May 3, 2019
1. It Was Born in the United States
White nationalism, a movement that focuses on preserving the political power and authority of the white race, originated in the U.S. and provided powerful inspiration for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. “It was America that taught us a nation should not open its doors equally to all nations,” Hitler told The New York Times a year before he rose to Germany’s helm. Today’s white nationalists often see themselves as patriots, defending America’s founding principles dating to colonial times.
The ideology, rooted in white supremacy, a racist belief that white people of European descent are superior to other races, has continued to be one of the nation’s exports. As humanitarian crises increase and shift populations, a fear of being outnumbered and governed by nonwhites has spawned a rise of white supremacist and white nationalist movements around the world. Hate crimes against refugees, immigrants, Muslims and Jews have increased in recent years, up 17 percent in 2017. Of the hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 58 percent were anti-Jewish. References to the movement’s American roots can be found in the online manifestos of the shooters at the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh, the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, and the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Study after study show a disturbing rise in hate crimes in the current socio-political climate,” said Natalia Mahmud, AJC Assistant Director of U.S. Muslim-Jewish Relations. White supremacists are troubled by the growing diversity of elected officials. “All of these things pose a threat to their culture and the definition of America," Mahmud said.
2. Jews are Enemy No. 1
Jews are a primary target of the white supremacist movement. African-Americans and other minorities are viewed as secondary targets. "It's those antisemitic tropes that Jews are manipulative and controlling and hold the power,” Mahmud said. African-Americans and other minorities are the tools used by the so-called “Jewish puppeteers” to unseat the white race from the proverbial throne, white nationalists believe. Indeed, Arthur Jipson, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Dayton, said antisemitism is the most enduring component of the white supremacist worldview. Though the linguistic flourishes vary, Jipson said, today’s white supremacist propaganda echoes 12th Century condemnations of Jews. But in some white nationalist circles, that condemnation is not as blatant. While white supremacists condemn “ZOG,” or the “Zionist-occupied government,” white nationalists often use more coded language such as “an international conspiracy to undermine white civilization.”
3. Murdering Jews Is a Call to Arms
For the white nationalist and white supremacist movements, a murderous attack on a Jewish institution is one way to kill Jews, but also can serve as a call to arms. “White nationalists believe there is an inevitable conflict coming – a race war – that has been building for years, if not centuries,” Jipson said. “They envision ‘the Day of the Rope,’ when white people who have been asleep will wake up and become politically, socially and militarily active and literally overthrow the chains of their oppressors and engage in acts of violence on a huge scale that heretofore we have not seen.” Both shooters in Pittsburgh and Poway believed their attacks would be the spark for this anticipated revolution.
4. The Government Has Struggled to Address It
Statistics show only 12 percent of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 2010 have been carried out by extremists acting in the name of Islam, whereas 35 percent have been carried out by white extremists who espouse white supremacist ideology. However, in recent years the U.S. government has reduced funding for programs aimed at countering domestic terrorism and heightened its focus on international terror threats. In addition, Mahmud said, First Amendment protections such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, make it impossible to apply foreign terrorism laws to domestic terrorists. As a result, there are fewer laws on the books to address threats of domestic terrorism before it happens.
AJC and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) have co-convened the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a group of dozens of leaders and experts who advocate together for hate crimes legislation and other common issues.
5. What You Can Do
The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council has advocated for hearings in both houses of Congress to assess the danger of white supremacist ideology. Earlier this month, just days after MJAC called on Congress to examine white supremacist motives behind violent hate crimes, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the topic.
In the wake of the Poway shootings, MJAC has again called on Congress to investigate whether law enforcement agencies have the resources to address these threats; whether new legislation is needed; and how technology and social media can be used to counter extremist content and radicalization to violence.