A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
I would say there is an increase in interest in the white nationalist movement now, but not necessarily an upsurge in violence that is out of the ordinary. It's something that is always there ...
-- Leonard Zeskind, author, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream
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BuzzFlash is deeply concerned, yet eager to understand what's behind the recent killings at a Kansas reproductive health clinic and a Washington, D.C. Holocaust museum. Both prime suspects, Scott Roeder and James von Brunn, have had long and active relationships with radical right-wing groups such as the Freemen, Liberty Lobby and the National Alliance. Today we called up a person who has studied extremist groups and the shooters they spawn for decades -- author and anti-racism activist Leonard Zeskind.
In his heavily researched and much lauded book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Zeskind describes two extremist factions among the white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denier and anti-Semitic groups. The mainstreamists, he says, are like David Duke -- they seek a political base and larger numbers. The vanguardists are more interested in going out on their own -- acting on their beliefs in direct, targeted ways.
But as Zeskind told Bill Berkowitz recently: "… these are not a string of disconnected organizations sharing only a common set of hatreds. Rather, this is a single movement, with a common set of leaders and interlocking memberships that hold a complete and sometimes sophisticated ideology. Further, the white nationalist movement today is organized around the notion that the power of whites to control government and social policy has already been overthrown by people of color and Jews, rather unlike the Klan of the 1960s which sought to defend a system of racial apartheid in the South.”
Zeskind talked with BuzzFlash about the relationship between the leaders and the shooters who make up a clearly dangerous radical movement. He suggests how America should see them, and how to respond.
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BuzzFlash: You've said, "This is a single movement ... with a common set of leaders and interlocking memberships ..." Who and what are some of them?
Leonard Zeskind: There's been a leadership shift ... during the period covered by most of my book, it would have been two camps. There's Willis Carto's Liberty Lobby, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers. Von Brunn worked for him for a while in the Seventies. William Luther Pierce, former physics professor and author of The Turner Diaries, was founder of the National Alliance. But today there's a shift going on. I think that individual leaders are less important than they may have been several years ago.
The axis of groups includes the Council of Conservative Citizens, the lineal descendants of the old White Citizens' Councils, and American Renaissance, the Council's think tank arm, a player in the pseudo-scientific racism world. The Council was involved in the Confederate flag phenomenon.
David Duke now spends most of his time in Europe, and was arrested recently in Prague for Holocaust denial, which is against the law there.
The skinhead music scene factionalized along similar lines to factions in the United Kingdom, with one faction being the Hammerskins. There are many, many more organizations than just the central axis players.
BuzzFlash: Do you think the NRA is playing a role in the white nationalist movement? If so, what role?
Leonard Zeskind: It would be my argument that the reverse is true. To some extent there are white nationalist folks inside the NRA. I went to the NRA convention in 1995, and militia supporters were there. There are still militia types inside the NRA. It's probably more useful to think of the NRA as a Republican lobby.
BuzzFlash: What do we do if a resurgence of a violent white nationalist movement is indeed under way?
Leonard Zeskind: There are two wings, as I've said, to be dealt with differently: the violent folks, what I call the vanguardists, and the mainstreamers. The mainstreamers are very big in the anti-immigrant movement.
Now, we've had a couple of killings, but by my count, there was more violence in the first six months of 1987 than this year. 1983, '84 and '85 were also violent. In the mid-90s we had the Oklahoma City bombing ... so there have been periods when there was much heavier, more organized violence than we are seeing today.
I would say there is an increase in interest in the white nationalist movement now, but not necessarily an upsurge in violence that is out of the ordinary. It's something that is always there, with an ebb and flow. That the Tiller and von Brunn shootings were close together was coincidence probably.
BuzzFlash: Is a battle raging between white racism and diversity? Between nationalism and globalization?
Leonard Zeskind: Absolutely. One of the subtitles of the book is actually "White Nationalism Against the New World Order."
BuzzFlash: Some media outlets and the Department of Homeland Security have described violent right-wingers as "lone wolves." What do you think of that description?
Leonard Zeskind: The "lone wolves" terminology comes from the white nationalists themselves. The lone wolf theory was developed initially in response to the fact that the largest guerrlla, now underground organizations, had collapsed. The government was able to find them and crack them. As an alternative, a long-term, highly conscious cadre decided to go out on their own. William Pierce wrote The Hunter, which reflects that.
I think the Department of Homeland Security missed that in their report -- they missed the analytical distinction between shooters and mainstreamers, between vanguardists and mainstreamers. It may have thrown their whole report off. What's happened is that small groups of revolutionary cadres have sought to infiltrate other racist groups.
Mainstreamers like David Duke want a mass following. He is not a terrorist, he is trying to find votes. His approach requires civic action.
Von Brunn was in both groups on and off throughout his career, so I would put these shooters as somewhere in between vanguardists and mainstreamists.
BuzzFlash: Do white nationalist leaders and spokesmen have control over movement members? Are they green-lighting violent action?
Leonard Zeskind: The leaders absolutely do not have control. But they don't have to green-light anything. They know it will just happen.
BuzzFlash: How should law enforcement respond to such acts, or government more generally? Should they treat it as terrorism?
Leonard Zeskind: I think of it as hate crime. I'm nervous about using the term "terrorism," frankly, because it allows the Department of Homeland Security to blur the difference between the vote getters and the shooters.
BuzzFlash: What do we do now to confront the problem?
Leonard Zeskind: People should be aware of these things. Stand up and oppose it. Get involved in anti-racist organizing, as I have done for many years. We organized farmers to stand up in their communities and say, "This is wrong." Stand up against racism.
BuzzFlash: How do you see the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting?
Leonard Zeskind: I see it as a continuation of the campaign of violence that never ends, and it will not end until we defeat the white nationalist movement politically.
When people like von Brunn think they don't have people who support them, they're less likely to go out and shoot. If they believe there's support, they'll become energized to act.
Scott Roeder, who shot Dr. Tiller, was similar in the core beleifs he held about white people in society -- he had been a Freeman, a group that believes in special rights for whites. Roeder and von Brunn both stand in the same room, but they're not the same person. Shooters can come from the vanguardist side, or be in between or in both camps.
As for how other extremists will react to their actions -- I think it's a mistake to predict the immediate future on this. It could go either way.
BuzzFlash: Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate your in-depth study of the problem and your personal efforts to fight back against the hate.
Leonard Zeskind: Glad to talk with you.
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BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Christine Bowman. Based on detailed notes, not a verbatim transcript.
Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream by Leonard Zeskind, available from The BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace.
Review of Blood and Politics, by Bill Berkowitz.
Huffington Post Commentary: "Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Murder of Dr. Tiller," by Leonard Zeskind.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW