In the first preview of our current focus on violence and extremist groups, SEN Journal: Online Exclusives is pleased to present an extract from Amy Cooter’s ‘Neo-Nazi Nationalism.’
In an effort to understand how supremacists may respond to future socio-political events, this article examines how White Aryan Resistance (WAR), as a major player in the White Supremacist Movement (WSM), conceptualises nationalism and who qualifies as a ‘real’ American. I use discourse analysis on two year’s worth of WAR newsletters: twelve monthly issues before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and twelve issues after this date. Only partial support is found for outcomes that the existing nationalism literature would predict, suggesting that those who research the right-wing must better understand the WSM’s sense of status loss to adequately predict future violent action from these groups. I show that WAR did not increasingly target Arabs after the attacks, which may have enhanced their membership and mobilisation efforts, but that this decision was a rational response in the context of status threats and limited movement resources.
Nationalism generally refers to feelings of belonging that individuals have toward their national groups, which may be demarcated by physical boundaries of a state or by imagined boundaries of ethnicity, culture, or religion. I examine how an important component of the White Supremacist Movement (WSM) – White Aryan Resistance (WAR) – conceptualises nationalism and how this understanding influenced their response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11). Understanding WAR’s version of nationalism helps link previous literatures on nationalism and white supremacy. Analysing WAR’s response to 9/11 allows us to better predict when unpopular movements may mobilise or expand following events of national importance. This may additionally help us understand why supremacist groups choose particular targets for violent activity, which is useful information for law enforcement agencies seeking to prevent such violence.
The White Supremacist Movement
It is important to note that organised white supremacist activity may be conceptualised as part of a larger social movement. Although some researchers resist using the term ‘movement’ to refer to ‘regressive’ or right-wing collective behaviour, Kathleen Blee (2003), Jessie Daniels (1997), and Abby Ferber (1999), three of the foremost authors on white racist groups, are among those acknowledging a White Supremacist Movement.1 Organised white supremacist activity should be considered a social movement for the following reasons. Definitions of social movements typically resemble Jeff Goodwin and James Jasper’s statement that, ‘Social movements are conscious, concerted, and sustained efforts by ordinary people to change some aspect of their society by using extra-institutional means’ (Goodwin and Jasper 2009:3). Social movements have some continuity over time, and some researchers may be uncomfortable with the WSM’s relatively consistently low level of activity. Low activity is not equivalent to no activity, particularly when white supremacist activity spikes in response to major social change like the election of the country’s first black president. Even very successful movements have varying degrees of group cohesiveness and action over time (Stryker, Owens, and White 2000).
Some scholars may object to the characterisation of the WSM as a social movement because of its relatively small membership base. However, groups that require a high degree of trust due to the nature of their beliefs and activities have incentives to remain small and may have a higher than normal proclivity for ousting members who fall out of favour with the group (Bernstein 1997; Gamson 1997). This can be seen in religious sects as mainstream as Catholics or Methodists (Stark and Finke 2000). Size alone is not sufficient grounds for discounting movement status. Finally, a frequent complaint about social movements literature generally is that it tends to only studysuccessful social movements; at worst, the WSM is unsuccessful at accomplishing meaningful social change. Lack of success does not violate movement status, and studying the WSM may add to the social movements literature because of the few studies of unsuccessful movements.
White Aryan Resistance and Tom Metzger
There are many groups of various sizes within the larger WSM, and they are active across the globe. Some groups have utilised these international connections in various ways (e.g., on the role of the internet for maintaining an international movement, Back 2002) – a topic deserving of its own study – but WAR has remained focused on a domestic strategy. As a guest author in one of its newsletters notes, ‘WAR has often stated that you confine your activities to the US and urge other Americans to do the same, which is a sensible, sound policy in view of Europe’s race laws’ (An Irish Londoner 2001:6).
It is true that the international picture is made extremely complicated by varying national laws restricting WSM activity (Anti-Defamation League n.d.), and it is why my focus here is on the WSM in the United States. However, it is important to note that WAR’s founder and leader Tom Metzger believes that these laws weaken both the scope and aspirations of the movement in other countries, making racially-aware whites in the United States superior to supremacists elsewhere, in his view. According to Metzger (2000:3), ‘only a tiny minority are willing to sacrifice themselves in an attempt to stop [a non-white invasion] … there is no support from outside the country for any such action. Europe and Russia have their own problems.’
Precise goals and ideology may vary across groups of the WSM, but they have in common a belief in the superiority of the white race, a hatred for non-whites, and a desire for a socio-political environment where white men have exclusive power. WAR represents one of the more extreme groups in the WSM, and has been linked to a variety of racially motivated violence including the brutal murder of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw in 1988 (Langer 2003), links to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (Stern 1996), the likely involvement in the 2005 attempted murder of District Court Judge Joan Lefkow (Southern Poverty Law Center 2005), and 2009 connections to and support for the shooter at Washington D.C.’s Holocaust Museum (Metzger 2009).
WAR should be understood as a largely Neo-Nazi group2 (Berlet and Vysotsky 2006; George and Wilcox 1996), which are typically considered to be newer groups, relative to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), for example, with on-average younger members who admire Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany, and its symbols; WAR’s most recognised symbol is that of a large, snarling wolf whose pupils have been replaced by swastikas. As Chip Berlet and Stanislov Vysotsky (2006) note, WAR should be understood as a political, rather than religious or youth cultural group within the WSM, but their appeal to youth should not be overlooked. Most WAR members are between thirteen and twenty-five years old (Anti-Defamation League n.d.), and it is believed that many members join other WSM groups as they age out of groups like WAR (Hamm 1993). The young age and early indoctrination of WAR members is likely one factor that contributes to its violence…
This article was first published in Volume 11, Issue 3 of Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism. Click here to access the full journal article.