White Nationalism Is Preached From The Conservative Media Pulpit
Dr. Sara Kamali is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right and an expert with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society. She is also the author of Homegrown Hate: Why White Nationalists and Militant Islamists Are Waging War against the United States (University of California Press, 2021) available at Amazon and Bookshop in the US and Waterstones and Foyles in the UK.
The January 6 assault on the US Capitol made evident that White nationalism, which calls for an ethno-state to preserve the White race, is the greatest national security threat to the United States. The people who attacked the seat of democracy sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results to keep Donald Trump in office, and, by extension, maintain the tenets of White supremacy that were integral to his administration’s rhetoric and policies.
Since then, members of conservative media have attempted to rewrite the full scope of violence of that day and continue to minimize America’s foundation of systemic racism thereby allowing White nationalism to flourish. At the present moment, the United States is on the precipice of irredeemable political divisions evidenced by increasingly hostile rhetoric and real-world violence, which once considered extreme is now mainstream.
Indeed, in the aftermath of January 6th, Washington DC has become a veritable war zone politically and literally. As I examine in my book, Homegrown Hate, based on more than a decade of research, the nation will remain on the brink of the civil war that many White nationalists eagerly anticipate, and in which some already envision themselves taking part, unless media members stop this normalization of White nationalism and the denial of its consequences.
The most recent iterations of White nationalism, which is the confluence of racist, anti-government, religious, and conspiracy theory-oriented worldviews, are no longer wearing KKK hoods or even waving Confederate flags, but donning khaki pants, polo shirts, and MAGA hats while flaunting banners emblazoned with Q. The 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally was similar to the 1920 KKK march on Washington in that both displayed the potent force of White nationalists in the United States. Now, however, people waging war to preserve white identity no longer hide their faces. The acceptability of White nationalism is perpetuated by certain segments of the media and is pervasive in the halls of power.
Using gaslighting tactics similar to President Donald Trump and also displaying the narrative of victimhood that frames the White nationalist worldview, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham denounced systemic racism as “the Big Lie”, which drives Americans apart and actually negatively impacts Black Americans the most. In this verbal sleight of hand, she reframed the litmus test of the Big Lie as disinformation by liberals about systemic racism instead of the claim that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election and must now rightly ascend to his proper place in the Oval Office.
The denial of systemic racism is also perpetuated by CNN’s Rick Santorum, former US Senator from Virginia. Last month, Santorum gave a speech about “birthing a nation from nothing” at the Standing Up For Faith & Freedom Conference for the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization. After stating the belief that America’s founding documents are based on Judeo-Christian, or Mosaic, law, he spouted Anglo-Saxon superiority coupled with the existential fear of White genocide through immigration whch are is central to White nationalism:
“…We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”
These words undermine the genocide of Indigenous Americans and uphold the false narrative of the glorious founding of the United States by divine blessings conferred on White people specifically.
The notion of the United States as unique both in its manifest destiny and exclusive to White people is also promoted by Tucker Carlson, the biggest draw on Fox News. Weaponizing today’s divisive political landscape in which one’s political allegiance warrants ad hominem attacks, Carlson accused the Democratic Party of “diluting” the political power of Americans like him by showing preference to immigrants whom he described as “people who show absolute contempt for our customs, our laws, our system itself” and “obedient voters from the Third World”.
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) April 9, 2021
When he disparaged people of color and upheld the notion that America is for White people only, it not only feeds into the narrative that America is under attack, but also creates this narrative, solidifying this ‘White person as victim’ worldview into reality for much of his audience. He is able to shape how they perceive the world, because of the power of his platform, at once immediate and wide-ranging.
His nightly show has been ranked as the number one cable news show based on the number of 25-54-year-olds watching —the demo most valued by advertisers. He also signed a multi-year deal for a podcast three times per week and a video special once per month and has even been touted as a 2024 political candidate. His skill in sanitizing White nationalist rhetoric on his various platforms is not dissimilar to Donald Trump’s dog whistles, equivocations, and direct calls during his campaign and throughout his presidency.
Though these prominent conservative media personalities and their colleagues would have Americans believe white nationalism and its counterpart of systemic racism are fake, leaders of federal agencies entrusted to ensure America’s security inside and outside of its borders know otherwise. FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have each prioritized White nationalism as a terrorist threat including within the ranks of these departments.
Certainly, a recalibration of the current counterterrorism paradigm is needed in order to address not only the context in which White nationalism develops, but to also thwart the dynamics that allow it to take hold. Disinformation, the denial of systemic racism, and the rewriting of history in current time are not only byproducts of the political right propaganda machine, but also tools by which it fights the war for ratings and power. Denying the history of systemic racism and denying the reality of the January 6th attacks is to deny the rights of each American to be recognized as a fellow human being.
The history of the United States is the history of the development of race as a construct as well as its weaponization to exact the violence of racism. The history of the United States is also the story of how communities of color and those who have been deemed to be “less than” have challenged the literal whitewashing of America’s founding documents to assert their rights as “We the People.”
It is time to relearn history and engage with each other not along the political spectrum or partisan lines, but as fellow Americans and people.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.