Understanding White Nationalism and Its Terrorism

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by Neil Godfrey

Arie Perliger, Director of Security Studies and Professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell, had the article From across the globe to El Paso, changes in the language of the far-right explain its current violence published in The Conversation a couple of days ago. In case you missed it, he writes . . . .

What’s New

“Lone-wolf” is probably not the best term. See Jason Burke’s 2017 article, just as relevant for today’s terrorists: Burke, Jason. 2017. “The Myth of the ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorist.The Guardian, March 30, 2017, sec. News.

. . . a new trend among perpetrators of far-right violence: They want the world to know why they did it.

So they provide a comprehensive ideological manifesto that aims to explain the reasoning behind their actions as well as to encourage others to follow in their steps.

In the past, only leaders of far-right groups did this. Now, it’s common among lone-wolf perpetrators . . .


In the past decade, the language of white supremacists has transformed in important ways. It crossed national borders, broadened its focus and has been influenced by current mainstream political discourse.

Compare Patrick Cursius, the El Paso mass murderer, in his manifesto:

The best solution to this, for now, would be to divide America into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race. This physical separation would nearly eliminate race mixing and improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).

Since the 19th century, the American white supremacy movement has stressed the superiority of Western culture and the need to preserve the dominance and racial purity of the white race. Racial segregation is essential. An example given by Perliger is 1980s KKK map of allocating set areas of the U.S. to particular races: Jews in New York, Hispanics in Florida, etc.

From Genes to Culture, “Unite the Whites”

But recently, a growing number of far-right activists have preferred to focus on cultural and social differences between communities, rather than on attributes such as race and ethnic origin.

They justify their violence as a way to preserve certain cultural-religious practices, rather than relying on their old justification – maintaining the genetic purity of the white race. In these activists’ view, the battle has moved from genes to culture.

For example, a member of the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi organization, wrote in a 2018 online post that white American is an identity like African American or Jewish American. In a statement that probably wouldn’t have been made by previous generations of neo-Nazis, the member wrote that all whites should come together, using their knowledge and weapons, to stop non-Europeans from pushing their secular agenda via government and media power.

Kicking Back at the Left’s Cultural Influence

Anders Breivik (who murdered 77 in Norway in 2011), railed against political correctness throughout his fifteen-page manifesto. I quote more of it here than Perliger did in his article:

Multiculturalism (cultural Marxism/political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe. . . .

Political Correctness seeks to impose a uniformity of thought and behaviour on all Europeans and is therefore totalitarian in nature. Its roots lie in a version of Marxism which seeks a radical inversion of the traditional culture in order to create a social revolution. . . .

Political Correctness is not at all about “being nice,” unless one thinks gulags are nice places. Political Correctness is Marxism, with all that implies: loss of freedom of expression, thought control, inversion of the traditional social order, and, ultimately, a totalitarian state. . . .

. . . . political correctness is nothing less than a death blow aimed at the heart of our countries. . . .

Perhaps no aspect of Political Correctness is more prominent in Western European life today than feminist ideology. . . . There is no doubt in the media that the “man of today” is expected to be a touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda. 

Old Nationalism replaced by a New Transnational Culture

I cited someone in another post on “cultural racism” saying that Hitler gave racism a bad name; the same could be said about the glorification of the state that culminated in the Nazi and Fascist takeovers of Germany and Italy in the last century. Perliger notes how this fits in with what we are seeing today:

The declining emphasis by the far-right on nationalism has led to the adoption of a transnational identity based on race, culture and religion.

Simply put, they feel closer to whites in other countries than non-whites who live in their neighborhood.

This explains why we have seen a global spread of violent white nationalism in recent years as the far-right finds kinship with like- minded nationalists in other countries.

The far-right traditionally linked racist identity with local or national politics. Perliger cites the British skinheads focus on the British white working class.

Today the rhetoric of most skinheads focuses on international geopolitics, although local issues haven’t been abandoned.

The Christchurch attacker is a salient indicator of this transnational ideology. In his manifesto Brenton Tarrant, an Australian, said he originally planned to strike in Australia, but when in New Zealand saw the same “invasion” of a “white nation” happening there and chose to seize the opportunity at that moment rather than wait to return home.

Legitimizing far-right ideology in the US

Here’s the exacerbating thing. In two of my previous posts on racism I placed at their head quotations of Donald Trump echoing some of the words the mass murderers used to justify both their white nationalist ideology and their bloody atrocities. (I could have added more, such as when he speaks of the US being “invaded” by non-whites.)  Hence Perliger:

In the U.S., what’s different about the current rhetoric of the far-right is that they are now using terminology that can also be found in some mainstream political parties and movements, aiding their efforts to gain popular legitimacy.

The terminology is mingled with a broadening of the far-right ideological agenda. Perliger points out that the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan not long ago released a new set of goals that included

  • restriction on immigration
  • free trade
  • ending or limiting foreign aid
  • government protection for small business
  • government protection for agricultural workers
  • government protection for gun owners

Volksfront likewise declares as part of its mission to fight for economic issues, states’ rights, stamping out crime and labour rights.

When Trump makes declarations of the need to stamp out crime and restore law and order he is moving in step with groups like Keystone United, skinheads calling for harsher penalties for drug dealers and sex offenders, and wider use of the death penalty.

Arie Perliger

Future Trends

Perliger is not optimistic. First, because of the emergence of the international nature of white nationalism and the challenge that poses for law enforcement across borders. Secondly,

the growing overlap between the language of the far-right and the rhetoric of elected officials illustrates how the current polarization in the political system, and delegitimization of minorities by political leaders, can provide legitimacy for radical practices and violence and broader acceptance of ideas, concepts and statements that in the past were the domain of the far-right.

It doesn’t look good at the moment. But you knew that already.

Perliger, Arie. 2019. “From across the Globe to El Paso, Changes in the Language of the Far-Right Explain Its Current Violence.” The Conversation. August 6, 2019.

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “Understanding White Nationalism and Its Terrorism”

  1. Politicians have been harping on about crime and law n’ order since Hammurabi. I can understand Tarrant’s manifesto, but I don’t understand how shooting up a mosque achieves anything other than the opposite of it; playing into the hands of our enemies, their fellow-travellers and enablers in the West as legitimate protest and politics appears to be putting the helm over.

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