Analysis & Comment

Opinion | It’s All Rooted in White Panic

Every so often it’s important to step back from the freak show of the moment so that you can see the whole circle. That has never been more important than at this moment and under this administration.

Everything that has happened during recent years is all about one thing: fear by white people that they will inevitably lose their numerical advantage in this country; and with that loss comes an alteration of American culture and shifting of American power away from white dominance and white control. White people don’t want to become one of many minority groups in America and have others — possibly from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East — holding the reins of power, and dictating inclusion and equity.

This is manifested in every issue you can imagine: the Confederate monuments fight, opposition to Black Lives Matter, intransigence on gun control, voter suppression laws, the Muslim ban, the hard line on asylum seekers coming across the southern border, calls to abolish the visa lottery, the defaming of majority black countries, efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the addition of a census question that could cause an undercount of Hispanics, the stacking of the courts with far-right judges (the vast majority of whom are white men). You name it, each issue is laced the white panic about displacement.

One manifestation of this panic, on the fringes, is a growing domestic terrorism problem largely driven by white nationalists and white supremacists. As ABC News reported about congressional testimony given in May by the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s counterterrorism division, Michael McGarrity:

“He said that of the 850 domestic terrorism investigations currently underway inside the United States, about 40 percent target subjects who adhere to racist ideologies, and ‘a significant majority’ of them are white nationalists or white supremacists. The vast majority of the other cases involve subjects who promote anti-government or anti-authority sentiments, McGarrity testified.”

Other groups, like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, have also been tracking and documenting this rise.

And yet Donald Trump has downplayed this crisis, saying that he didn’t really think the rise of white nationalism was really a problem, but that the threat was just “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

Just as Trump saw fine people among the Nazis in Charlottesville, he is unable to see — or more precisely, to admit and address — white nationalism and white supremacy because he is at this moment these causes’ greatest champion.

The president won’t condemn white nationalism because this presidency is white nationalism.

Instead, Trump and many others try to reduce white nationalism and white supremacy to terrorist plots and murderous rampages. They otherize the white militant, while not acknowledging that their goals are the same, even if their tactics diverge.

The violent white nationalists are simply the leading edge, the violent vanguard, of the teeming massive of “soft” white nationalists and white supremacists, those who use stigmas and statutes as their weapons, those who have convinced themselves that their motivations have nothing to do with American racism and everything to do with American culture.

But in Trump’s America, this threat is not the priority that it should be. At the House oversight subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties hearing this week, McGarrity and others were grilled about why more wasn’t being done to confront this threat. The Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary, Elizabeth Neumann, would admit, “We know we’re not doing enough.”

I would counter that this administration is doing no more than it wants to do. This is its iteration of America. This violence is simply collateral damage in a greater war in which the violence isn’t written in blood but ink, in which the white power is secured, and displacement is delayed, through a fundamental restructuring of the laws around which babies get born, which addictions get treated, which bodies are allowed to immigrate or seek asylum and whose voice and votes get counted.

There are no doubt those who hold the belief, because of religion or otherwise, that a fertilized egg is a baby, and that abortion is murder. But, there are also those among that group who are concerned about demography.

As HuffPost reported, white supremacists cheered at the news that Alabama had passed its draconian anti-abortion law.

As the racist Iowa congressman, Steve King, tweeted in March of 2017, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The proposed census changes have a similar goal: If you’re losing in the game of numbers, change the way you count.

As NPR reported on Tuesday:

“Challenges threatening the upcoming 2020 census could put more than four million people at risk of being undercounted in next year’s national head count, according to new projections by the Urban Institute. The nonpartisan think tank found that the danger of an inaccurate census could hit some of the country’s most difficult to count populations the hardest. Based on the institute’s analysis, the 2020 census could lead to the worst undercount of black and Latino and Latina people in the U.S. since 1990.”

Don’t just grouse over each individual fruit of the poison tree, also focus on the root.

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Charles Blow joined The Times in 1994 and became an Opinion columnist in 2008. He is also a television commentator and writes often about politics, social justice and vulnerable communities. @CharlesMBlow Facebook

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