Once upon a time a white supremacist could be relied on to be, if nothing else, upfront. They weren’t shy about their worldview that whites are being systematically driven to extinction by mixed marriages, street crime and liberal politics. But now that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has popularized racist identity politics, some white supremacists are seizing on the opportunity to reach a nationwide audience by toning down their rhetoric and going politically correct.
According to emails obtained by the Huffington Post, leadership at the white supremacist American Freedom Party is tweaking their message to “be a wee more diplomatic with the ms [mainstream] media.” They think the word “genocide” makes “people roll their eyes” and is “not a good label to use in a sound bite.” Better, they think, to refer to it as “dispossession” or the “physical, administrative removal of Americans of European extraction.” “White nationalist” has become “white advocate” or “advocate of European heritage.”
Their emails were part of a broader discussion on how the AFP can support Trump’s candidacy. So focused on Trump is the AFP that their own presidential candidate, Bob Whitaker, resigned over the group’s Trump preoccupation. Leaders discussed staffing a Trump cabinet with the likes of Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin. Ahead of the Wisconsin primary an AFP-affiliated group made robocalls for Trump in which a woman says he will “preserve Western civilization.”
Not that they needed to tone down for Trump’s sake. Trump has a long history of open racism, from casual stereotyping in interviews to documented discrimination, which he has only barely tempered during his presidential run. In January he even retweeted from an account called WhiteGenocideTM. But in an attempt to build a sustainable white nationalist movement that lives beyond Trump’s campaign, groups like AFP are trying to make their message more palatable.
However unconvincingly, Trump has renounced the support of white supremacists. But he hasn’t modified any of his policies or rhetoric to actually turn them off. From the start of his campaign he has deliberately turned Americans’ anger toward marginalized groups like immigrants and Muslims. Throughout his campaign he has appeared weekly on ultra-nationalist Michael Savage’s radio show to discuss “borders, language and culture,” three issues that come loaded with racial coding.
Strange as it is to hear white supremacists tone down their rhetoric, this coded language is nothing new. Mainstream networks still use different words for criminals of different colors. Conservative news outlets are even more brazen; just this week Bill O’Reilly asked Trump how he’ll get jobs for blacks, so many of whom are “ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads.”
Trump, who rails against political correctness regularly, has also hidden behind a PC mask to get racist messaging across. In a 2012 appearance on Fox & Friends Trump drew a ridiculous comparison to Paula Deen’s use of the “n”-word and Charlie Rangel’s use of the word “cracker.” Trump bemoaned the fact that Rangel wasn’t ostracized in the same way Paula Deen was, implying a double standard that unfairly targets innocent whites. Gretchen Carlson’s somber tone as she reads Rangel’s quote sends the message that the word “cracker” hurts.
Angry white conservatives often express outrage that they aren’t allowed to say the ‘n’-word while black people play with it freely. It’s a unique category of racist who just can’t get over that particular restriction on their vocabulary. There’s a perfect reason for it. At no time was the word “cracker” used to dehumanize and subjugate enslaved white people. But feigning outrage is a way of pretending white people are the victims of a social justice conspiracy without sounding racist.
Few people like to label themselves racist. Instead they insist they’re just brave enough to speak uncomfortable truths. One representative woman interviewed by The Howard Stern Show at a Glenn Beck rally was asked whether she uses the ‘n’-word and replied, “Not in polite company and only when I’m very, very angry… when I do say it, it’s because it fits.” Likewise, Trump almost certainly doesn’t see himself as a racist for the things he’s said – it’s far too unflattering a self-image.
However deep the denial runs there’s hatred bubbling inside. Dressing up racist politics in pseudo-sociological terminology doesn’t get rid of the toxic mentality, but masking it adds an extra layer of insidiousness and makes it potentially far more dangerous. Given the place of prestige a vicious racist like Mark Fuhrman has on FOX News, it may be only a matter of time before “advocates of European heritage” begin talking in scholarly sounding language about “Anglo displacement” on mainstream networks. This is the country going in the wrong direction.
Whatever happens to Donald Trump in the 2016 race, he has brought to life some ugly pockets of humanity. He is stripping away much of the coded language and going full steam ahead in telling Americans that their problem is a bunch of suspicious brown people. Ultra-racists have sensed political viability in that platform, and with good reason. Trump has earned millions of votes and supporters at his often-violent rallies have given Nazi salutes and shouted, “White power.”
No matter what terminology they use, white supremacists are among the most hate-filled and violence-prone people on the planet. Whether he wants the role or not, Trump is now one of their leaders. The thought that groups like AFP might seduce vulnerable Americans into a racist political movement, as has reemerged in Germany, is terrifying. Trump’s opening of the floodgates for these racists will leave a deep national scar and an everlasting shame for which he will never be forgiven.