Writing and Thinking Outside the Box
20 May 2009
Writing and Thinking Outside the Box
The Zeskind Fortnight No. 16
by Leonard Zeskind
At the time I started writing the book that became Blood and Politics, many of the events described in its pages had not yet happened. The murderous Weaver standoff had already ended and the Waco Branch Davidian compound had been reduced to ashes, but the militia movement had not fully blossomed and the federal building in Oklahoma City had not been bombed. David Duke had won a majority of white votes in two statewide Louisiana elections, but California voters had not yet decided the Proposition 187 election campaign against immigrants. The Soviet Union had collapsed and the post-World War Two era had ended, but I did not yet appreciate the full significance of what had happened. Almost instinctively, I understood the "movement" character of the dozens (indeed, hundreds) of white supremacist groups, but I had not yet figured out how to write about them as a political and social whole. My book was called, at that time, "Hate Mongers." I still had at least one eye "in the box."
The "box" was a prism through which ordinary people, liberals and leftish anti-racists viewed and discussed white supremacists. For most white people, racists and anti-Semites were simply kooks, inexplicable and slightly terrifying--particularly when violence and mayhem attended their local appearance. Anti-racists had a slightly different vocabulary in which the terms "extremists" and "hate groups" loomed large. The language and concepts of social psychology were employed to discuss these organizations and people. All believed that racists and anti-Semites were poor and uneducated souls who blamed others for their problems while failing to take personal responsibility for their own situations. To the extent political characterizations were used, white supremacists were thought to be defenders of the status quo, tools of conservative economic elites hoping to re-institute a regime of Jim Crow segregation. Otherwise, they were irrelevant to considerations of social policy and civic society.
While my description of the "box" may be a bit of a caricature, it does not veer far from the constraints I felt when I first started writing this book. My prose was stilted, full of the platitudes of liberal convention. The book's structure failed to hold the massive amount of detail I had in my hands. There was no story: no beginning, middle and end.
On or about October 1, 1996 I broke the box.
It became obvious that the received wisdom was not wise at all. With a few notable exceptions, the leaders of the movement who became characters in my book were almost universally well educated and middle class: an insurance company executive, a stock broker, a computer tech or two, several attorneys and salesmen, a chiropractor, and multiple PhDs--including an infamous physics professor. They were obviously motivated by ideological conviction, and the movement they built was shaped in their image. Calling them "haters" and "extremists" did not and could not work for me.
In their aggregate, they were committed to overturning American society rather than seeking to return it to some previous era.
These were nationalists, white nationalists, operating in a political fashion on the terrain of history. Race and theology, nationalism and national identity, history and geo-politics--social constructs all--became the terrain upon which I wrote this book. As such I abandoned the usual discourse with which this topic is discussed. The so-called paranoid style, scapegoating and other such ideas simply did not fit the facts as they presented themselves.
There are multiple other places where Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream breaks from the conventional wisdom of the time. I can not point them all out here, but many of the most important events occurred during the fifteen years that have elapsed since I began this project. I tried to shape these multiple strands into a compelling and readable story, and I can not replicate that process here in less than fifteen hundreds words. I wanted to write a book, with a new and different analysis. I would urge you to read it and decide for yourself if I succeeded.