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BOOK REVIEW

'Blood and Politics' by Leonard Zeskind

White nationalists find sundry faults with the U.S. government. A look inside their break-away impulse.

June 14, 2009|Art Winslow | Winslow is a former literary and executive editor of the Nation.

Blood and Politics

The History of the White

Nationalist Movement From the Margins to the Mainstream

Leonard Zeskind

Farrar, Straus & Giroux:

622 pp., $35

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This April, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," the media world was briefly ablaze debating whether it was true.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, June 21, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
"Blood and Politics": In a review of Leonard Zeskind's book "Blood and Politics" in last Sunday's Arts & Books section, the Southern Poverty Law Center was misidentified as the Southern Poverty Law Council.

"Rightwing extremists," the report maintained, "have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda."

Citing the economic downturn, it drew parallels to the 1990s, a fertile time in the development of militia-style factions. In a footnote, "rightwing extremism" is defined broadly as applying to groups, movements and adherents that are "primarily hate-oriented" toward particular religious, racial or ethnic groups, or "are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority," or may be dedicated to single issues such as opposition to abortion.

What favorable timing, then, for Leonard Zeskind's "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement From the Margins to the Mainstream," which addresses all of these issues, provides a context in which to assess them and offers an extended look inside a little-understood cultural zone that is really a panoply of small groups.

Unless you too resent ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government), Zeskind's decades-long perspective will help explain why, according to the Southern Poverty Law Council, there were 926 hate groups active in the United States last year -- a 4% increase from the previous year but representing a 50% increase since 2000. Demographically speaking, this involves a tiny slice of the populace: Zeskind estimates that 30,000 men and women constitute the white nationalist hard core, with an additional 250,000-plus forming a periphery of supporters. In a country of more than 300 million people, that is one-tenth of 1%.

Zeskind tracks the white supremacist impulse, as embodied in various groups since the mid-1970s, in chronological fashion. He analyzes every twist, turn and rivalry -- historically, the groups hardly yielded a harmonious or even coherent "movement," although there is more of one today than in the past. (In a prequel section of the book, Zeskind also traces roots stretching back into the mid-1950s.) Much of his narrative is cast around the schism between "mainstreamers" who seek to temper their message in return for broadened public support and potential electoral success, and more militant "vanguardists" who have not and often take a separatist approach.

"Mainstreamers believe that a majority (or near majority) of white people can be won over to support their cause . . . [while] vanguardists think that they will never find more than a slim minority of white people to support their aims voluntarily," Zeskind writes.

The common thread, despite a difference in orientation, is a sense of cultural dispossession: He writes that the Christian right sees 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to ban prayer in public schools, as a prominent marker of that dispossession. White nationalists see the court's decision to desegregate public education, in Brown vs. Board of Education, to have "stolen their national birthright." For others, a hot point was the 1993 passage of the gun-control Brady Bill, just months after the incineration of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, following which, in Idaho, Montana, Michigan and the South, "militiamen popped up like cardboard targets on a rapid-fire shooting range," Zeskind says.

Zeskind takes a kitchen-sink approach to this multifaceted phenomenon, which is not exclusively race-based, despite the book's subtitle. So readers will be exposed to groups including skinheads, Christian Identity adherents and Ku Kluxers; individuals such as David Duke, Patrick Buchanan and Pat Robertson; and also to "cadres" (a word employed with a little too much abandon throughout) driven by racism, anti-Semitism, opposition to abortion, antipathy toward homosexuality, hatred of the federal government (and especially the Internal Revenue Service), gun-rights activism, millennial beliefs, anti-immigrant fervor and a taste for Holocaust denial.

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