These are words that white people — particularly white Christians — don’t like to talk about, don’t like to see and hear, want to put in the past, want to dismiss as applying to only a few white people, and refuse to see as systemic, structural, or still deeply embedded in our American history and national culture. Certainly, then, they don’t want to acknowledge these combined forces as the greatest terrorist threat now to America’s safety, and the greatest political threat to genuine democracy around the world.
That is the heart of our problem.
From Oklahoma City to Charleston to Charlottesville to Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue to Christchurch, New Zealand, to Norway and other places in Europe, white nationalism and the white supremacy underneath it is a movement — and a growing one. White power has historically killed untold numbers of people and is still killing people today. It’s the most rising terrorist threat: white people who believe that their exclusive power and superiority is being taken away by the growth of more inclusive democracy.
The New Zealand white power killer, a 28-year-old white Australian man, murdered 50 Muslims while they were worshipping and injured 50 more in two deadly mosque shootings — the deadliest event of its kind in New Zealand’s history. He cited as inspiration Dylann Roof, a young white American man who murdered nine African-American Christians while they were studying the Bible at Mother Emanuel American Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, S.C., after they had invited the stranger into their Bible study.
White power terrorist killings are on the rise in America and around the world, and our leaders are not showing any intent to address them. Here are the numbers:
- The Anti-Defamation League reports that in the United States, “right-wing extremists collectively have been responsible for more than 70 percent of the 427 extremist-related killings over the past 10 years, far outnumbering those committed by left-wing extremists or domestic Islamist extremists — even with the sharp rise of Islamist-extremist killings in the past five years.”
- While the United States spends a great deal of money countering radical extremists claiming the mantle of Islam abroad in military and intelligence actions, domestically the United States “relies almost entirely on the police to stop attacks like the one in Pittsburgh or jihadist-inspired attacks in Orlando or San Bernardino” according to Brookings Senior Fellow Eric Rosand.
- Under the Trump administration, the small federal program that existed to partner with local efforts to counter all forms of violent extremism has been shifted away from considering how to counter non jihadist-inspired terrorism.
- While precise numbers from the FBI’s anti-terrorism efforts aren’t available regarding white power violence specifically, it’s instructive and disturbing that of 5,000 currently open terrorism investigation, only 900, or less than 20 percent, are focused on domestic terrorism. This clashes with the recognition by ADL and many others that right-wing terrorism, especially of the white supremacist variety, is on the rise around the world.
As John Cohen, a former official at the Department of Homeland Security, said recently:
For those who subscribe to this white nationalism ideology, they feel a sense of empowerment when they hear elected officials in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand promote their white extremist ideological viewpoints in mainstream political rhetoric. Increasingly we have experienced a dramatic increase across the West in hateful rhetoric and targeted acts of violence by individuals who do so specifically in response to what they see as an attack on white society.
Just days before the New Zealand terrorist murders, a detailed article by Adam Serwer appeared in The Atlantic titled, “White Nationalism’s Deep American Roots,” showing how deeply American white nationalism is embedded in our history, tracing it from its roots to the present. It even demonstrates how Adolf Hitler was inspired and instructed by this history of white nationalism in America that helped him to construct his racialized Nazism.
Serwer concludes his piece with a reality check about where the dangers to our nation have often historically originated, along with a stark warning:
External forces have rarely been the gravest threat to the social order and political foundations of the United States. Rather, the source of greatest danger has been those who would choose white purity over a diverse democracy. When Americans abandon their commitment to pluralism, the world notices, and catastrophe follows.
Significantly, Donald Trump was also cited by the New Zealand killer. He called him “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” In response to that, Trump was asked if he thought that the white nationalists were a growing threat around the world. Donald Trump replied, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.” Clearly, Donald Trump is seeking to minimize the terrorist threat of white nationalism in America and around the world.
Let’s be clear: I have heard nobody say that Donald Trump is personally responsible for the New Zealand tragedy. But, as many on all sides of politics have pointed out, words have meaning, and politicians, especially presidents, must be held accountable for their words and rhetoric as it has such impact on other people’s thinking and behavior.
Donald Trump has proved his identification with white nationalism from his demonizing of immigrants, to making his anti-immigrant lies the central message of his midterm election strategy, to deciding to make his symbolic wall the heart of his vision and legacy, to his anti-Muslim ban, to his expressed hostility and falsehoods toward the Muslim religion, to beginning his political career with championing the racialized birther movement seeking to undermine the citizenship and credibility of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States — the list goes on.
The evidence of Donald Trump promoting and running on white nationalism, with all of the above and much more, is in.
In sharp contrast to Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, former President George W. Bush spoke out unusually this week in defense of immigration, and its role in making the United States the nation it is today, saying at an immigrant swearing-in ceremony, “Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength.”
So too, immediately after the horrific 9/11 attack in a speech titled, “Islam is Peace,” President Bush had the courage to defend both Islam and the dignity of Muslim Americans saying, “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. … Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”
Our current leaders should take note. Whether Donald Trump deeply believes in white supremacy or anything other than himself is a question about his soul that I won’t try to answer. But it is absolutely clear now, if it wasn’t to some before the election of 2016, that he is the most visible and powerful political leader of white nationalism, white supremacy, and white power. And his top allies and aides, like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller and others, are all further documentation.
In a spirit of Christian love and accountability, we must tell all Christians who still publicly or privately support President Trump: Your support can no longer be justified by his appointment of federal judges. It is not justified by his change of mind and politically convenient alliance with your Christian opposition to abortion. It is not justified by his alliance with you against same-sex marriage. It is not justified by his strong advocacy of religious liberty for Christians but not for Muslims — in fact that is explicit hypocrisy. And it is certainly not justified by Donald Trump’s tax policies that make the richest people in America even richer. You can no longer look away from his consistent amoral personal and public behavior.
I believe the Faustian bargain for power, undertaken by the white evangelical religious right, must be exposed and opposed on the basis of Donald Trump’s support for white nationalism, which is in direct disobedience to the reconciling gospel and person of Jesus Christ. Even some political and media leaders, both Republican and Democrat, are now saying that Donald Trump’s life and behavior is a direct contrast to the Beatitudes, Sermon on the Mount, and Matthew 25.
I am asking why the white evangelical leaders of the religious right haven’t drawn a moral line in the sand on the racial idolatry of white nationalism and supremacy that is directly and distinctively anti-Christ — as they have with issues like abortion and same-sex marriage? That choice not to draw a moral line sends a clear signal to people of color around the world in the body of Christ as to what is a political deal breaker for white evangelical American Christians and what is not.
Donald Trump is an evangelist of white nationalism and white supremacy and, therefore, his message must be rejected on grounds of faith by responsible Christians around the world and here in the U.S. And the bargain for power made by the white evangelical leaders who unquestioningly support Donald Trump must become a debate within the American church — the integrity of our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is clearly now at stake.