President Trump’s re-election strategy consists of convincing enough Americans that anyone who supports racial equality wants to destroy the US, while at the same time insisting that systemic racism is not real but rather a figment of the left’s imagination.
It’s a self-contradictory strategy only a cult leader could sustain, and it comes straight from the playbook of white supremacist propaganda, which Trump’s senior advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller knows well, as I report in my book Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.
One of the main recruiting tactics of white supremacists was popularized for the first time in the United States in Miller’s home state of California during the nineties. It’s the white genocide theory. Formerly articulated in terms of threats to the white race, the conspiracy theory is now frequently packaged in terms of threats to Western heritage – to make it more palatable to average Americans who might be turned off by overt racism.
The false theory claims that darker-skinned people and their anti-racist allies pose an existential threat to Western civilization. The theory is sometimes made alongside the assertion that people of color and their allies are the real racists seeking to exterminate whites. It has motivated a number of acts of white terrorism, such as the massacre of 23 people in El Paso, Texas, last August.
Trump has repeatedly conflated anti-racist and Black Lives Matter protesters with “thugs” and “agitators and anarchists” seeking to annihilate the US, parroting language from the French white supremacist Jean Raspail’s dystopian novel The Camp of the Saints, which Miller promoted in emails in 2015. It depicts white genocide by Black and brown refugees described as “beasts” and by anti-racist “agitators,” “anarchists,” and “anti-world thugs”.
Trump recently ordered all federal agencies to immediately stop all anti-racism training, calling it “a sickness”. In Raspail’s book, anti-racism is a sickness. It attacks “remote lobes of the brain where remorse, self-reproach, and self-hate, pricked by thousands of barbs, come bursting out, spreading their leukemia cells”.
The alleged threat of anti-racism was a main theme of the Republican National Convention last month. It’s become widespread on right-wing media, from Fox News to Breitbart. Apocalypse mongering around multiculturalism and racial justice seeks to incite white fear about demographic replacement and to rally people around Trump as a white savior.
The white genocide theory, also known as the great replacement theory, came to prominence in the California of Miller’s youth amid fears about the “browning” of the state. Los Angeles was becoming a “third world cesspool”, according to protest signs. “Anglo anxiety in the face of demographic change was rampant,” wrote the local historian Rodolfo F Acuña in 1996.
The state’s conservatives rediscovered the political utility of hate when California’s unpopular Republican governor Pete Wilson won re-election in 1994 by blaming all of the state’s problems on Mexicans. Conservative commentators realized they could get rich by laundering racist ideas in the language of heritage and national security, conflating dark-skinned people with criminals. “In the past, coded language has usually been a way for the oppressed to disguise their criticism of those in power,” wrote Acuña. “Today, it is part of the ideological strategy of Euroamerican elites, serving to justify their domination of communities of color while disguising openly racist sentiments (criminal instead of Mexican).”
White supremacy was injected back into the state bloodstream through right wing talk radio and the Web. Neo-Nazis multiplied. Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Metzger called Southern California the “breeding ground” for white separatism.
When Miller was five years old, in 1991, hundreds of families with Latino last names received a letter in their mailboxes from the Santa Monica–Malibu Unified school district. The letter looked official, with the district headquarter’s bulk-mail permit number and address labels. Inside was a type-written hate screed from a conservative student group at Santa Monica high school, which Miller would attend that decade.
The letter called Mexicans “brown animals” and promised: “We’ll gas you like Hitler gassed the Jews.” It denied the existence of racism among white people and said Mexicans were “the real racists”. It said Mexicans got all the benefits: “Why should there be a double standard for these wild beasts?” It criticized multicultural activities at the school.
Police still haven’t identified who sent the letter from the school. When Miller was a student, copies were still circulating on campus. He regurgitated some of its talking points, saying that systemic racism doesn’t exist. He called it “racial paranoia” and claimed it led to a “lower standard” for Black and brown students. When he called into a local right-wing talk radio show to criticize multicultural activities, the host Larry Elder was impressed. He gave him a regular platform.
Miller saw a meteoric rise in the ensuing years with the help of other right-wing mentors, such as the anti-Muslim zealot David Horowitz, who got him hired by the nativist Alabama senator Jeff Sessions. In 2013, the Republican party was moving in a moderate direction. The party published an autopsy report about the 2012 elections, concluding that the party had to become more inclusive: “We need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case. We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans.”
Miller was plotting the opposite. During a fateful dinner with Steve Bannon and Sessions in early 2013, Miller brought up a study by RealClearPolitics senior elections analyst Sean Trende about “missing white voters”. Trende, the analyst, told me his analysis was “twisted beyond recognition” by “people like Miller who want a race war, and people on the left who thought I was urging Miller’s interpretation”. Rather than moving in a more inclusive direction, the men at the dinner thought, the Republican party should double down on courting the missing white voters.
When Republican lawmakers partnered with Democratic ones on a historic immigration reform bill, Miller worked with combative right-wing commentators such as Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson to successfully sink the bill, smearing it as legislation that would “decimate” America through mass immigration.
Three years later, Miller joined Trump’s campaign. Trump’s emotional racism combined with Miller’s sophisticated knowledge of white supremacist propaganda; he introduced gory descriptions of migrant crimes into Trump’s speeches and regurgitated false crime statistics – a common white supremacist recruiting tactic that plants the false belief that brown people are more violent than white people. (A recent fictional propaganda video by the US Border Patrol used false crime statistics claiming migrants have killed thousands of Americans. The Border Patrol removed the video within hours of my reporting on its promotion of false statistics in the style of white supremacist groups.)
White supremacists represent the greatest terror threat facing this country, according to Homeland Security’s own documents. The Center for Strategic & International Studies shows that right-wing extremists were responsible for more than 90% of extremist-related plots and attacks so far this year.
Trump is deliberately fueling white hate, conjuring the alleged threat of those whom white supremacists despise. Miller helped Trump win in 2016 by scapegoating immigrants. This time, they’re targeting Black Lives Matter protesters and all those who believe in racial justice. There will be more lives lost as they fan the flames of extremism. Dystopian, bloodstained streets present a marketing opportunity for the campaign.
Originally published: 2020-09-09 05:26:11