The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw the dangers of American nationalism over a half-century ago, convinced that nationalism in the United States would translate into white nationalism.
“Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood,” Dr. King warned an audience at New York’s Riverside Church one year before his murder. “This I believe to be the privilege or all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties (that are) broader and deeper than nationalism.”
Despite Dr. King’s warning, white nationalism has become a driving force in 21st century America, from the White House to local politics, from the Trump administration’s tactics of black voter suppression and terror at the Mexican border to St. Louis County Republicans proudly inviting racist former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio to be honored at March’s Lincoln Days dinner.
Dr. King foresaw the danger, even though the racists with whom he dealt were significantly different from today’s white nationalists. The George Wallaces and Ross Barnetts and Klansmen of Dr. King’s era fought to preserve a racist status quo. They were true conservatives, in that they wanted to conserve the white power structure of the 1950s.
Today’s white nationalists, from Trump to Steve Bannon to lawmakers like Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King, don’t want to conserve a system. They want to burn the entire system down. The election and re-election of a black president, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, and the accelerating demographic trends that will leave whites less than 50 percent of the population by 2040 have convinced them that the current system embraces non-whites, and must be destroyed.
That’s why Trump and his Washington allies are more than glad to let the current government shutdown drag on indefinitely. The shutdown’s consequences mean nothing to them. Food stamp money running out, airline safety being compromised, national security being endangered, and HUD housing money running out are not unfortunate consequences of the shutdown. They’re desirable outcomes, because they’re damaging both a government structure they hate, and they’re punishing people who benefit from government programs, people the white nationalists think are parasites anyway.
The shutdown is about money to build Trump’s wall, but to the white nationalists, the wall has nothing to do with concrete and steel. The wall is an idea, an ideology of sealing America off from the rest of the world so they can turn their attention to purging undesirable non-whites from American life. For Hispanics and Muslims, it means deportation and closed borders. For African Americans, it means suppressing their votes and gutting government programs from food stamps to housing vouchers.
To Trumpian white nationalists, it’s not enough to win. Others must lose. Electing a known racist like Trump wasn’t enough. Since “America First” translates as “White America First,” money has to be taken from non-whites and re-distributed to the white population. A perfect example is Trump’s withholding previously appropriated aid money for (brown) Puerto Rico, while at the same time redirecting billions in emergency aid to (white) farmers who can’t sell their crops to China anymore because of Trump’s trade war.
While Dr. King’s enemies like Birmingham, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor used brute force, it was to keep black people in their places within a well-established hierarchical system where whites were at the apex of the power pyramid. Trump’s white nationalist minions realize the system and the country are changing, so the system has to be wrecked and the country brought to its knees. And the repercussions stretch from St. Louis to St. Petersburg.
Besides any blackmail and financial receipts the Russians may hold over Trump, his white nationalism is a perfect fit with Putin’s Russia. Putin is an adherent of the fundamentalist Russian Orthodox Church, which continues its centuries-old war with non-white Muslims in the Asian and eastern European borderlands where Islam and Christianity have collided for over a thousand years. Under Putin, Russia sees itself as the last truly white Christian country, a philosophy pitched for years by Aleksandr Dugin, an Orthodox fundamentalist, political strategist, and Putin’s political mentor.
Dugin has always dreamed of a worldwide movement opposing non-whites and non-Christians, writing, “We must create alliance to overthrow the present order of things, of which the core of our enemy can be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness, everything that is the face of the Beast and the anti-Christ.”
Dugin’s white-nationalist fascism has adherents ranging from Trump to some St. Louis cops. While Trump, Dugin, and Putin continue their assaults on what they see as a corrupt, multi-cultural order internationally, local allies around the world do similar, smaller work.
Take, for example, police attacks against St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Gardner is under fire for refusing to prosecute cases brought by 28 police officers, all of whom are accused of having lied previously. Known in prosecutorial circles as a Brady List (named after the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady v Maryland), the list follows established legal precedent used by prosecutors nationwide: lying police officers poison any case they touch.
The latest kerfuffle came after an officer videotaped Gardner’s attorneys refusing to prosecute a case he had brought. Presumably, the officer knew he was on the Brady List for allegedly lying previously, but tried to file the case anyway so he could get the video of Gardner’s office refusing to accept it. The resulting controversy has been framed as prosecutors letting a drug dealer go free.
But the subtext is the real story: the subtext of white cops being prevented from bringing bad guys to justice by a black female prosecutor. It’s another page from the Dugin/Putin/Trump white nationalist playbook – the system is corrupt because too many non-white people now help run it.
As we take the next few days to remember Dr. King, it’s also good to remember that the enemies we face now are more dangerous than 1950s racists. They want to build a new, white society on the smoking ruins of what used to be America.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.