Countering The Rise of White Supremacy With Systematic Change

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White supremacists at a KKK rally (Image Credit: BBC)

On the 17th of June 2015, a young man walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the largest city in South Carolina. Pulling out his handgun, he opened fire, killing nine worshippers, and fled the scene, only to be found the next morning. Dylann Roof, an unemployed 22-year-old, admitted that he had shot these people to trigger a “race war”.  Further investigations showed that Roof owned neo-Nazi paraphernalia, as well as having authored a manifesto in which he displayed anti-black views.

This is only but part of a worrying trend, showing the resurgence of white supremacy, an ideology that promotes the idea that white people are the dominant race on Earth despite this theory being disproved by many studies. Its most prominent advocates tend to be the fringe right. In Western Europe and North America, twenty-eight and thirty-one right-wing incidents were recorded in 2017, respectively, compared to only one incident in each region a decade earlier, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Furthermore, data from the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) revealed that Neo-Nazi groups in the United States rose from 99 in 2016 to 121 the following year, marking a 22 percent increase. Far-right political parties have also gained a significant foothold in Western politics; the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), a nationalist and populist party, came in third in Germany’s 2017 elections.  The following year, the anti-immigrant Northern League (Lega Nord) became the third-largest party in Italy’s parliament.  

White supremacy has become popular within the law-and-order systems as well. An FBI report released in 2006, titled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement”, used investigations and other sources to conclude that white supremacist leaders were encouraging those in hate groups to become “ghost skins” to “covertly advance white supremacist causes” within law enforcement agencies. Similarly, Germany has found an increasing number of police officers being affiliated with a neo-Nazi group, NSU 2.0 (National Socialist Underground), including twenty-nine officers who had posted racist images on a WhatsApp chat group. In Britain, for the first time ever, a Met officer, Ben Hannam, was arrested for having ties to a far-right hate group last month.

Multiple theories have considered what led to this worrying shift to the alternative right.  In the United States, the most commonly accepted theory, unsurprisingly by Democrats, is that it has come from the top.  Most far-right extremists saw Donald Trump as someone who would uphold their views, and therefore, right-wing hate groups such as the Three Percenters and Patriot Prayer flourished during his time in office.  This was primarily owing to his policies, which were perceived to be xenophobic by many, e.g. the infamous Muslim ban and his war on “chain migration”, all part of a larger crackdown on immigrants.  

His inflammatory rhetoric has not helped him shatter this image, either.  When asked about the “Unite the Right Rally”, a congregation of Neo-Nazis and other fringe right-wing groups protesting in Charlottesville which resulted in the death of one person and serious injury of another nineteen, he remarked that there were “very fine people on both sides”.  During a debate against Joe Biden leading to the 2020 presidential election, he told the Proud Boys, a prominent hate group, to “stand back and stand by”, as opposed to openly condemning their actions when asked to by the debate moderator, Chris Wallace. Half of the American adult population believes that Trump is racist, according to a YouGov poll conducted last year.

The proliferation and strengthening of these hate groups in the United States have also allowed them to spread their influence in Europe, buttressing the far-right movement there.  For example, the U.S.-based Nationalist Social Club (NSC) has branches in Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Additionally, two major trends have emerged in the last few years which have indirectly helped the ascension of the far-right.  The first was the uptick in Islamic terrorism; there were twenty-three planned Jihadist attacks in Europe in 2017, compared to only one foiled attack at the start of the millennium. The second was the exponential growth in the number of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, with a 165% increase in crossings over the Central Mediterranean Route (from North Africa to Italy and Malta). 

These changes have triggered an increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric as they gave conservative politicians excuses to blame Europe’s economic failures and its domestic security on immigrants, the same agenda which the Nazis used to spread hate against the Jews in the 1930s, thus, allowing them to sow the seeds of fear among centrist and moderate right-wing voters.  COVID-19 may also help the prospects of these far-right parties in the future; in the EU, the approval ratings of their respective governments have largely plummeted due to long lockdowns and a slow vaccine rollout, despite an initial rise of contentment during the early stages of the virus.  This leads to voters looking to the opposition as a source of better governance, meaning that these parties may be set to become even more powerful after the next elections.

As white supremacy continues to gain support, the problems with this ideology are becoming more apparent.  Not only is it a moral evil to discriminate against billions of people, especially without any scientific evidence of minorities being inferior, but there are also some real-world harms that come with it.  Conservative political commentators such as Tomi Lahren and Lou Dobbs blame domestic terrorism on immigrants and the far-left Antifa (anti-fascist group), despite the evidence pointing in the opposite direction.  In 2017, attacks inspired by left-wing radicalization only accounted for 12% of domestic terrorism in the US, compared with 35% of attacks inspired by right-wing ideologies.  Furthermore, the rise of white supremacy would lead to a decrease in the number of immigrants entering the developed world.  There are two main reasons for this: the natural reduction of immigration as barriers are put in place against it, and that those will more free choice will choose not to immigrate due to knowledge of the discriminatory environment, leading to profound negative effects on both the first and third world.

One measure to curb white supremacy that has been commonly suggested is the death penalty for terrorists and members of hate groups.  Conversely, this is an ineffective solution as most of these radicalised individuals have been indoctrinated to the extent that would die for their cause, so it would not bring about the deterrent expected. Also, this type of extreme prosecution may cause members of non-violent hate groups to seem persecuted, perhaps increasing sympathy for them and even raising public opinion of them. Instead, governments should focus their energy on limiting the capacity to which white supremacists are able to deal damage to wider society. 

One such precaution governments can take is to mount more pressure on social media giants such as Facebook and Google to check the information that passes through their platforms more thoroughly.  This is crucial as many champions of far-right ideology, such as QAnon and Marjorie Taylor Greene, have turned to spreading disproven conspiracy theories and misinformation online. Of course, it would be unwise to block accounts that spout misinformation as it would be seen as an infringement on the basic right of free speech, and may portray them hate groups as prosecuted. Instead, governments should demand that social media companies put warning labels next to false or misleading information, to reduce the risk that unsuspecting users will derive harmful beliefs from them. This type of fact-checking would be difficult but will be feasible with co-operation from the tech industry and government efforts.

Secondly, since efforts to uncover white supremacists among the general public would be impossible, countries should concentrate this search in the law-and-order sector by ordering more stringent background checks on those in the law-and-order sector and regular inspections to root out white supremacy in the police and intelligence forces. This prevents corruption in the executive branches of government, where white supremacists are exonerated by fellow white supremacists in uniform. 

However, one of the most effective steps the government can take to combat white supremacy is reforming the education system, as the current curriculum is riddled with biases toward the white perspective.  For example, European history classes are mandatory and called “History” as if it is unquestionably neutral information, but in reality, they only show the perspective of the winners, painting others as the enemy and inferior and referring to colonizers as heroes. On the other hand, Indigenous Studies or Black History classes can only be taken as an optional elective, if they are offered at all. 

Schools should do more to ensure that children understand the dreadful origins of racism e.g., showing the atrocities caused by events such as The Scramble for Africa and The Slave Trade in greater detail, so they can appreciate the pain shared by minority communities. Another consideration is to show the perpetuating effects of racism and how discriminatory practices trickle down to the modern day and keep minorities poor. Moreover, PSHE or Social Studies classes should play a greater role in stressing the importance and benefits of equality and diversity in society.  Thus, the next generation will be more mindful to make sure they are not discriminating, whether it be blatantly or subconsciously, against minorities in later life, creating a culture which stifles white supremacists and condemns them when exposed.

White supremacy poses an increasing threat to minorities, and the West as a whole.  Even though it will be centuries, if not millennia, before this idea dies out, governments have the burden of responsibility to catalyze the extinction of white supremacy and should prioritize this goal with firm action.

Written by Sean Tan

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