White Supremacy on the Rise
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin
B’nai Shalom, West Orange NJ
Fall 2017, Rosh Hashanah 1
Shanah Tovah. This morning I want to talk not just about Charlottesville, but what was behind it and what we need to do about it. White supremacists are on the rise, and they are rallying under the Nazi agenda of Jew hatred in America. No matter what your politics, you have no luxury to stand aside. You must know, and you must act.
As you know, on Friday August 11th and Saturday August 12th a large white supremacist rally took place in Charlottesville, VA. The rally was called, “Unite the Right.” They recruited their protest under the legal protections of the Bill of Rights, to express opposition to the removal of Confederate statues from public places. But that was the rallying cry. As they walked through the University campus, they chanted “Blood and Soil,” the Nazi slogan of racism natural superiority and supremacy over the fatherland - now recast as America. And if you know our history, and theirs, you will understand how dangerous they truly are. This is how it starts. This is how it has always started. And it must be stopped.
The forces behind the rally run much deeper than the removal of statues. Right-wing extremism, including white nationalism and white supremacy, is on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And a string of killings in recent months raised the specter of far-right violence well before last weekend.
The real goal was to unite and grow racist white supremacy in this country under an American Nazi umbrella. That goal, to unite a patchwork of previously unorganized and competing groups of far right racists into a common movement, is a seriously troubling development which we must oppose effectively if the lessons of our past are to protect America’s future.
First, we must understand that America is, and has from its founding been, a society of racial conflict and prejudice. Yes, we have come a long way, and yes, the civil rights movement has produced complete protection under law for all races. But we must not be fooled into thinking that only the Nazis are racists. As Audre Lorde wrote in 1991: “Racism cuts a wide and corrosive swath across each of our lives.”
There are two institutional origins to racism in our country: slavery and immigration.
First, the legacy of Slavery. Not surprisingly, in the year prior to Charlottesville, those were the conflict points in American culture which dominated the news, the political primaries, and the presidential election. From Fergusun MO, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, or the sniper attacks in Dallas, institutional conflict between government in the form of police, and black communities dominated the news. Equal treatment under law is a hard sell in the Black community when nearly one in three African American males between 20 and 29 years of age is under some form of control by the criminal justice system (Mauer, 1999; Pattillo, Weiman & Western, 2004). And given the scope of inner-city educational institutional failure, the cliff drops off precipitously. Among African American men who are high school dropouts, 58.9% - nearly 6 in 10 - will spend some time in prison during their lifetime. The comparable figure for White dropouts is 11.2% (Lily, Cullen & Ball, 2015). The fact is that an African American male is very likely to have negative experiences with failing schools, suspicious merchants, frightened suburbanites, ever-present police, and a criminal justice system that incarcerates a third of the people like him at some point in their lives. While slaves were freed, blacks have yet to find functional equality in America, and that institutional disadvantage spills over in any conflict point.
The second legacy of institutional bias in America is our history of immigration. From the 1500’s until the late 1800’s, immigration to America was open and encouraged. We wanted workers. We wanted farmers. Emma Lazarus got it right:
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (the New Colosus)
In the late 1800’s a post civil war fantasy of an earlier America combined anti-immigrant sentiments with Confederate resentments at reconstruction in the south.
Post-confederate feelings of superiority and resentment at their loss, were suppressed under Yankee reconstruction, and generations of institutional white supremacy in the south continued to simmer and organize. The Ku Klux Klan was born to use violence and terrorism against African American leaders, and to mythologize the Southern White Man.
At the same time, waves of immigration began from Ireland, Southeastern Europe, and Eastern Europe to the Atlantic seaboard - New York, Philadelphia, Boston. In California, enormous numbers of Asians, Chinese, arrived to build cities, work farms, and work the hard labor of the new railroads, cities and infrastructure that was crossing the west and building the nation. Rather than Protestant homesteaders, we now had millions of Catholic, Asian, and Jewish immigrants crowding cities or working as wandering labor without a home across the western territories. The city of Chicago, for example, had 4,100 people in it in 1833; by 1890, its population had risen to 1 million in just 57 years. By 1910, just twenty years later, it was over 2 million people. As cities grew, urban blight resulted in social breakdowns and dysfunction, crime and separatism became associated with immigration as neighborhoods pushed out of the cities and wealthier Americans began to settle in suburban zones. Institutional geographic urban blight became the reality of the American dream. Permanent poverty, social separations, immigrant cultures and groups were viewed as foreigners - poor and dirty. And into this exact environment came millions of poor Jews seeking a better life.
Jewish immigration to America began in almost quaint terms with the Sephardim in New York in the 1700’s. In the 1800’s, skilled German Jews arrived and set up shops and a network of dry goods stores across the growing west. But with the new immigration came the Russian and Eastern European Jews who were more often uneducated and poor, and more likely to stay in the new urban environments. Eastern European Jews began to immigrate to the United States in large numbers after 1880. Pushed out of Europe by overpopulation, oppressive legislation and poverty, they were pulled toward America by the prospect of financial and social advancement. Between 1880 and the onset of restrictive immigration quotas in 1924, over 2 million Jews from Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania came to America. Once again, the character of American Jewry was transformed, as the Eastern Europeans became the majority. And as American sentiment turned against the new immigrants, American Racists found a new enemy in the Jew.
The Ku Klux Klan had a rebirth in the time between World War I and World War II. No longer merely racist, it was anti-black, anti-Asian, but also developed a specific religious tone becoming anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. And, now far enough away from the civil war, it began to adopt a mythology of America that elevated the white supremacist elements of the founding fathers - many of whom were indeed part of a culture of Protestant White Male slave-owners. But by recasting the characters of the American Revolution as heroes of the white right, they entered a culture war that stakes claim to what it means to be an American in the United States of America. As such, it was no longer the south that was in play, but the country.
The upheavals of World War I, massive waves of poor and uneducated immigrants, and the bursting of urban blight created both labor movements and anti-immigrant protectionist movements in America. For the first time, Congress defines and limits immigration based on country of origin - specifically targeting the Chinese and Eastern Europe in a series of laws, ending both Asian and most Jewish Immigration with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. Quotas, Literacy Tests, and provisions against the poor were designed to preserve and protect as sense of American homogeneity - a common white Anglo culture that was at serious risk of being overrun.
With the rise of anti-Communist fascism in Europe, and the Nazi party in particular, a group called the American Bund formed right here in New York. In 1939 they held an infamous rally in Madison Square Garden, adopting the full anti-Semitic language of Adolph Hitler. “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian America” was the primary theme, though the rally was called to celebrate the birthday of their hero - George Washington - whom they called America’s first fascist. The American Nazi party would not be formed until the post war years, but Nazi propaganda and sentiment could fill the Garden in 1939.
But the racists couldn’t really get their act together. Some hated Catholics. That meant white Irish and Mediterranean Italians. Some hated the North. Some hated Blacks especially as their lost slave force and subhuman servant class. And, as Tom Lehr famously coined, “and everyone hates the Jews.” Institutional racism and the civil rights movement is recent enough, that we don’t need to summarize it here, but with the victory of MLK’s I have a dream speech comes frustration in the face of institutional racial disparity and ongoing conflict between both Black America and the patchwork of immigration - legal and illegal - that continues to define American opportunism.
For the racist in America, the 1960’s was a series of losses at the same level as the destruction of the Confederacy in the Civil War. Institutional white supremacy in the form of segregation, voting rights, closed towns and college admissions fell like trees in a forest. Malcom X and others could point to gross abuses like the Tuskegee syphilis study to prove that America was anti-Black and always would be. Racial tensions on the extremes grew even as a new National consensus of racial equality was adopted by the country at large. And Kennedy, the first Catholic president, and Johnson pushed a civil rights agenda that included ultimately the complete elimination of quotas from the immigration laws of the United States. Never again would a country of origin be a reason why you can’t come to America. Only an ability to contribute to the common good and to not be a burden on society would be qualifying characteristics. Anti-immigrant sentiment was dealt another loss. Anti-Catholic sentiment was defeated as JFK became a national martyr and a symbol of American strength and unity.
But hate was still disorganized. The were shadow groups, and internal conflicts kept them off balance. The leader of the American Nazi party was assassinated by one of his own, and each ran its own way. Fast forward past the Arab boycott, Iranian Revolution, the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11 and the growth of American interest and conflict in the Muslim nations of the Middle East and Asia.
2016. America is preparing to say goodbye to its first Black president. No matter that he was as white as he is Black. Unlike anywhere else in the world, in racial America one drop of Black is Black. Advances in civil rights, tolerance of peaceful illegal workers, and acceptance of Muslim refugees are all rallying points for the far right racists. America under Black and Jewish domination is clearly being destroyed in their view. Anti-immigrant sentiment and the mainstream policy debate is largely focused on Muslim refugees and undocumented Latin-Americans - commonly lumped together in lazy fashion as “Mexicans.” Legitimate anti-terrorism language and Homeland Security issues overlap with questions of American power and safety and security concerns. American policing practices and inner city race conflicts merge into law and order debates, and support for our troops. Pride for the overseas soldier, and the city police officer conflate in some circles, but with that combination the conflict in those systems also brings together other concerns which are not normally in harmony. Anti-Muslim sentiment is empowered by anti-terrorist feelings at large. Despite the fact that the majority of hate crime in this country, and the majority of terrorism in the country is NOT Muslim nor is it international terrorism, but domestic terrorism, the political winds of anti-immigration and anti-Muslims blow together to create a perfect storm.
Now, if you are anti-black and anti-urban, you have a positive cause in supporting the police. We all support the police. That is a legitimate objective. But some come at it now from a racial basis. Now, if you are anti-Muslim you have a positive expression for it not only in supporting our troops, but in protecting our cities from terrorism. We all support our troops. We all fight terrorism. But some come at it from a racial and prejudicial basis. Now, if you are anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican, you have a positive expression for it in protecting our workforce from cheap and illegal labor. We all want legal labor and worker’s rights - a safe workplace, civil rights and a living wage. But now you can come at it from a racist bias if you want. So, racists, xenophobes and fascists have suddenly found legitimate and mainstream causes to rally around. The causes are indeed legitimate topics of debate for the civilized society in America. But some can come at it from and racist basis. When we talk about empowering the radical right, that is what we are saying. It is real. And it is as American as Apple Pie. It is born from two hundred years of history, and we are living in a perfect storm for its growth.
2017. Charlottesville. It all comes together for the Racist far right. The symbolic power is preservation of southern culture and history in the image of the Confederate statue on the town green. Who doesn’t value history and culture? The rallying cry is free speech, to unite the right, to embrace and celebrate the Bill of Rights which gives all political and social opinion the right to gather and express what they believe. Who doesn’t like the Bill of Rights? And who is suppressing their rights, and destroying their culture? You got it. The liberal Jewish media, the international Jewish banking conspiracy, the inferior black criminal mob, and the mongrel hordes of immigrants who are here to not only steal your jobs but to attack your wives and children. By rallying to the American flag, protecting Confederate imagery, proclaiming freedom, and clearly defining the enemy (especially everyone here today), the Charlottesville organizers have done what none of their predecessors have been able to do. They have won the stage of equality for their hate in America. They have turned bickering groups of unorganized racists into a common cause.
Among the far-right groups engaged in organizing the march were the clubs of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, The Right Stuff, the National Policy Institute, and four groups that form the Nationalist Front: the neo-Confederate League of the South, the Traditionalist Workers Party, Vanguard America, and the National Socialist Movement. Other groups involved in the rally were the Ku Klux Klan, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, Identity Evropa, the American Guard, the Detroit Right Wings, the Rise Above Movement, True Cascadia, and Anti-Communist Action.
Prominent far-right figures in attendance included National Policy Institute Chairman Richard Spencer, entertainer Baked Alaska, former Libertarian Party candidate Augustus Invictus, former Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, Identity Evropa leader Nathan Damigo, Traditionalist Youth Network CEO Matthew Heimbach, Right Stuff founder Mike Enoch, League of the South founder Michael Hill, Red Ice host Henrik Palmgren,Right Side Broadcasting Network host Nicholas Fuentes, YouTube personality James Allsup, AltRight.com editor Daniel Friberg, former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson, Right Stuff blogger Johnny Monoxide, Daily Stormer writer Robert "Azzmador" Ray, Daily Callercontributor and rally organizer Jason Kessler, and Radical Agenda host Christopher Cantwell.[4
Numerous armed, right-wing militia groups were present at the rally, claiming to be there to protect the First Amendment rights of the demonstrators. Groups involved included the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, the New York Light Foot Militia, the Virginia Minutemen Militia, the Oath Keepers and the 3 Percenters.
By all accounts, this was a fantastic success for the racist extremes in America. They even have a new, legitimate mainstream name: the alt-right. So legitimate, that the President of the United States could talk about the alt-right and immediately ask, “what about the alt-left?” (!!). Equivocation, and gross misunderstanding of the nature of the event and the nature of the threat left us all agape and appalled. Do NOT use the term alt-right. It names and defines them as a legitimate part of the American discourse. They are not. Name the Nazis as Nazis. Name the racists as racists. Name the white supremacists as white supremacists. They do not get to stand on a podium in front of a picture of George Washington, as the Bund did in 1939, and wave the American flag.
And they hate you. Make no mistake. They hate you. If given the chance, they will follow every law and path that Hitler did. Attack civil rights. Attack voting rights. Attack minorities, foreigners and Jews. Unite the right is genuine, and don’t think it can’t happen in America.
The Jew in America has no luxury to let Nazis organize and grow unopposed. The Jew in America has no luxury to allow immigrants and refugees to be demonized. The Jew in America must not let the old hacks of Jewish controlled media, banks and international conspiracy to be legitimized in any portion of the American debate. We have to speak, and we have to act. Join the committee, follow its actions, get involved, stay involved.
I admit that there are traps for us here at B’nai Shalom in opposing the new coalition of racist Americans. Many people will feel that this is Republican versus Democrat. It must not be. Go be Republicans and Democrats and make sure that racists are not part of your coalition. But here, in this synagogue, we stand against the Nazi Racist movement in America, and will stand for the rights of equality in law which all of our people must enjoy and protect. We must respect each other, not fall into partisan politics, and concentrate on the core issue here that unites us.
We will form a watchdog group, and I need volunteers, to track and publish the actions of the newly empowered racists of America. To push out the messages of the organizations that research and publicize their actions. Rallies must be published and attended. Letter-writing and political advice must be engaged. And most of all, sane reasoned and determined opposition must be created. When the news media hungers to cover the radicals who punch a Nazi on the street or block a Nazi parade with violence, we must work even harder to present an overwhelming majority and a reasonable and peaceful response. The Freddie Gray riots were stopped in Baltimore when mainstream peaceful people held arms, sang prayed and sat down between the mob and the police. We need to be those people who proclaim and experience our unity in America. This is what did not happen in Germany in the 1930’s. This is what must happen in America now.
L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu.