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At an earlier moment in history when anti-immigrant and racist feelings were soaring, a silent film, The Birth of a Nation, helped revive the Ku Klux Klan. That movie had been adapted from a novel with the ominous title The Clansman (whose author was a friend of then-president Woodrow Wilson). The Klan’s membership would soar in the wake of its 1915 release. Three hours long, D.W. Griffith’s movie would also be the first blockbuster, a revisionist version of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era that proved the deepest sort of put-down of freed slaves, and a film in which the Klan all too literally rode to the rescue.
President Wilson would, in fact, make it the first film ever screened in the White House. Of it, he reportedly said: “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Let such a past be a reminder that there’s nothing new under the American sun when it comes to the rise of white nationalism or of Donald Trump (who, in June 2015, rode down that infamous escalator into the presidential campaign to lambast Mexican “rapists,” among others). The man who, in 2024, hopes “to take back that beautiful, beautiful house that happens to be white” fits into a long, grim American tradition, even when he repeatedly accuses the three Black prosecutors with cases against him of being “racist.”
In such a world, let TomDispatch regular Clarence Lusane, author of the gripping history Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice, explore the rise of a new white nationalism and just how Klannish Donald Trump’s Republican world has already become, not to speak of what our future might be like if he were once again to occupy “that beautiful, beautiful house that happens to be white.” Tom
The Political Rise of a New White Nationalism
The GOP Has a Klan Problem That Is Not Going Away
By Clarence Lusane
In 2020, The Daily Show ran a segment in which statements by Republican leaders, including Donald Trump, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and various Fox News personalities were juxtaposed with those made by Ku Klux Klan leaders like former Grand Wizard David Duke and former Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkerson. Fired Fox News commentator Tucker Carson, for instance, screeches manically that, because of immigration, “eventually there will be no more native-born Americans.” Immediately following that comment comes former Grand Wizard Duke saying, “We’ve got to start protecting our race.”
Donald Trump is then shown at a rally (with several Black people behind him wearing “Blacks for Trump” T-shirts) saying about Covid treatments, “If you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line. Discriminating against white people!” Again, there’s a cut to Duke stating, “There is racial discrimination going on right now in this country against massive numbers of white Americans.”
All too sadly, it didn’t take much effort then, nor would it now, to demonstrate that the racist “great replacement theory” that contends white Americans are being radically displaced by immigrants underlies an ever-fiercer defense of so-called Christian nationalist identity. And in our time, that defense has been essential to the rise of what has become the Trumpublican Party and the fierce growth of white racism that’s gone with it.
That Daily Show segment ended with the ultimate irony of Ted Cruz claiming that “the Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan.”
No surprise there. Despite the all-too-obvious convergence of the perspectives of the Republican far right and the white supremacists of the Klan, as well as other avowed racists, Republican party leaders continue to vehemently deny any identification with the KKK or its views. In the process, they regularly issue obligatory statements rejecting bigotry, racism, and anti-semitism, while passionately disavowing Duke and others like him all disingenuous and empty gestures of the first order.
Recent Republican behavior paints a very different picture. Earlier this year, for instance, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) got thoroughly twisted in knots trying to defend his statement that “my opinion of a white nationalist, if somebody wants to call them a white nationalist, to me, is an American.” Eventually, he had little choice but to (largely) retreat from that stance at least officially.
Typically though, whatever they may claim, Representatives Greene and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) had no problem hanging out with racists and neo-Nazis until, at least, they got caught doing so. In February 2022, they both spoke at the America First Political Action Conference that brought together Islamophobes, hardline nativists, and others on the far right. The gathering was organized by prominent white nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
Yeah, the very same Fuentes who would have dinner with Donald Trump and Kanye “Ye” West at Mar-a-Lago that November.
Like Trump after that feast, when busted, Greene stated, “I do not know Nick Fuentes. I have never heard him speak. I have never seen a video. I do not know what his views are, so I am not aligned with anything that is controversial.” Despite Trump’s dubious assertation that he didn’t know Fuentes either, he certainly knew his old pal Ye and the controversies generated by a number of his antisemitic statements.
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