggyback on Kevin Williamson's recent piece at National Review, about what all these angry white men want. "They don't have any straightforward demands like the Teamsters or PETA do, and they do not have a well-developed ideological position like the Communists do, though it would be inaccurate to say that they lack an ideology entirely," Williamson writes. His best guess? "They want to be someone other than who they are. That's the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals."

I grew up in a town where the Confederate flag was displayed casually and unabashedly, in actual fabric form as well as on mudflaps and bumper stickers. My ancestors fought for Davis and Jefferson and slavery, and my grandparents were members of descendant organizations. Williamson's theory that white supremacists are looking for purpose in all the wrong places reflects what I saw in my hometown.

By chance, I made friends in high school with someone who came to identify himself as a neo-Nazi; he was never able to provide me with a cogent explanation for how a Jewish person, or even all the Jewish people combined, were responsible for his terrible grades, his social anxiety, his parents' inability to find satisfying work in our impoverished town, or the dilapidated state of the trailer into which the three of them were crammed. I'm not sure there even were any Jewish people in our town; I don't remember meeting a Jewish person until college. When I worked construction in the early 2000s, my foreman—who was only 10 years older—was a Klansman who could barely pay his bills and showed up to job sites hung over. These people were born into less than ideal circumstances, but those circumstances were not orchestrated by black people or Jews or Muslims or Catholics. (I'm assuming the KKK still hates Rome.)

In May 2012, the FBI arrested some of my former high school classmates as they trained with American Front, a white supremacist group founded in San Francisco in the 1980s. Their leader had set up a compound off the lone highway that ran through our town, where they drilled with guns and talked about starting or responding to a race war. I can only imagine what a person of color might have felt when they read about what was brewing next door. The men in particular look scary as hell.

But I once knew several of those people, and what I saw when I looked at their mugshots is the same thing I'd seen years earlier: sore losers.

I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. I mean that some people get what they want, and some people don't, for reasons both beyond and within their control. Many of the men who marched on Charlottesville, for instance, appear to have come of working age since the housing market crashed. Maybe they feel resentful the economy went belly up just as the world was asking them to take care of themselves.

Yet most of the people who fail to make it big in this country still honor the social contract, regardless of whatever prejudices they harbor. I worked construction with a Klansman, yes, but I also worked alongside Jamaicans, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Italian Americans. If those guys wanted a pure ethnostate, I still don't know because they only ever articulated their most immediate and relevant concerns: for the guy on the back-hoe not to crush them with the bucket when they were down in the hole and that we all get off early enough on Friday that we could cash our paychecks before the bank closed. People also wanted rides to job sites and rides home. And do you know how they got those things? By not being assholes to the people who could provide them. The vast majority of us—from high school dropouts to economic elites—know you can't expect caution and courtesy if you're not offering the same.

And now the "dapper" echelons of the alt-right—with all their education and supposed historical acumen—have also learned this valuable lesson, one the rest of America has known for quite a while: being awful in public won't get them anywhere a sane person wants to be.