May 23, 2009

WHAS-11, a local station in Louisville, Kentucky, ran a news story earlier this week examining the ongoing fortunes of the Imperial Klans of America, which recently lost a $2.5 million lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In spite of those setbacks, the IKA is marching onward:

"I don't believe any country can survive with multi-culturalism. I believe that we should all have our own states; we should all have our own countries. If you look at race mixing, homosexuality and abortion our race is basically being defeated. There won't be a lot of whites left in another 20 years," says Edwards.

It's Ron Edwards and other white supremacists greatest fear, a fear that's prompted countless hate crimes all over the country. Recently, in Meade County, five IKA members attacked a 15-year-old Panamanian teenager. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees, sued Ron Edwards for the attack, claiming his teachings led directly to the assault. The Southern Poverty Law Center won that case, a sweeping victory that Morris says, bankrupted the IKA organization.

"I think the case against Ron Edwards and the IKA was very successful. At the beginning of this he had 23 chapters in 17 states. Now they're down to 6 chapters in five states. The money is pretty much dried up and he's a near shadow of himself," says Morris Dees, Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ron Edwards disagrees.

"The IKA is going stronger than ever," he says.

Melanie Kahn asks, "Over the past six months to a year or so how much has the IKA membership grown?"

"Quite a bit, that's all I'll say," says Edwards.

There's no evidence to support Edwards' claim, but there is evidence that other hate groups in Kentucky and across the country are in fact, growing. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual "Year in Hate" report, hate group membership has grown by 50% since 2000, and 5% just since last year.

On April 7, the Department of Homeland security released a report affirming that claim and cited several reasons for the rise of hate groups.

Worth remembering, perhaps, is the fact that Edwards' son leads the skinhead group to which belonged the two skinheads arrested in Tennessee last year for plotting to murder dozens of black people and to assassinate President Obama.

The story illustrates how white supremacists like the Klan can take real body blows and yet keep on ticking. As someone involved in the 30-year struggle to take down the Aryan Nations, it rang a very familiar bell.

I've been reading Leonard Zeskind's magisterial new book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, which will probably become the definitive text for many years to come on the state of white nationalism and white-supremacist ideology in America. (The official book site is here.)

The book is a stunningly complete documentation of how white nationalism, once banished to the fringes, has been working itself back into the mainstream of American discourse (something which is, of course, the major topic of my own book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right). I've known Zeskind for some years -- his research prowess was legendary even in the '90s, and many of us have been waiting years for him to assemble it all in one place.

Bill Berkowitz at Religion Dispatches interviewed Zeskind, who talked about why he wrote it:

It became apparent to me that much of the received wisdom about white supremacists was simply wrong. And I wanted to write a book that did not just say what I thought was correct, but I wanted to show it through specific characters, scenes of action and analysis. These white-ists are not just a bunch of uneducated bumpkins down on their economic luck. Instead, they are demographically much like the rest of white Americans, working class and middle class with a significant stratum of middle class professionals—professors, lawyers, chiropractors, etc.—as their leaders.

And, these are not a string of disconnected organizations sharing only a common set of hatreds. Rather, this is a single movement, with a common set of leaders and interlocking memberships that hold a complete and sometimes sophisticated ideology. Further, the white nationalist movement today is organized around the notion that the power of whites to control government and social policy has already been overthrown by people of color and Jews, rather unlike the Klan of the 1960s which sought to defend a system of racial apartheid in the South.

And he takes, evidently, a similar view of our prospects down the road:

Although I loathe predicting the future, I will say that in the past, hard economic times have not automatically translated into an expansion for white nationalists. There was a growth surge during the Clinton years, for example, which were generally considered better economic conditions for middle class people. In the past, the politics of race and nation mattered more than economic hard times. White nationalists will support protectionist measures, and they oppose free trade in capital goods because they oppose free trade (or open borders) for labor. Whether or not they gain traction by claiming that the stock market and banks are controlled by Jews depends on whether people of goodwill are able to offer a more compelling vision of change.

With Obama in the White House, I think we can expect more of the same, plus some. Some white nationalists will focus on tending to their current base—which is not inconsiderable. They will continue to push for secessionist-style white enclaves and might engage in militia-style violence. Others will attempt to widen their base, and carve out a larger niche among conservative Republicans. Without an electoral vehicle of their own, they will suffer from the vicissitudes of the Republican leadership. Their natural base, however, will be the five percent of white voters who told pollsters last summer that they would never vote for a black person for president. More than Rush Limbaugh will get ugly.

I talked to Lenny on the phone the other day and he's excited about the book's release; he's been at writing it for decades. We'll be having him over here at C&L for a chat soon.

It certainly looks like it couldn't have arrived at a more fortuitous moment.

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