The Economic Crisis & the Fortunes of White Nationalism:
It’s Not What You Think
The Zeskind Fortnight No. 13
By Leonard Zeskind
March 9, 2009
The real gross domestic product of the United States fell by an annualized rate of 6.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to a February 27 press release by the federal government’s Bureau of Economic Activity. The drop in the third quarter last year was less than one percent, but it was a decrease nonetheless. Personal consumption expenditures on durable goods, washing machines, cars, and the like, declined by 22.1 percent in the fourth quarter. Non-durable goods consumption slid by 9.2 per cent, meaning people just did not spend as much at the grocery store. The economy continues to bleed jobs. Regardless of whether you think the current troubles were started by a slew of low wage workers buying houses they could not afford and extravagant credit card indebtedness, or whether you think that the problem is rooted in a system-wide capital shortage caused by a declining rate of profit, it should be obvious to all that the current “recession” is much worse than the ordinary dip in the business cycle.
While President Barack Obama’s administration tries to stanch the losses with hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal spending, a host of non-governmental actors have jumped into the fray. Policy lobbyists are pushing for single-payer universal healthcare. Entrepreneurial environmentalists are hoping a “green” business revolution will spark economic recovery and clean cold water at the same time. At the grass roots, ACORN has launched a program to stem home foreclosures with demonstrations similar to those organized by the Unemployed Councils three generations ago. On the other side of the political street, there is a certain breed of conservative Republicans who hope that opposition to government debt will re-inflate their party’s much diminished standing. And white nationalists? Well, they are very busy too.
There was that barbecue in the Phoenix area of Arizona on March 1 organized by the Nationalist Coalition for supporters of the Stormfront website. The National Socialist Movement (NSM) has something similar planned in mid-Missouri on March 15 to remember George Lincoln Rockwell, the one time leader of the American Nazi Party who was assassinated by a disgruntled member in 1967, before most members of the NSM were born. That same weekend in central Florida a skinhead crew is planning to drink itself to oblivion in honor of St. Patrick. Then Thom Robb’s family of Klanners is hoping to host another of its money-making conferences up the road from Harrison, Arkansas. A white power rock concert in the Boston area on April 11 is planned as a fundraiser for white revolutionaries in prison. And on the weekend of April 18 the National Socialist Movement will once again gather, this time in St. Louis, for a “national convention” on the weekend closest to Adolf Hitler’s birthday anniversary. After that a Nordic Fest is planned for Kentucky in May, and a couple of Christian Identity gatherings in Missouri for the faithful. And so on, and so on.
All of these events—from eat and meet sessions to skinhead music performances—share a common feature. None of them directly engage the issues of the economy. There is certain to be a fair amount of immigrant-bashing, and there might be a few speeches aimed at the “International Jewish Bankers” who supposedly run the world. Om this regard, please consider the Stormfront website, with 52,000 registered members, and forums on ideology, culture, revisionism (Holocaust denial), self-defense, health and fitness and a dozen other topics. It does not have a discussion board on the economic crisis. Immigration issues are discussed under activism and ideology, and a forum called “Money Talks” is subtitled “Getting ahead in uncertain times.” But “money talks” is simply flim flam.
Simply put, these white nationalists have not developed any specific response to the economic crisis. Instead, they spend their organizational energies tending to their already existing flocks. Those individuals who want to join will come in through a fairly narrow gate.
This lack of attention to the unemployed and the about-to-be-homeless is very different from the farm and rural crisis of the early 1980s, when many different groups developed special propaganda appeals to distressed farmers. At that time, several Posse Comitatus-types even ran legal scams and phony loan schemes with the supposed purpose of helping bankrupt farmers keep their land. But nobody from the Aryan set has yet to lift a finger in that direction.
To the extent that white nationalists address the crisis, it is done through attacks on immigrants—verbal and physical. Of course, the abuse of immigrants began long before this downturn started. As a result, it is hard to analytically separate those who join in the nativist fray because they lost their job and want to blame brown-skinned Spanish-speakers from those who aims are motivated entirely by racism. Studies of voters in Arizona in 2004 and California in 1994 found little link between support for anti-immigrant ballot measures and an individual’s economic circumstance. Although we might expect some upturn in white nationalist fortunes, at this point, it is difficult to track any specific organizational growth back to unemployment levels and home foreclosures.
Should the economic crisis become a political crisis, however, then the whole equation will rapidly change. There are already signs that nationalism in the member countries of the European Union is threatening that confederation. Predictions that the world economic output will decline this year for the first time in eighty years, with poorer and less developed countries feeling the brunt of it, is certain to exacerbate these problems.
While many remember the 1930s depression as a period of tremendous social progress, it was not all bread and red roses. President Roosevelt did sign social security into law, and the federal government did fund significant public works projects, such as rural electrification, that provided work to the unemployed; and insurgent trade unions organized the mainsprings of American industry and raised the standard of living for all working people.
At the same time, those same works programs codified the inferior wages that black laborers received (and the superior wages whites received), while the administration deported tens of thousands of Mexican-Americans who were legally resident in the United States. Millions listened as Father Coughlin poured poison into the airwaves. A Klan-like group known as the Black Legion attacked trade union organizers in the Detroit area and the openly fascist Silver Shirts and German-American Bund brown shirts added mayhem to the maelstrom. Charles Lindberg’s America First-style isolationism, laced as it was with anti-Semitism, threatened to keep us out of the fight against Hitler.
We are now at the front end of a long curve, and it can lead to disaster or progress, or both at the same time.
Leonard Zeskind’s Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream will be published by Farrar Straus & Giroux on May 19.