Rise of the great white plague

white supremicist 1.jpg

White supremacist groups like the National Socialist Movement, seen here at a rally in Arkansas on Nov. 10, 2018, have gained power in the US since 2016.
Jim Urquhart/Reutersaption

UNITED States President Donald Trump has referred to migrants congregating at the United States’ southern border with Mexico as an “invasion”. That, in a word, is what warriors for white nationalism believe, which inspires them to kill people they think are not white, or are migrants wanting entry. They perceive a conspiracy called the ‘Great Replacement Theory’, in which whites will diminish in numbers and power.

White ethnic nationalism is one pernicious reaction, which appears to lie at the heart of the massacres in El Paso and Dayton in America over the weekend, in which 20 and 9 people respectively died. There have been other, similar attacks. The world watches, alarmed, as this movement grows in many places.

The previous terror wave was Muslim-inspired through ISIS; now, domestic white terror increasingly originates from what is called the alt-right. It’s as if a previous era has returned which is racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, anti-Hispanic, homophobic and so on, encouraged by attitudes from people such as Trump since 2016, and ethnic nationalists elsewhere. The internet is its major pathway, such as the website ‘8chan’, a far-right bastion carrying messages promoting hatred and violence. It’s difficult to stop; there are many hiding places on the internet.

A sense of apprehension is on the rise about the resurgence of these attitudes, how to prevent atrocities such as El Paso and Dayton, and to counter the attitudes motivating them. But white nationalism has potent tools such as the internet and social media which it didn’t have before, and powerful adherents.

Previous incidents are a warning: The suspect in the massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand in March allegedly posted a white nationalist text and link to his Facebook feed on 8chan. The suspect at a synagogue in Poway, California, who killed one and injured three, allegedly posted an anti-Semitic letter on 8chan. The website is also believed to have been used by the El Paso suspect to post a white nationalist rage. The platforms for such material are difficult to shut down.

8chan’s internet infrastructure is hosted by a US based company, Cloudflare. Its chief executive officer, on demands to remove the site after the Christchurch massacre, said there are many competitors to Cloudflare and “the minute that someone isn’t on our network, they’re going to be on someone else’s network …” .

Will white nationalism run out of steam against the liberal, multi-ethnic world? Racial, ethnic conflict is as old as time. In history, other long-standing conflicts became so embedded in peoples’ consciousness that it seemed they were endless. The Cold War, an ideological standoff between the west and the Soviet Union, lasted 45 years, threatening a nuclear war.

Another entrenched conflict, between Arabs and Israelis, has lasted over a century, with religious overtones, including pre-state years and after the state of Israel actually existed. There have been minor successes at resolving it, but the core is firmly in place and unlikely to dissipate soon. Meanwhile, most ordinary people just want to raise their children and grow old gracefully; ordinary Arabs and Jews try to lead normal lives.

Over centuries, writers and artists have expressed an absurd quality to this ongoing human reality of living in the imperfect present, while believing in a perfect future. For Judaism, the idea of the Moshiach finds implied expression in the play Waiting for Godot by modernist playwright Samuel Beckett. Like the concept of total harmony between people, such as Jews, Muslims, alt-Right warriors, and so on, Godot is indefinable. Everyone waits, but will it ever come? Meanwhile, struggles against mentalities like alt-right terrorism are here and now.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

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