Toward a Global History of White SupremacyRoundup
tags: racism, global history, Donald Trump, White Supremacy
Daniel Geary is the Mark Pigott Associate Professor in American History at Trinity College Dublin and author of Beyond Civil Rights: The Moynihan Report and Its Legacy.
Camilla Schofield is Senior Lecturer in the School of History, University of East Anglia and author of Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain.
Jennifer Sutton is an independent scholar with a PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis.
Editor’s Note: Adapted from Global White Nationalism: From Apartheid to Trump edited by Daniel Geary, Camilla Schofield, and Jennifer Sutton.
From promulgating the racist birther conspiracy theory to exhorting vigilante Proud Boys to “stand by,” Donald Trump has amplified white nationalist ideas in the United States. But neither Trump’s emergence nor his impact can be understood fully by looking at the United States in isolation. Rather, Trump must be understood for his place in a long line of Anglophone leaders who claimed to speak for besieged whites, with precedents including Ian Smith, the leader of the white minoritarian regime of Rhodesia, and Enoch Powell, the British MP who infamously warned of “rivers of blood” if Britain did not halt non-white immigration. Moreover, white nationalism is global not only in its history but in its present manifestations: white nationalists worldwide have hailed Trump’s actions and would be emboldened by his reelection.
While his authoritarian response to a season of Black Lives Matter protests has brought renewed attention to Trump’s racist politics, his investment in global white supremacy is long-standing and was instrumental to his election. Indeed, Nigel Farage, a leader of the UK’s far right, was an important international ally while Trump was campaigning. The morning after the June 2016 Brexit referendum vote, Donald Trump landed at his Scottish golf resort and tweeted that Britons “took their country back, just like we will take America back.” During his campaign that summer, Trump forged a close alliance with Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party and the most prominent advocate of British withdrawal from the European Union. Farage already knew Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who hailed the rise of right-wing European nationalism as executive chairman of the alt-right website Breitbart News. In November, Farage was the first foreign leader to meet the president-elect; pleased with their successes on both sides of the Atlantic, they posed for a celebratory photograph before a glimmering set of golden elevator doors in Trump Tower. Trump and Farage’s image marked a victory in a struggle by linked resurgent white nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic to “take back” their countries from non-white immigrants and internationalist liberal elites.
Although many have observed the similarities between Brexit and Trumpism, few have noted that those similarities arise from the entwined histories of U.S. and British revanchist politics. Likewise, many have been baffled by the international spread of white supremacist violence, with authorities and the mass media wrongly depicting such attacks as the work of isolated loners rather than emanating from a dispersed political movement. Such bonds link not only Trump’s and Farage’s successes, but also the 2016 assassination of pro-Remain Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire by a neo-Nazi proclaiming “Britain First”; the 2018 killings at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white supremacist who believed that Jews were orchestrating white genocide by abetting immigration from Latin America; and the 2019 murder of Muslims in Christchuch, New Zealand, by an Australian white supremacist. Both the rise of ethnonationalism in electoral politics and of white supremacist violence in the English-speaking world need to be understood as related developments in a longer history of exchange among white nationalists globally.
Because white nationalists are primarily concerned with the racial integrity of states, they have wrongly been assumed to be parochial in their politics, focused solely on domestic issues. In fact, transnational ties and transnational flows of culture and capital have long undergirded the pursuit of white racial nationalism. The success of Brexit, for example, emboldened Trump’s nativist supporters to see themselves as part of a global movement that could achieve power in the United States. Trump’s victory in turn inspired the Christchurch killer, who praised the U.S. president as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” We need to understand the history of these connections if we are to grasp what has sustained white nationalism despite global trends toward liberation and equality.
White nationalism is an ideology that asserts national identity and belonging in terms of European descent. Accordingly, white nationalists see their countries as threatened by immigration and social advancement by non-whites. They contend that national identity and belonging must be built around racial whiteness—rather than culture, language, or place—and that it is the whiteness of the nation’s past, present, and future that ensures its continued historical development and survival. The fundamental ideas of white nationalists are hardly new, yet they have taken on new formulations since the mid-twentieth century as a politics of reaction to the promise of racial equality and decolonization. Though the numbers of self-identified white nationalists remain small, their ideas resonate broadly, impacting contemporary debates about global demographic change, national identity, and mass migration.