Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, by Leonard Zeskind

Blood and Politics, published this May, is a history of “White nationalist” political activity between 1974 and 2004 by Leonard Zeskind, an anti-racist writer and activist who has monitored White political groups since the 1970s.  The book consists of a chronologically ordered series of chapters on phenomena including Willis Carto‘s Liberty LobbyWilliam Pierce‘s National AllianceDavid Duke‘s campaigns, Klan groups, Holocaust denierssurvivalistsChristian Identity adherents, Aryan NationsWhite separatist compoundsbank robberies and murders by White criminal conspiracies, the Populist Party,skinheadsPat Buchanan‘s campaigns, Ruby Ridge, WacoWhite power musicmilitiascommon law courtsAmerican RenaissanceThe Bell Curve, the Oklahoma City bombing trials, the Council of Conservative Citizens, Sam Francis, and 9/11.

While it may be unfair of Zeskind to lump these diverse phenomena into a unitary “White nationalist movement,” one can avoid quibbling about terminology by simply assuming, as I will in this review, that by “white nationalist” Zeskind means a White who identifies in a positive manner as White, or any Jewish or White proponent of the reality and importance of IQ .

Zeskind places White nationalists along a spectrum between “mainstreamers” and “vanguardists.”  Mainstreamers, exemplified by Willis Carto and his Liberty Lobby, believe that a majority of Whites can be convinced to support their cause. They participate in the political process and try to develop messages that resonate with a wide audience.  Vanguardists, exemplified by William Pierce and his National Alliance, seek “a few good men,” a small “vanguard” of energetic revolutionaries who do not care if the public hates them.

Zeskind’s account makes clear that not all White nationalists are of one mind. Some are atheists, while others are Christian Identity adherents; some question the Holocaust, while others do not; some detest Neo-Nazis, while others idolize Hitler; some favor criminality and revolutionary violence, while others advocate political solutions.

Despite these differences, Zeskind shows, there is also a great deal of ideological overlap among the segments of the movement.  White nationalists who are otherwise political opponents will agree that Jews have disproportionate control over the media, or that David Duke’s political campaigns were a positive development.

Zeskind also shows that individuals in one segment of the movement often have connections to individuals in other segments of the movement.  For example, he points out that Jared Taylor, whose American Renaissance conferences welcome Jews, is a close friend of Mark Weber, who runs the Institute for Historical Review, a Holocaust revisionist organization.  Zeskind also describes how Willis Carto (a mainstreamer), William Pierce (a vanguardist), and Tom Metzger (a Klan leader) all tried to develop connections to the White power music scene, despite having little in common with the fans of the music. Within the network of connections among individuals in the White nationalist movement Zeskind describes, Willis Carto and William Pierce were major hubs, while other individuals, such as Sam DicksonBo Gritz, and Louis Beam, appeared as recurring characters in a variety of significant events.

Not surprisingly, Zeskind’s point of view is firmly grounded in the conventional wisdom of the political left.  His commentary reveals that he considers the following propositions to be firmly established:

1) The idea that the Jews “control the media” is plain nonsense.

2) The media is more than willing to give White nationalists a voice. Therefore, it is not the media that marginalizes White nationalists; rather, White nationalists marginalize themselves by saying crazy things.

3) The history of the United States is a story of progress from slavery to Jim Crow to the civil rights movement to an ideal realization of the principle that all people are created equal.

4) The civil rights movement was a product of the genius of Black people. (Zeskind knows this from first-hand experience; though he is Jewish, he has been a “life time member of the NAACP”.)

5) The relative material and occupational advantages enjoyed by White people are a product of historical inertia and the “prerogatives of white skin.”

6) Minorities who organize along racial lines are merely seeking equal rights, while Whites who organize as Whites see politics as a “zero sum game” in which minority progress toward equal rights harms Whites.

Nevertheless, Zeskind’s book is interesting because it departs from the conventional wisdom in a number of ways.  When he began writing the book in the 1990s, the working title was “Hate Mongers,” but around 1996, Zeskind says, he “abandoned the usual discourse with which this topic is discussed.  The so-called paranoid style, scapegoating and other such ideas simply did not fit the facts as they presented themselves.”

For instance, Zeskind provides abundant evidence that White nationalist activity is not the result of stupidity.  He is clearly impressed by the intelligence of individuals like William Pierce, who was a physics professor before he was a vanguardist.  He notes that Sam Francis, who was formerly a Washington Timescolumnist, “demonstrated a keen grasp” of Antonio Gramsci‘s idea of “ideological hegemony.”

Moreover, Zeskind does not beat up on White nationalists for lacking credentials.  He explains that Jared Taylor, founder of American Renaissance, was raised in Japan and graduated from Yale.  Zeskind tells the story of Eveyln Rich, a woman who wrote her PhD dissertation on the Klan while supplying information about Klan activities to anti-racist watchdog organizations.  Though she “grasped the subject of her inquiry like few others” and was later active in opposing David Duke, “[a]t some point Evelyn Rich must have dropped any scholarly distance she had from white nationalists” because she married Jared Taylor.

In contrast to liberals who assume that occasional acts of violence are the only threat posed by White nationalists, Zeskind argues that White nationalism is a serious threat because the mainstreaming wing of the movement, led by politicians, lawyers and PhDs, is capable of having an effect on mainstream politics.

For example, he argues that David Duke’s political campaigns, while unsuccessful, awakened a constituency concerned with White dispossession and thereby “opened the door” for Patrick Buchanan, a relatively mainstream figure, to bring Duke’s political issues into the Republican party.  Zeskind quotes Buchanan:

The way to do battle with David Duke is not to go ballistic because Duke, as a teenager, paraded around in a Nazi costume to protest William Kunstler during Vietnam, or to shout to the heavens that Duke had the same phone number last year as the Ku Klux Klan.  Everybody in Metairie [Duke’s district] knew that.  The way to deal with Mr. Duke is the way the GOP dealt with the more formidable challenge of George Wallace.  Take a hard look at Duke’s portfolio of winning issues; and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles.

Buchanan went on to win the New Hampshire primary in 1996 and to take over Ross Perot‘s Reform Party in 2000.

Zeskind also departs from conventional wisdom in explaining White voter behavior.  He rejects the idea that White voters voted for Proposition 187, an anti-immigrant ballot initiative in California, because they were opposed to illegal as opposed to legal immigration, or because they used immigrants as a scapegoat for the bad economy.  He explains that statistical analysis of the polling data showed only a slight correlation between voting for Proposition 187 and income level, education level, or financial worries.  There was a strong correlation, however, between a person’s likelihood of voting for Proposition 187 and the percentage of immigrants in the person’s neighborhood.  The distinction between legal and illegal immigrants did not matter to White voters.  What did matter was race and culture.

The David Duke campaigns demonstrated the same phenomenon.  The polling data showed that White voters were likely to vote against David Duke if the percentage of Black people in the neighborhood was small, but as the percentage of Black residents increased, the likelihood of voting for David Duke increased.  After carefully analyzing why Duke received the support he did, Zeskind quotes with approval a study that concluded, “Supporters in part saw Duke as a voice for whites, in the same sense that minorities have spokespersons.”  (Incidentally, that is exactly what David Duke says.)

Zeskind concludes that White nationalism is on the rise.  He argues that the end of the Cold War created a vacuum in American identity that many White people filled with an ethnic identity.  White nationalists, he says, are “committed to overturning American society rather than seeking to return it to some previous era.”  By possessing “significant resources” and giving voice and coherence to “grievances real and imagined,” White nationalists over the past three decades have succeeded in creating an “opposition to the status quo that will not go away in the near future,” Zeskind concludes.

Zeskind has condensed into narrative form a great deal of information about different White nationalist political phenomena, the overlaps among the segments, and the social connections among the individuals involved.  Reading Zeskind’s history, it was hard for me to keep straight in my head all of the meetings that took place in back woods compounds and hotel conference rooms, the large cast of recurring characters, the spiteful intra- and inter-organizational disputes, and other details that Zeskind recounts in 542 pages and supports with 77 pages of endnotes.

I created the figure below to represent visually the complexity of what Blood and Politics describes.  The overlapping colored circles constitute a Venn diagramof the White nationalist ideologies that Zeskind describes.  The dots represent individuals who hold particular combinations of views, and the lines represent social connections among the individuals.  The dots and lines in my figure are random, and the collection of ideologies is not complete, but the messy network conveys a schematic image of the world Zeskind describes: a complicated social network of individuals who inhabit different points in ideological space — what one reviewer on the dust-jacket called “a sprawling and shadowy world of racist leaders and their communities.”

Many of Zeskind’s readers will think this type of evidence proves that mainstreamers are just as dangerous as vanguardists.  But does it really show anything?  So what if every individual in the Venn circle of White nationalism, including Bell Curve author Richard Herrnstein, is connected to Timothy McVeigh by only a few degrees of separation?  So what if every White nationalist ideology, even one as tame as Pat Buchanan’s paleoconservatism, is connected by a series of overlapping ideologies to “RAHOWA” (Racial Holy War)?

Whenever there is some overlap between two ideologies, adherents of each are likely to develop a connection (one-way or two-way) on the basis of common understandings.  For example, Vanguard News Network, a web site that opposes Jews, immigration, and miscegenation (among many other things), currently has a link to a blog post by Bradley Smith, whose modus operandi is publishing advertisements in college newspapers asking for proof of Auschwitz gas chambers.  Given that Smith, a White man from Los Angeles, is married to a Mexican woman and lives south of the border, Vanguard News Network probably considers him a “race traitor,” but it promotes his work anyway.  Connections exist everywhere, but their significance is limited.

If I investigated, a la Zeskind, the social networks and political phenomena of the political left, perhaps my findings could be reduced to a diagram like the following:

Maybe George Soros plays the role of Willis Carto for the left.  Perhaps everyone on the left is only one or two degrees of separation away from such undesirables as 9/11 conspiracy theorists, who like to attend ACLU events, or leftist bomb-planters like Bill Ayers, who glom on to Barack Obama.  Liberals would think this kind of political connection-mapping is unimportant to understanding the left as a political movement.  So why does Zeskind want the left to understand White nationalists in this manner?

Zeskind actually does not want his readers to understand White nationalism; he wants his readers to defeat White nationalists politically.  For that reason, he provides details about the sneaky ways Willis Carto structured his non-profit corporations, but rarely allows his subjects to speak a complete thought. Readers are left with the impression that White nationalist ideas are mere instrumentalities of a political movement motivated by “prerational thoughts and feelings.”  Thus, the weapons to use against the White nationalists must be political, not intellectual.

Collecting seemingly trivial details about the social networks of White nationalists is necessary for building up ammunition for an important political weapon: guilt by association.  If an up-and-coming politician makes the mistake of attending a dinner where one of the speakers suggests that Jews control the media, his or her attendance will be duly noted in the anti-racist watchdogs’ databases.  Then, some time in the future, the politician will be accused of anti-Semitism, he will deny it, and the watchdogs will produce the factoid as rebuttal evidence.

Such ‘gotcha moments’ might not win political battles, but the aggregate effect of the politics of guilt by association is to quarantine White nationalist ideas. Respectable conservative politicians develop a fear of contracting a permanent case of political cooties by coming within earshot of anyone who talks about Jews having too much power or Blacks committing too many crimes.  As a result, White nationalist political organizations fail to attract the cultural indicia of legitimacy, and the media treats them as illegitimate.

Zeskind is concerned that White nationalist ideas will gain legitimacy by piggybacking on the goodwill of legitimate political institutions.  This can happen when legitimate institutions co-opt White nationalist political issues, as the Republican Party did by letting Pat Buchanan deliver his “Culture War” speechat the 1992 convention.  This can also happen when White nationalists infiltrate a legitimate institution, as when Pat Buchanan took over the Reform Party in 2000, or, as Zeskind warned recently, when Stormfront members decide to leaflet at libertarian Tea Parties.  By ringing alarm bells about the political activities of the mainstreaming end of the White nationalist spectrum, Zeskind helps to ensure that the boundary of the quarantine is drawn wide: not just around attention-getters like Kluxers and Neo-Nazis, not just around Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, but around Pat Buchanan and Ezola Foster (and maybe even the Tea Parties).

There are risks to Zeskind’s approach.  By honestly admitting that the rhetoric of White nationalists as “haters” and “extremists” does not fit the facts, Zeskind undermines the popular stereotype, inculcated as early as elementary school, that Whites who organize as Whites are psychopaths seething with “hate.” Zeskind does not need this silly stereotype in order to believe that White nationalists are wrong; he is immune to their ideas because he has an unshakeable faith in egalitarianism and the falsity of all forms of “anti-Semitism.” But when ordinary, well-meaning White people realize the “hater” stereotype is a sham and that mainstreaming White nationalists are people just like themselves, will they stop and listen?  If they do, Zeskind can only hope that their faith is as strong as his.  In the course of trying to warn people not to underestimate the White nationalist threat, Zeskind might be helping to destroy a useful stereotype that, perhaps more than anything else, prevents ordinary White people from becoming apostates like Evelyn Rich.

Do I recommend this book?  Yes.  It is long but highly readable.  It is full of facts and stories, with a minimum of commentary; only rarely does Zeskind depart from a dispassionate perspective.  The book can be read in the intended fashion as a history of White nationalist political phenomena, but it can also be read as an account of experiments in creating a self-sustaining White culture in the midst of a hostile majority culture.  Occidental Observer readers may find it interesting to think about which strategies worked, which failed, and why.

Some of these experiments relate to Kevin MacDonald’s question, “Can the Jewish Model Help the West Survive?”  The Christian Identity religion, for example, considers Whites to be the real chosen people.  Some groups have promoted a White Zionism of sorts, arguing for the creation of a White homeland in the northwest United States.

Many of the experiments will seem strange, but it is important to remember that designing a successful political message is entirely different from constructing a logical intellectual argument.  Consider, for example, what constitutes a successful political message for the left: the 2008 “Yes We Can” Barack Obama promotional video, which featured a multicultural cast of celebrities incanting selected phrases of an otherwise uninspiring Obama campaign speech, punctuated by “Yes we can” in English, Spanish, Hebrew, and American Sign Language.  In just three weeks, this dumb yet very poignant video was downloaded 26 million times.  Thus, if many of the unsuccessful political stunts attempted by White nationalists in the past do not seem to make sense, consider that they might not have made sense even if they were successful.

There is no way to be certain about what kinds of White cultural experiments will succeed in outcompeting the culture of Western suicide.  What is more certain, however, is that one or more of them will succeed — or at least that is the impression I have after reading Blood and Politics.  Zeskind argues:

[W]hite nationalists consistently misunderstand the larger world around them.  A significant number of White people remain determined to live and live happily in a multiracial, multicultural United States.  And they do not regard themselves as “race traitors.”

Fair enough.  But as Zeskind shows with his analysis of David Duke and Proposition 187 voting patterns, these White people who are happy with “a multiracial, multicultural United States” tend to live in relatively homogeneous White communities.  As Zeskind further shows, as the percentage of non-Whites in the community increases, White people become less happy with the “multiracial, multicultural” community closing in around them, and start to vote for their race and culture.  What has happened to some neighborhoods in past decades is happening to the entire United States this century.  Thus, while the term “race traitor” might never enter their vocabulary, Whites in the future are likely find meaning in a culture and politics of Western survival, especially if the mainstream media follows Zeskind in admitting that the vocabulary of “haters” and “extremists” does not describe the reality of White nationalism.

Jonathan Pyle (email him) is a lawyer in Philadelphia.