Francesca Verge is one of the Features Editors for the blog, and is a second year International Relations student at KCL particularly interested in security and peace studies. Outside of KCL, she loves exploring new areas of London, discussing good music, enjoys a good pint of beer and is always interested in learning new languages.
[Featured Image: a group of men holding up their rifles in the Kentucky State Capitol. Source: The Rolling Stone]
According to the Trump administration, the biggest domestic threat to American security lies somewhere between immigrants, raging liberals, and the press. When looking deeper, I unveiled a much more real threat: white supremacists. Often these groups are seen as simply a small, loud minority that no one is paying attention to. On the contrary, they pose an imminent threat to American lives, American democracy, and American values. Racist ideologies and groups of white supremacists threaten not only minority lives, but are pushing for a race war and undermine democratic processes and institutions. Key to their rise, or arguably to their return, is their legitimization by President Donald Trump, who walks and talks like a leader for such groups.
So how is white supremacy threatening American security? The most obvious place to start is with the domestic terrorist threat that groups like the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys and the KKK have been increasingly posing over the course of Trump’s presidency. The rise of the extreme right and white supremacy has deeply destabilized and divided the US in a way arguably, not felt since the Civil War. Civilians armed with AR-15’s occupying the Michigan State Capitol this past May, demonstrated that extremist groups now publicly (and rather proudly) assert their presence and their ideology. Terrorism expert at Brookings Research Institute, Vanda Felbab Brown, posits that “[white supremacy] is by far the most serious domestic danger in the US on many levels.” This is supported by the FBI’s statistics showing that 73% of extremist murders in the US, in the period between 2008-2018, were by far right and often white supremacist terrorist. This is in stark opposition to only 23% being conducted by Islamic terrorists who are otherwise often blamed for the majority of attacks. Let that sink in. Terrorism doesn’t usually conjure thoughts of the perpetrators being Americans themselves, but this is the new reality. Even the Guardian has reported that 2019 was “the deadliest year in the past quarter century for domestic terrorism in America”. Although it seems like years ago, the pre-covid reality in the US was one of weekly shootings by perpetrators linked to ideas of white supremacy.
What makes this an even more immediate threat is Trump’s legitimization of these groups. In many ways, his administration is actually directly linked with white supremacy, something Trump himself hasn’t even been ashamed of showing. At one point, Steve Bannon (former head of Breitbart News, an extreme right news network) even served as the White House’s Chief Strategist. You don’t need to look far to see more evidence of this. Think of September’s presidential debate, when Trump was asked to publicly condemn such hate groups and he instead ordered the Proud Boys (a far right group associated with violent protests) to “stand back and stand by”. Even more concerning was his response to the 2018 Charlottesville neo-nazi demonstrations, where he maintained that “you had very fine people on both sides”. Rhetoric is powerful when you’re the President of the United States, and these statements introduced the notion that such groups are not something to be condemned.
White supremacists are attempting to instigate a so-called “race war”, and Americans have felt this growing tension everyday, the culmination of it being the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police (an institution that has historical roots in white supremacy, originally functioning as ‘slave patrols’). Research from the Brennan Center has pointed out that white supremacist and anti government groups often have ‘active links’ with law enforcement officials. No wonder the Black Lives Matter movement exploded the way it did this summer. It pointed clearly to the issue of systemic racism, highlighting how the institutionalization of white supremacy poses an acute security threat to black communities nationwide. The imminence of the threat of a so-called race war was manifested in the days running up to this year’s election – business in the downtown areas of New York, Boston, and Los Angeles were completely boarded up ahead of election day, anticipating civil unrest. That should not be a normal fear for a first world democracy, but in the US, it has unfortunately become a realistic worry.
Another way to look at how the spread – or simply the exposure of – endemic white supremacy poses a danger to American democracy is the decay of democratic institutions. Supreme Court judge Amy Coney Barrett -confirmed mere weeks before the election against the dying wish of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg- partly represents the institutionalization of discriminatory views. She is open to criminalizing abortion, which disproportionately affects women of color. She has routinely denied asylum and humanitarian protection, which is not a mere coincidence when refugees applying for asylum are rarely western, christian and white. The Supreme Court is likely to contribute to the direct erosion, or possibly a gross distortion, of american values like life, liberty, and the “American Dream”.
Yes, Biden will become The US President in a few short months. But remember, Supreme Court appointments are for life, and irreversible damage has already been done. There is an increasingly slippery slope between extreme conservatism and white supremacy in the US. Trump’s populist rhetoric challenging the election results animates his white supremacist supporters to directly undermine a core tenet of democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. A significant portion of Trump’s supporters are ready to challenge the election results, even when officials in every state have confirmed that there are no signs of voter fraud. Already back in 2019 they refused to acknowledge the possibility of a Trump loss, and one of his supporters boasted he had been stockpiling firearms in case the reelection is not successful, reported by Independent as saying “nothing less than a civil war would happen.”
If you haven’t noticed the increasing trend of white supremacy in the past four years, consider why that is. This is not meant to be alarmist outcry, but rather a reality that Americans need to wake up to. Evidence tells us that this is not a minority that should be ignored, as a Washington Post poll taken after the 2017 Charlottesville rally shows, “9 percent of the respondents said they thought it was strongly or somewhat acceptable to hold neo–Nazi or white supremacist views. That’s equivalent to about 22 million Americans.” Irrespective of Trump leaving the White House, these movements have been energized and legitimized like never before. The worst thing we can do is let this problem fester more than it already has. Right now, America’s biggest threat is the groups which claim to protect and preserve America itself.