The dark story of the shocking resurgence of white supremacist and nationalist groups, and their path to political power Six years ago, when Vegas Tenold began reporting from the inner circle of three white power groups in America -- the KKK, the National Socialist Movement, and the Traditionalist Workers Party -- he found himself in the midst of small, disorganized groups operating well outside the mainstream.
But in the last few years, that has all changed. Their racially-motivated violence has been on open display at rallies in Charlottesville, Berkeley, Pikesville, Phoenix, and Boston. In response to economic grievances, anger over the presidency of Barack Obama and the visibility of Black Lives Matter, and egged on by the rhetoric of Donald Trump, membership is rising and national politicians are giving validation to these groups. One young man has emerged as a powerful figure: Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party, who was once labeled the "Little Führer" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Heimbach believes that cross burning and fight-ridden conventions are a waste of time. He understands political power, and has organized a coalition of white nationalists to bring these groups into the mainstream.
Everything You Love Will Burn gives readers a front-row seat at violent white supremacist conventions, newly formed separatist communities, and backroom meetings with Republican operatives. We meet a neo-Nazi lieutenant and his daughter in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay; a bubbly, twenty-something Klanswoman in Tennessee; and a solemn skinhead recruit in Georgia, and learn about why they've tied their fates to these movements. By turns frightening and fascinating, Everything You Love Will Burn shows us the future of hate in America.
Before you start reading this book, ask yourself what is you want from this book. Are you looking for a rationalization for why white nationalism is making a resurgence? Are you looking for the history of white nationalism in the U.S. or to find what they really believe? Are you hoping that this book will make you feel better about what’s happening in the U.S. and convince you that it is just a phase? Figure out first what you want before proceeding. I didn’t want anything from this book but a different perspective from my own. I’ve never believed that hate groups went away or disappeared. I was always aware that racism was still running rampant in this country, maybe not as bad as Jim Crow era or during the Civil Rights movement, but just because everyone can now use the same water fountain doesn’t mean everyone loves or respects each other. I wanted to read what someone else had to say and what someone else was exposed to. Tenold was fully entrenched in the white nationalist movement for over 5 years. He regularly met with and spoke to different leaders in the movement, attended sacred ceremonies and was present at rallies. He was given an unprecedented amount of access into the white nationalist movement and exposed it in this book.
Everything You Love Will Burn is an intense, unsettling look at those who truly believe in the need for a white ethnic state. The range of those who simply don’t like minorities to those who have no problem resorting to and encouraging violence are discussed throughout these pages. Tenold speaks openly about the relationships he formed with people and how forming those relationship granted him this unbelievable access inside the white nationalism movement. He also speaks openly about his disdain for their views and litters his writing with a tone of disbelief and unmistakable sarcasm. Tenold knew that those people who could be kind and charming to him, could be and were brutal to those they consider to be beneath them or detrimental to the success of the white race. Tenold witnessed the rise and fall of memberships or different organizations, the failed attempts at alliances, the contempt and disdain that the different groups had for each other. Above all, Tenold witnessed the blind hatred that each of these groups had. And he witnessed the rise of Trump and with it the increase in bold tactics and vocal outcry.
I’ll admit that I was apprehensive about reading this book. I had fervently avoided any sympathetic articles starring white supremacists or white nationalists. But I wanted to give this book a shot because it was dealing with a more recent history and events and I’m glad that I did. What Tenold does in this book is fairly simple: he spills the beans on all the white nationalist that he spent the last five years being around. But is this book worth a read? Yes, most definitely. Especially after the events in Charlottesville. I think the most shocking thing to me about reading this book was seeing the names of so many of the people heavily involved in the events of Charlottesville. This was an unexpected glimpse into the events that directly correlated to the violence in Charlottesville which alone make its extremely relevant to the pulse of the U.S. right now.
Thanks Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.
When one of my book challenges sought to have me explore an event that received both societal and cultural backlash, I could not help but gravitate towards Vegas Tenold’s book. While not choosing a single event, Tenold explores the reemergence of white nationalism in America. An issue that has deep and long historical roots, I could justify the book’s inclusion in the topic because of the modern reincarnation of sanctioned racial nationalism over the last number of years. Tenold seeks to explore various forms of white nationalism and supremacy in his book, offering the reader a wide array of groups that exist, as well as distinguishing them. It would be easy to lump all groups together and toss out generic epithets, such as ‘neo-Nazi’ or ‘skinhead’, but Tenold shows that this is entirely wrong, just as it is entirely incorrect to attribute Confederate flags or swastikas with all groups. While the rise of white nationalism and supremacy is far-reaching and varied, its one unifying factor would be the importance of the white race. White nationalists are not necessarily seeking to rid the world of those who are not white, but feel that segregation and mixing of groups is wrong and should not be done. Harmonious living can occur, provided that all people stick to their own racial group in their own area, thereby denying the benefit of multiculturalism within the state. Tenold speaks openly about some of the group’s view and how they tend to be the forgotten or most ignored little brother of all ‘hate’ groups, as they do not espouse the need for violence. There are also white supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Hammerskins, whose sole purpose is to ensure that whites become the sole race left, destroying all others as they see fit. While many will know of the KKK, their stronghold has waxed and waned, much like the flickering of the fires upon the crosses they burn. Imbued with a strong religious undertone, the KKK seek purity and can be traced back to the end of the US Civil War. With secret ceremonies and a large hierarchy, the Klan are perhaps one of the best known groups in America, though their numbers are dwindling. The Hammerskins, a skinhead organization that espouses violence against all who are not straight and white, use bloodletting and extreme measures to rule their way of thinking. With little regard for consequences, Tenold argues that the group seeks to equate violence with results and are perfectly willing to kill to ensure it happens. Fuelled by European death and hate metal music, these groups find pleasure in making themselves known in whatever capacity they can. While this is not an exhaustive list, Tenold does spend a great deal of time focussing on them throughout his tome.
Of particular interest to me is the tie-in these groups have to politics. All have espoused strong dislike (or utter hatred) towards the Obama Administration, the time period that Tenold began his research and interviews. All found solace during the 2016 Presidential Election when they heard GOP front runner Donald Trump portray minorities so poorly and they added strength to their cause by receiving strong—albeit tangential—support through Twitter by the candidate and through alt right political groups, some of whose members were embedded within the Trump campaign. While Tenold does not outrightly tie Trump to hate, there are some parallels that cannot be fully ignored, especially when it also comes from the mouths of the leaders of some groups. However, I cannot stand here and connect the dots with irrefutable proof, even if one can hear the quacking all around. Still, there are some eerie and startling political aspects to these groups, both within their organizations and within the American political establishment. Perhaps the closest the world came to seeing the blatant condoning was in the summer of 2017, during those dreaded news conferences in response to the Charlottesville Unite the Right rallies. Tenold discusses them throughout and explores how Trump responded. Call it fake news or smearing if you will, but Tenold chose to quote from numerous sources. The politics of hate is surely not gone in America, but one cannot tie it solely to the 2016 election. It was there long ago, and simmered for a long period of time. That it may be gaining momentum is no shock, though one can only wonder how long it will go from fringe to mainstream, with xenophobia spewed from many pulpits across the country and an ongoing desire to hate first and fix later. Politics only serves as further fuel and a platform to eschew more power to the white nationalists and supremacists, be it support from the top or vocal attempts to quash their views.
I was very eager to get my hands on this book, more to see some of the different groups that Vegas Tenold visited and explored than for a soapbox lecture on the rise of hate groups in America. Tenold offers in his author’s note the knowledge that he is not capable of complete non-bias, but vows to offer as neutral a view as possible, which resonates throughout the tome. Tenold has delved into the depths of groups that espouse hate in America and sought to better understand it. Drawing on the groups’ histories, as well as some of their current actions, Tenold offers as well-rounded an approach as possible, giving the reader a better understanding of them, while not seeking compassion. Drawing on not only interviews, but also first-hand experiences and invested time with the groups, Tenold saw and lived amongst these men (and few women) for periods of time. This helps to offer more of a realistic analysis when writing about the groups. While not an American by birth, Tenold can understand the American psyche and it is reflected in his writing. He gets to the core of the matter and relates it to modern culture as best he can. This is not penned from an ivory tower, but from the trenches, with pools of blood and flecks of broken teeth around him. Tenold leaves the reader wanting more, yet perhaps afraid to ask and seem too eager. A brilliant book that pulls the reader into this domain and forces them to see what lurks, not in the shadows, but the back country (and sometimes cities) of America today. At a time when news cycles are 24/7 and there is no stop-gap to social media expression, this book is an essential beacon for many. It is unfortunate to see that understanding has surely gone to the wayside for some. Quick phrases to drum up reactions tend to overshadow thoughtful deliberations. It would seem that we can no longer look to our leaders to lead. Instead they turn to the podium or character-limited platforms, simply to toss some verbal kerosene and watch it all burn.
Kudos, Mr. Tenold, for this wonderful piece. You’ve done well to explain these groups that chant ‘Make America White Again’ without forcing the reader to accept any single point of view.
This book fulfils Topic #2: Societal Stain, in the Equinox #7 Reading Challenge.
I have to admit, I could not finish this book. It was just too disturbing, and too much for me to handle, the fact that there are still people in the world who think and believe the things the author discovered. The white supremacy groups, who once appeared relegated to the trashbin of history, have found new life in their belief that Donald Trump is their savior. It was just sickening. The writing is good. Perhaps others will be able to power through the wretchedness of these people, but I just could not. I'm left fearful for what is happening to us. And wondering how in the world did the author persevere through witnessing this?
I unfortunately had high expectations for this book, which it fell short of. While it gave background history for some white nationalist groups, it ignored the more relevant and influential aspects of the movement. For a book whose cover features Charlottesville, there was very little explanation or relevance to that event so I felt very misled. Additionally, the author’s fondness for his subject despite the horrifying and violent things that came out of his mouth was disturbing. More analysis on the fallacies of “white pride” would have been appreciated but overall this felt like a book that was more focused on shocking and disgusting beliefs rather than insight or cohesion.
Well written and engaging, but I found the framing of this book really troubling. The author spent many years accompanying the book’s main characters to white nationalist and nazi rallies, while ostensibly maintaining his progressive views. I do feel like that’s a useful project that needed to be done. But he chose to take it in this ho-hum documenting of the terrible things without analysis direction. Which is, I guess, journalism? The author inserts his own feelings very few times and there is one moment that he records pushing back against a source’s views, to say something along the lines of “its not about race, it’s really about class.” Which is a garbage argument that liberals and racists pretending they aren’t racist use. The overarching portrayal of the characters as bumbling is interesting - there are actually funny moments - and the author seems to sum things up by saying that white nationalists are too disorganized, apolitical, and small a contingent to be able to “win.” There’s definitely value in the book, but I just did not trust the writer - it felt like his unspoken idea was that racists are the extremists over there, external to regular white people, which is so deeply untrue that it’s dangerous. The author is a white man who seems to think he’s a good not-racist dude, and that’s dangerous too.
Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America by Norwegian journalist Vegas Tenold is not light reading. It’s a book that I started while also knowing it would be upsetting. But I can’t walk away from these topics, or allow myself to be blissfully ignorant anymore. That said, I can only understand the white nationalist movement on an intellectual level. Emotionally, the belief set is still completely unfathomable to me.
Tenold doesn’t set out to explain why these people believe what they believe. He wants to explain the history of the movement, from post-Civil War KKK to Charlottesville. The historical focus means that he discusses various white nationalist groups, focusing primarily on their leaders. Tenold doesn’t agree with them, and he’s not trying to get readers to understand their positions. He puts them all on a timeline of history, and states their primary focus and challenges. He also connects this history to white nationalism as it exists now.
One of Tenold’s main guides to the current state of white nationalism in America is a guy named Matthew Heimbach. It’s clear that Tenold has spent a lot of time with Heimbach, as a journalistic resource. They aren’t friends, but sometimes Heimbach forgets and that allows Tenold to learn things only members of these groups typically know. It’s not easy reading about cross burning or other hateful views and behavior. I can’t imagine being in Tenold’s shoes.
All of his subjects let Tenold behind a curtain of membership, without requiring his admittance to their groups. Why? They are interested in publicity because it gets the word out to potential followers. And these groups need it. Until very recent years, they were a fast-dwindling group of mostly male, definitely aging members. However, Tenold tracks the work Heimbach and others do to help unite several smaller groups into a larger organization. They’re looking for presence in the current political scene.
My conclusions Vegas Tenold is a journalistic story teller, with a strong stomach for difficult situations. He embeds himself in a way that most writers would choose not to do. And then he takes that experience and turns it into a frighteningly compelling story.
I didn’t expect to be as drawn to this book as I was. I thought it would be horribly difficult to read. Don’t get me wrong. It was absolutely difficult. But the distance Tenold puts between the white nationalist and the reader helps. His writing style is historical and somewhat dispassionate. And although it made for some dry passages, the style balances the topic’s hot and angry feel.
I read this during a time I was also reading Congressman John Lewis’ memoir about the Civil Rights Movement. (Review coming soon—the Lewis book is long!) The two books were counterpoints of good and evil, right and wrong.
If you��re curious about the alt-right and far right as they relate to U.S. politics in 2018, this is a strong reading choice. Be prepared for plenty of much earlier history, though. Tenold writes well, and his willingness to engage people he disagrees with is admirable. I’m curious what he’ll choose next.
Acknowledgements Many thanks to NetGalley, Perseus Books, PublicAffairs, Nation Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.
Not a bad book; but the author seemed to have compiled the work in a rapid manner as there were quite a few errors regarding names of various people in the White Nationalist movement. He refers to the founder of the organization American Renaissance as Richard Taylor, when in fact the man's name is Jared Taylor. He also calls Matthew Heimbach's right hand man in the now defunct Traditionalist Workers Party as Tony Horvater, when it should be Tony Hovater. For a man who spent 5 years alongside various American White Nationalists, he still doesn't seem to grasp their inner workings and mechanisms. The chapters on Matt Heimbach alone make the book 3 stars as Heimbach is an interesting character and following his arrest just a couple of weeks after the book was published makes him all the more fascinating.
Some parts of the book read like a confederacy of dunces type satire. Other parts read like a DSM description of paranoid schizophrenia. And others were just tragic. This book takes you inside a bunch of groups of white supremacists who have delusions of grandeur and who are unfortunately gaining more troops and more attention. But what it reveals is that they are as stupid as they are hateful.
The key thesis of the book for me was that these dudes are not the problem. They’re too stupid. It’s the tactful white supremacy built into our systems that is. They’re despicable, but they are not even the tip of the iceberg of US racism. They’re just like a nasty fart coming off the iceberg. It’s gross, but it’ll go away and the iceberg will still be there.
This was both a disturbing and reassuring read. Disturbing because it’s horrifying that anyone believes and acts the way the people do and reassuring because most of the groups were small and rather pathetic. The journalist did a good job covering the groups and inserted himself into the story just enough without it being distracting.
This book challenged me more than I thought it would, and it still has me reeling.
It is loosely told through the ascendancy within white unity groups of a young man named Matthew Heimbach. As a youth, Matthew careened between leftist and authoritarian impulses, ending up with a strange salmagundi of beliefs, most of which are irrelevant to the object of this ethnography of white nationalists. The key thing to note about Matthew is that he believes people of similar races and ethnicities should keep to themselves to preserve their own interests. Absent from his faux-intellectual, faux-neutral worldview is a reckoning with the persuasive arguments that race is a social construction; or even if you can't accept that, he doesn't contend with the idea that "race" allows us to arrange people on a spectrum according to the prevalence of certain physical characteristics, but does not instruct us on how to delineate between them in any principled fashion, making it an eminently unwieldy and impractical classification system prone to amplifying the classifier’s own biases more than anything else. But I get the impression that Matthew would find these objections untroubling: people recognize their own and always have, just as they recognize outsiders, based on physical characteristics that we call "race." We can continue to poke holes in this logic, but as the bulk of the text points out, the ascendance of white nationalism is potentiated by their weaponization of feelings, not how well its worldview squares with facts or narratives grounded in logic or reality.
I think I made peace with the feelings-over-facts idea once this book began to really make me think about and question the political dynamics in the United States at present. The arguments that racists make for why they should be able to have a “white-centric” political org./frat/advocacy group/history month/whatever are so tired and flimsy that I usually don't bother to continue to dialogue with people who clamor for this type of "equality" they insist that they lack, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Part of this is because you need a shared orientation toward facts and values if you are ever going to have an earnest, productive, good-faith debate with anyone. But, if I'm being honest, part of me registers such people as some combination of "stupid," “gullible,” and "bigoted," and thereby not worth the frustration.
At first, then, Matthew Heimbach just annoyed me. He is a charismatic guy who rose to minor fame by starting the White Student Union at his Maryland college, whose main charge was patrolling the campus to protect white students from chimerical physical threats to which they were allegedly exposed. For a group that is constantly needling "snowflakes" for whining and imagining perils, this group sure can fabricate a threat. The author tells us all about Matthew's "nuanced" viewpoints--how he dislikes swastikas not only because they're bad optics, but also because they represent a hateful worldview, weighting both considerations equally. In Matthew's world, all races are equal; he just believes that they should be separate, yet tellingly, he rarely recoils when a comrade says the N-word or something virulently anti-Semitic, except insofar as it’s “bad optics” or “takes away from The Message.” And so we are often treated to absurd spectacles like Matthew at some rinkydink white pride rally that he organized, arguing with a hooded Klansman whom he himself invited that black people are entitled to just as much dignity as white people.
Part of Matthew's zeal stems from his fear that demographic shift--the prediction that white people will be a minority in the United States in the next few decades--will cause people of color to treat whites horribly; after all, look how poorly whites treated black people when they were the minority, Matthew intones solemnly, relishing his iconoclastic position as the woke leader of the white nationalism movement. I can't argue with his evidence, but the fact that Matthew uses his charisma and intelligence to galvanize whites to unite for the purpose of separating from other races rather than to atone for our racist past and remediate present racism tells you most of what you need to know about Matthew Heimbach.
But despite myself, one thing that I couldn't really dismiss about Matthew's ideology, something that every white nationalist in this book says--from the dress-up Nazis to the good ol’ boys who are in the Klan for the camaraderie, barbecue, and beer--is that white people don't have a group that they can affiliate with. Again, I am so used to these arguments by now that my response is calloused with dismissiveness. White people are the default "in" group in the United States, and they can feel comfortable wherever they go. They don't need "their own" TV shows, networks, or movies because everything is built to appeal to and seem normal to them. They don't need specialized lobbying groups because they are the first and often only group that any other major political power thinks about. Etc. Etc. Etc. Name any facet of society and it is geared toward white people and white culture.
As I said, however, the “no one is looking out for us” lamentation is one that reoccurs multiple times throughout the book. And I think through sheer repetition the thought finally broke through my barriers and I began to wonder--is it a problem that white people do not have affiliative groups? Is part of this white nationalist resurgence borne of the vulnerability working class whites feel because their class interests have been steadily eroded while their anomie has exploded because they have fewer groups with which they can affiliate? These were uncomfortable questions, but they're ideas that I hope to investigate more, having read this book.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 set off a wave of our papers of record sortieing on Rust Belt redneck safaris, a trend that has not really abated in the period since. These arbiters of truth and cultural conversation use them to try to gain insight into the mindset of this group of people who went from mere rhetorical sop to political holy grail seemingly overnight: the “forgotten” white American. As someone who used to rage-read these things with embarrassing tenacity, I tended to focus on the hypocrisy of the articles' subjects, the disdain they have for the facts undergirding the promises made to dupe them, and the narratives told to cultivate their hate. To wit, there's a Politico longread about Johnstown, PA, a rusted-out opium den of a town in Pennsylvania's western backwater that talks about how everyone enthusiastically supported Trump but intended to hold him accountable if it turned out that his huckster guarantees of a resurgent steel and coal industry were hollow promises all along, as all and sundry had warned. The coda is as depressing as it is predictable--it turns out that no one in Johnstown really cares that Trump sold them a bill of goods. What matters is that Trump cared about them, and--despite Trump's fabulous promises to the contrary--it wasn't really like any one man could interrupt the forces that had been sapping the life and livelihood of such towns for decades, right? But when I first read the article, I couldn't do much more than curse to myself when I read that some people truly believed that Trump was the hardest working president they'd ever seen, not like that guy Obama, who only ever golfed (OF ALL FUCKING THINGS TO USE TO COMPARE TRUMP FAVORABLY TO OBAMA!). Ugh. Sometimes it just seems like American voters are racially-guided personifications of the Dunning-Kreuger effect and the more ignorant the society becomes, the more likely they are to vote enthusiastically against their class interests.
But even in this debased, dystopian future we inhabit, there's a difference (albeit a vanishing one, perhaps) between voting Republican and joining the goddamn Klan. So why are so many seemingly normal Americans taking such an extraordinary leap into extremism and hate? I know I live in liberal, effete, "out of touch" Brooklyn--not "real America"--but isn't the Klan sufficiently toxic that no one could be so thirsty for affiliation that they would think of joining it? I could have stopped there and dismissed these folks as, frankly: deplorables. But instead I considered whether I was underestimating the importance of something so simple as belonging to a group.
Yes, it's true that every identity group has socially sanctioned affinity organizations except maybe white men. And it's also true that marginalized affinity groups exist in large part because powerful groups like whites and men (and white men especially) have historically excluded them from equal access to power. And in a world where logic was paramount this might be enough to convince disgruntled white men that they actually are in pretty good shape, on average, and certainly better than almost every single other race-gender group in the United States, even if there aren't a lot of groups like the National Association for the Advancement of White People out there, and only bigots and trolls bemoan that we lack a White History Month. But in a world where logic is paramount Donald Trump never gets close to the presidency, so it’s certainly not one we should hope for. As we said before--facts be damned, and feelings win the day. And despite the facts, the feelings are clear, and boy, do white people feel like they are being shafted.
I should probably get around to my point. My concern is not that white people are actually suffering worse than other groups; in fact, I'm quite convinced of the opposite. My concern is that they feel that they are suffering worse than other groups, and they feel that they are being ignored, unlike other groups, and that this is the realpolitik of feelings that we have to contend with.
My other concern is that affiliation is an important, underrated need for all people to have, more important than mere "visibility" or having your group be the norm. And if white people or white men--whom politeness and norms council against affiliating on these bases because of the terror they have unleashed through such associations in the past--are not allowed to affiliate, they are prone to manipulation by pernicious narratives such as those that they hear from conservative media. And I worry that that leads them to embrace and defend a leader like Donald Trump. As groups that advocated for minority or disempowered interests rose to fight for their rights in the 20th Century, the last respectable institution for white working-class people--unions--died an ignominious death, severing the last institution holding white middle class people--the largest voting bloc in the country--together. And so, as Brian Sims said: when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. But it's also true that when you don't have a group to organize you politically, to enforce norms at the granular level, to instruct you on which policies most benefit your own class interests, etc., you become less capable of knowing how to vote, or which party represents you, or what issues are actually important for your well-being as opposed to simply being the red meat of distractions. Instead, the political hucksters and anger merchants promise the "good old” (read: white-dominated) days, when "normal" (white), "hard-working" (white) people (men) were much better off. And they ply their wares to a remarkably susceptible audience.
But is this the only way it can go? Is there not a way to convince white, working-class people that their natural affinity group is in fact working-class people (of all races), and that the administration of Donald Trump is proof positive that the rich are vampiric overlords, bleeding them of their last remnant of vitality for personal gain and sport? For some reason--people blame the bootstraps/American Dream phenomenon--"soak the rich" has never really succeeded as a political message in the United States. But perhaps in this time when the election of Trump is proof positive that political truths are in flux and ideas thought to be taboo can propel a candidate to the presidency, the Left needs to rethink its posture on the rich and the middle class in order to win back the bulky and influential working/middle-class white electorate.
I'm honestly not sure how to review this book without it coming off as a criticism of Vegas Tenold's journalistic skills. And I feel bad because this is the book he produced after he spent so many years attending events and getting to know like 3 people in the movement.
Overall the book is somewhat interesting, if you are curious about the resurgence of white supremacy in America. It could have been much succinct if Tenold had left out unnecessary descriptions about travel from point A to point B, and port-a-potties and donuts melting in the sun, and included more details about the events he went to - like any of the actual speeches he heard. Honestly I had to start skimming just in hopes of finishing the thing. Also the book is part white nationalist movement history, part Matthew Heimbach biography. But really only covers both subjects partially. Tenold was focused on the few groups he encountered, and would delve into their history - often in the middle of describing a current even, which throws off the narrative for a few pages.
In the end I feel like the “alt-right”/white nationalist movement’s varying factions are actually much more disparate than this book portrays. After all they tried to “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville and this book barely touches on the key groups who participated. Identity Evropa, American Vanguard, even the organizer Jason Kessler only got a quick little name drop, no idea who he is, or why he felt the need to organize the rally! But hey I learned Baked Alaska has a real name!
To those of you so disturbed by this book - I'd like to to draw on what Tenold points out out in his last chapter. There is white nationalism 1.0 - the groups meeting in the woods, or battling with Antifa (and the movement you can read about in Christian Piccolini’s book “White American Youth”), the groups that Heimbach is trying to bring to order, but who often don't show up and can't get along. And there is white nationalism 2.0 - the group trying to make it all look better, the “suits” - though I think their uniform is more polo shirts khaki's and a fashy haircut, tiki torch optional - these are the ones active on (or banned from) Twitter, trying to build a more intellectual movement. But I think there is a white nationalism 3.0 (or maybe it is 2.5) and that is the movement that is online, with the big, active podcast community, trying to create their own social media sites as they keep being forced off of mainstream platforms. Tenold barely brushes on this online presence of white nationalists, there is mention of a couple of blogs, but that is it.
Maybe what we need is a book that really delves into modern white nationalism, and leaves the Klan in the woods. One that realizes there are podcasts geared towards young moms and traditionalism and baking your own bread and going to church, that will randomly drop comments about taking undesirable people for "free helicopter rides".
Everything You Love Will Burn is well-worth the read if only for the consolation that white nationalism is still a fringe element, with big differences in opinion among its sects and rampant disorganization in its ranks. Vegas Tenold spent six years embedded in the National Socialist Movement, the KKK, and the Traditionalist Worker's Party, and this book is mainly about the efforts by the leader of the TWP, Matthew Heimbach, to create a coalition of all of these groups under the umbrella of white nationalism. The biggest problem Heimbach runs into is that he is not a white supremacist, and is embarrassed by the cartoonish racial slurs of the Klan and the neo-Nazi postures and iconography of the NSM. Rounding out the motley crew are the violent skinhead Hammerskins, who seem to spend most of their time beating up their own members, and the white collar, well educated fratboy following of Richard Spencer, whom Tenold doesn't pretend to care for (and it's hard to imagine why!).
This book is a good firsthand look at the goings-on inside these groups, organizationally, but Tenold's approach is more a straight reportage than taking it upon himself to deeply challenge personal views. I liked that he wrote about becoming conscious of the fact that Heimbach's affability and relative moderation (though he's an anti-Semite and is for the segregation of races into ethnostates, he also gets angry and challenges the idea that white people are superior to other races) affected his coverage. And really, the shambolic nature of the events in this book speak for themselves - there are plenty of funny moments at the expense of people who take themselves very seriously here.
But if you are looking to see the beliefs of the white right challenged, I recommend checking out the documentary White Right: Meeting the Enemy on Netflix. A few major players from this book are among those interviewed, and there is something of value in all of the conversations (except, unsurprisingly, with Richard Spencer, who manages to be even more loathsome personally than ideologically).
This book is a narrative account of one reporter's experiences traveling with the US racist right, mostly with TWP leader, Matthew Heimbach. It's useful for an inside view of the bumbling and pathetic, and yet still dangerous, present-day KKK and Hammerskins as well - as Heimbach has been trying to gather these ultra-right neofascists for years. The author does a good job of covering these activists to understand who they are without presenting them as in any way noble. My only quibble is that he describes how Heimbach had a meeting with some GOP leaders in Washington, DC in the "Capitol Hill Club" on J20-2017 - and didn't identify the Republican staffer that invited him, because of that person's wish to remain anonymous. Maybe there is more to the story (like a potential lawsuit?), but showing a connection between a major GOP insider and open white supremacists seems like a pretty big scoop if he had been willing to take it.
In Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America, Vegas Tenold shadows Matthew Heimbach as he seeks to build a white nationalist coalition. Heimbach believes that the current political climate is the perfect moment to act because "we're in a historic position to bring nationalism in America out from the shadows" (221). However, that's easier said than done because White Nationalism is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of groups and ideologies that are inherently at odds with one another. There is also a divide within the movement between the suits (the intellectual wing consisting of Bannon, Spencer and others) and the boots (foot soldiers such as Heimbach). It seems that the only unifying factor is a belief in the fourteen words (We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children) and a deep loathing of Antifa. Tenold writes that the "amped-up presence of Antifa at rallies as well as the sense that the left was attacking not only them but also a president who for the first time spoke up for white people galvanized the members of the far right, many of whom increasingly felt that the skirmishes with Antifa were the precursors of larger battles to come between left and right" (248). Yet post-Charlottesville, there was a further divide between those who took a hard approach to the events that transpired at the Unite the Right rally and those who didn't, which showed that "merely sharing a devotion to 'white heritage' isn't enough to sustain a movement" (291). This was definitely surprising because I thought that the entire white nationalist/ white supremacist movement was all about white pride and white power and that that would be enough to sustain this movement. Clearly I was wrong and that's a good thing because I don't think anyone wants to enter the Brave New World that Heimbach (and other white nationalists) desperately strive for.
So what lead to this rebirth in white nationalism? While Tenold does not believe that there is a direct correlation between Trump's rhetoric and the rise of the far right/white nationalists, he does believe that there was a symbiotic relationship between Trump and the far right in 2016. Tenold writes "with the xenophobic, isolationist and misogynistic salmagundi of ideas populating not only the alt-right Twitterverse but also Trump's stump-speeches, it was hard to know who had come up with what. Trump, ever the master dog whistler, was careful not to openly embrace his most racist fan base, yet feed them just enough red meat to keep them motivated..." (162-163). Even if Trump disavowed white nationalists and white supremacists, "Trump supporters and 'deplorables' all over the country were self-deputizing in the name of Trump. He may not have delivered on his campaign promises, but to many the very fact that he was president was a sign that America belonged to whites" (247).
Yet white nationalists' support for Trump's candidacy has not translated into any political victories. Tenold believes that their white ethno-state will never come into existence nor would their alt-right nationalism ever join mainstream politics. So the question that Tenold asks is, now what? According to Heimbach there is no turning back. He reiterates that "they are not American nationalists but rather white nationalists" and claims that "the American Empire has left us behind. It has deserted the principles upon which it was built, and there comes a time when a building is too derelict to save. This is where we are. This is where we are going" (276). Throughout the book Heimbach is clearly shown as slipping further and further to the right. Yet even if the white nationalist movement is dismissed and the ideology never fulfilled, the rhetoric itself is dangerous because it can lead to radicalization. The pages talking about lone wolf/ leaderless resistance were especially important. Some white nationalists realize that "those who join organizations to play 'let's pretend' or who are 'groupies' will quickly be weeded out. While for those [like Wade Michael Page and Dylann Roof] who are serious about their opposition to federal despotism, this is exactly what is desired" (127). Rhetoric matters, because when people act on their beliefs it leads to deadly results.
Overall, I was a bit misled by the title (the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America), so I expected the book to cover the resurgence of white nationalism (more current events) rather than providing facts and historical information about the different white nationalist groups and their ideologies. I highly recommend checking out the Southern Poverty Law Center's Extremist Files ( my link text) which covers some of the individuals, groups and ideologies that were portrayed in this book. I also recommend watching the documentary White Right: Meeting The Enemy ( my link text) where the director met with neo-Nazi and white supremacist leaders to understand the personal and political reasons behind the resurgence of white nationalism in the U.S.
I'll end this review with the following quote from the book:
“Ultimately, I believe that the far right in America, at least the incarnation I spent years covering, is destined to fail. Not because America is inherently good and that the forces of justice and progress are always stronger than those of intolerance and hatred, but because white supremacy is doing just fine without the far right. The country has spent decades perfecting an ostensibly nonracial form of white supremacy, and it is serving with remarkable efficiency. Private prisons, mandatory sentencing, seemingly unchecked police power, gerrymandering, increasingly limited access to healthcare and abortion—these are all tendrils in an ingenious web designed to keep people poor and powerless. Yes, white people were caught in that web too, but when it comes to those experiencing poverty, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos vastly outnumber whites. The people Matthew was ostensibly fighting for—the broken, beaten, and forgotten whites of Appalachia and the Rust Belt—weren’t victims in a war against white people but rather collateral damage in a war against poor people and minorities. I believe Matthew was right when he said that the elites and politicians hate his people, but they don’t hate them because they’re white; they hate them because they’re poor.”
My efforts to “keep up” with the literature on the altright has brought me to this effort by a Norwegian journalist. So far, he’s been the one with the most access out of the lot. He started out writing curiosity stories about neonazis and klan groups- kind of like those episodes of Maury every nineties kid will remember, where he’d have on some absurdly kitted-out racists for everyone to gawk and yell at. Later, he began following Matt Heimbach, leader of the “Traditional Workers Party,” around, as he toured the country, got hyped for the Trump election, and right up to Charlottesville.
Like a lot of books on the altright (though Tenold defines his subjects as being adjacent to, not in, the altright- the definitional stuff can be a pain) this has something of a thrown-together quality. In part, this is because the story changed and grew as Tenold was following it- from freak curiosity in 2010 to the white nationalists’ guy (though not because of them) in the White House in 2017. So he can never quite tell if he’s depicting a freak show, like those episodes of Maury, or if he’s doing one of those soft-focus New York Times profiles, or is trying to depict a movement. This results in some jarring tonal shifts, like between following some white trash klansmen straight of central casting, and then trying to take Heimbach seriously as a political actor.
Heimbach provides the closest thing to a connective thread. A tubby middle-class nerd (I know the sort, believe me) who reinvented himself as the white nationalist savior of Appalachia, he is trying some things that are strategically interesting, in his grotesque, hapless way. There’s a certain deeply vulgar Maoism to his strategy- send his cadres out to poor white areas, make the problems of the people’s theirs, gain their trust, and then build a base to eventually mount an insurgency. This probably wouldn’t work in any event and would never work helmed by the sort of guy whose idea of communicating to the people he wants to ally with is haranguing them about Assad and interwar Romanian fascism, but it is one of the classic insurgent strategic models.
We don’t see as much of that in the book, but we do see his other big strategic idea- form a united front on the far right, get all the squabbling tribes in one tent. This provides a frame for the book, as Tenold follows Heimbach around as tries to get various klan, Nazi, and skinhead groups to come together and follow his vision, what would eventually become the Nationalist Front, which is indeed a thing now. In many respects this runs counter to the “organize the people” strategy, as those other groups are even more of a liability than Heimbach’s nerds are in terms of appealing to people. But it does provide a narrative frame for Tenold’s journey around the movement, where he gives little mini-profiles of various neonazi types (who Heimbach sees as out of date), Richard Spencer (who Heimbach sees as a snob and a fake), etc. It’s a decent narrative device.
But in the process, Tenold is coopted somewhat by Heimbach. Heimbach seems more reasonable than the other fascists, less eliminationist in his racism- he sometimes tells the klansmen or whoever that black people, too, deserve an ethnostate, that he’s not a white supremacist merely a white nationalist, yadda yadda. While the inter-right squabbling is interesting to follow — and let’s just say I’m familiar with the dynamic of “these assholes in the other sect are wrong and corny, but fuck it, we need the numbers” — Tenold takes Heimbach’s claims of not being a white supremacist, merely a nationalist, much too much at face value. There’s no such thing as a non-bigoted, non-violent white nationalist: that’s just the shit they say to confuse people. They know forming ethnostates would be massively violent, and that’s why they like it. Tenold acknowledges Heimbach is a racist and, basically, bad — if nothing else, he is openly, unabashedly antisemitic — but some journalistic (or liberal, or perhaps Scandinavian) scruple prevents him from connecting the dots a bit more between the image his subject presents, his political project, and the larger context. It’s not quite NYT profile bad — at least Tenold is willing to laugh at his subjects some — but it’s in the ballpark. ***
“We are not them, and they are not us.” This quote from the beginning of the book really boils down the importance of identity associated with the rise of white nationalism. In the soft skulled hate factory that is the alt-right, Vegas Tenold plumbs first hand the depressing depth of white supremacy. What emerges is an ethnography that both humanizes and disgusts. Multiple times in this book I found myself amused by the almost slapstick antics these bozos partook in. You know, if the 3 Stooges wore badly fitting SS uniforms and spewed anti-Semitic rhetoric. If they Nyuk Nyuk-Ed while talking constantly about how “The globalists are out to get you.”
At its core, the part I can empathize with, is that this is a group of disillusioned and frustrated people, usually men, searching for identity. Clinging to any splinter of a broken life raft, in search of an imagined utopian past. Instead of finding that memory or identity in their college alma matter, shared hobbies, addiction to goodreads (I’m fine I swear), or a career. They take pride in the fact that their skin has less melanin then other people. Because being proud of your default character creation settings means you don’t have to work for your sense of superiority.
On one level I feel sorry for many of the people described. I see an echo of where I grew up in Wisconsin, where jobs and careers that a whole generation previously depended on are going overseas, the amazing/exciting/such wow/so innovative companies are all on the coasts, and no one hangs out at the bowling alley anymore. All that’s left is ritualistic goat sacrifice and white supremacy in many towns. Being a bit squeamish around making pentagrams with animal intestines, these cats choose what likely feels like the only option to them. And so the ass banjos proceed to band together to strum their hateful tune.
So the book paints that picture well. It’s a sort of “wacky adventures in hate groups.” On the other hand, I kept waiting for a sort of “aha that’s what it’s about“ moment. A synthesis of all these disparate ideas. A moment to really snap me from pity or bemusement to a deeper understanding of what’s driving this. And it never really came. There’s a couple mildly power hungry leaders, and I guess you can blame the macroeconomic factors. But that seems to miss part of the picture. Plenty of people have their way of life change and don’t respond with racial supremacy. Plenty of people have been fucked by the system, and yet don’t respond with idiotic justifications and rationale for bigotry. i don’t think I’ve ever thought “man, you know what would solve this difficult time I’m having? A while ethnostate” Instead of staying in the countryside of Wisconsin, I moved to a city. Where they have jobs, what a concept. Why is it that this special crockpot of mooning over bygone eras, economic insecurity, and self important bigotry leads to this emergence of such hatred?
The book ultimately provides an interesting look into a pretty strange way of life. I feel comforted to know that the truly radical nut cases are few and far between. But ultimately I found myself frustrated that someone who spent six years with these groups didn’t have anything constructive or larger to say about them.
This wasn't a particularly fun read, for obvious reasons. Everything You Love Will Burn is essentially an intimate dive into the WORST people in America. Neo-Nazis in full uniform, hood-clad KKK members, and various other assorted loathsome individuals. It would be easy for Tenold's book to simply become a litany of horrors, and it sometimes approaches that. But at the same time, it also does a good job of exposing its subjects for what they really are--awkward, strange, vile people.
Right from the introduction, I was intrigued by the level of intimacy that's been achieved. Tenold followed Matthew Heimbach, a far-right activist with little name recognition outside his most immediate radical circles, for nearly five years, and the familiarity they shared is on display at the start. For instance, on Election Day 2016, Heimbach winds up talking about the video game Skyrim, a game that I myself enjoy and could, on some superficial level, relate to. Throughout the book, moments of self-awareness and genuine humor paint a vivid portrait of Heimbach and his compatriots. It doesn't make them sympathetic--no writer could do that, and Tenold does a good job of critically reflecting on his interactions--but when people in SS garb wander hotel lobbies, and KKK old-timers struggle with sound systems, it humanizes them, Tenold turns what might have been uniformly terrifying into something disturbingly absurd. It's less "Triumph of the Will" and more Coen Brothers, which made the book far more interesting.
At times, the book becomes almost unbelievable, with scenes of bloody fights and comically poor event planning alike permeating the chapters. But that serves to underscore the larger point of the book--how freakish, unbelievable, and perhaps tragic this moment in history is. Without giving too much of the book away, Tenold's ultimate thesis is that, despite the election of Donald Trump, the far-right in America is forever doomed to fail. He doesn't let America off the hook for systemic racism by any means, but the sort of ideologues and skinheads that populate the book will never be the majority. It's almost pitiful, in a way, reading about all of these people who devote their lives to such bizarre and esoteric daydreams of white utopia.
And then I remember that they're Nazis. Screw Nazis.
It's not the author's writing nor his perspective or take on the content, but rather the subject itself that kept me reading this book. An insider's look at Heimbach and the TWP is pretty damned interesting, but Vegas Tenold somehow manages to paint Heimbach as some loveable bear-Nazi, and is somehow shocked when he encounters Heimbach at Unite The Right and Heimbach appears to have taken a "dark turn." There is not much to learn from this book if you have been following and studying fascist and alt-right movements in the United States, and Vegas Tenold's shortcomings are rather frustrating. Vegas Tenold even goes so far as to mock anti-fascist protestors and belittle the struggle of those on the frontlines. However, I would suggest this book to your aunt or step-dad who is ready to read an honest book about white nationalism in the United States.
Whew. Glad to be done with this one. I'm honestly impressed by Vegas Tenold's ability to endure listening to this racism and sexism in person without losing his temper. I would have lost my mind. This is a really, really hard one to get through. It's very important to know about the rise of white nationalism, but listening to this book left me wanting to smash my head into the wall.
I tend to think of white nationalist groups as hate cults. But, admittedly, I knew little about them because I find them so completely intolerable. I wanted to read this book because it offers a view from a distance. I didn't have to actually interact with these people in order to get a glimpse inside their world and, perhaps, better understand them.
This book is well written, and it certainly does take us inside the white nationalist movement. The author spent years with these various groups, attending their meeting and rallies, and getting to know some of the individuals involved. Throughout the book, we're there with these people as they organize events and justify their messages of racism and prejudice. We see how groups form, split apart, and come together in new groups to sometimes become stronger.
While interesting, I felt the middle of the book became repetitive and a little disorganized. I got tired of reading the same messages from the same people, told in a different way at a different meeting, but the same nonetheless. We bounce from one group to another, from one rally to another, without a clear purpose. I wanted better cohesion, and perhaps more input from a sociological standpoint from the author.
I'm also not totally sold on the fact that these people we meet are a fair representation of the white nationalist movement. I don't know how any of them manage to organize anything at all, much less how they would be a threat. Most of them are childish, narrow-minded, quick-tempered, uneducated racists. This feels too much like the expected stereotype. Clearly, these groups are not made up of all backwoods bigots. I would have liked to meet some of the more educated members who are involved in politics and business, though I imagine those people would not be willing to spew their rancid words to a journalist.
This book does offer some valuable insight and is certainly worth reading.
*I received an ebook copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*
Vegas Tenold is a left wing journalist from Norway who embedded himself with American fascist organizers from key white nationalist organizations, including the TWP, NSM, and the KKK for years in order to report on them accurately. If you are familiar with gonzo journalist Jon Ronson, you will find many stylistic parallels in "Everything You Love Will Burn". I listened to the audiobook version, read by Mr. Tenold, and even the cadence of his voice and first person "ride along" style reminded me of similar (albeit excellent) work by Mr. Ronson. Throughout the book he notes moments where his grasp on journalistic ethics seem to be tenuous. His relationship with Neo-Nazi leaders, especially Matthew Heimbach, someone he admits to liking as a person a bit too much, effectively blurs the lines between his work as a journalist, and participation. Most are benign, but there is one I find to be quite problematic. Towards the end of the book he admits to being the person who refered the town of Pikeville, KY to Neo-Nazi organizers as a place that they might have some success in due to demographics. The TWP then take him up on it. The residents of Pikeville, and the many anti-fascists who organized against that rally from Kentucky and the surrounding areas would likely not find that admission so benign. I appreciate the excellent reporting and overview of historical far right figures and movements in this book, and I think there is a lot of value here for someone seeking to gain additional perspective on the rise of American fascism in the 21st century, but I feel decidedly uneasy over the ethical question, as I am sure Vegas feels in hindsight. Hopefully this book serves to give caution to the gonzo journalists of the future who attempt to cover far right figures up close. Sometimes you can lose the forest for the trees.
Tenold is a Norwegian journalist who tagged along with the white supremacist right for years. This surprising account follows the career of Matthew Heimbach, the young, friendly-faced fascist in his quixotic quest to “unite the right” under a single big tent. The fascists are divided between the “boots” and the “suits” like Richard Spencer. The various groups, small in number, are plagued by in-fighting, idiots and FBI infiltrators: more Keystone Cops than Mein Kampf. Heimbach’s fascism is trying to be more strategic—less slurs and more pride—but his knucklehead audiences aren’t getting with the program. Yet it is the militant ANTIFA that does more to unite the right and Spencer earns his spurs by getting sucker-punched on TV. Though initially happy about Trump, they find reasons to quickly disavow him, growing disillusioned with every half-step. Tenold’s account humanizes the alt-right, showing them to be a cluster of pathetic extremists, even as some of their ideas become national policy.
With this look inside white nationalism, it’s clear these men (almost exclusively men) are what they appear to be: angry, dangerous, vile, and miseducated. However they are also pathetic, whinny, nerds doing racist cosplay. The marriage of the white nationalists and Trump is one of convenience. WNs need legitimacy and Trump loves anything and anyone he thinks supports his narcissism. The racists groups are frightening, but after reading this, it’s clear what’s more frightening: the large population of white conservatives that don’t care to denounce these racists for the simple fact that they both need them and really, truly, don’t actually disagree with them despite not wanting to wear a robe or get a swastika tattoo.
Veered way too much into apologism for white nationalists and supremacists. I think the author got too close to his subjects. There is no "acceptable" version of white supremacy or nationalism, and no white supremacists or nationalists are decent people. They subscribe to a violent, hateful ideology.
I think the author did too much to position Matthew as an acceptable white nationalist, because hey, at least he isn't a skinhead or a Hammerskin! But his ideology is still disgusting and harmful, and I'm not sure the author did enough to highlight that.
This is such a hard book to read. I can only read a little bit at a time. The hateful and racist attitudes are hard to stomach, and it hurts to get an inkling to just how many people/groups there are that feel this way.
-fourteen words shorthand- "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
-Someone is speaking at a Klan meeting the author was invited to, and they said "They call us a terrorist organization, but I don't know of a single terrorist organization that starts their meetings with a prayer." (Scratching my head at the ignorance there)
-CW/TW: racism, anti-disability, talk of forced abortions
"In a blog post on the alt-right site CounterCurrents.com, the site's editor Greg Johnson once wrote, "The position I favor on abortion in a White Nationalist society is that some abortions should be forbidden, others should be mandatory, but under no circumstances should it simply be a matter of a woman's choice. I am pro abortion, not pro choice." The circumstances under which Johnson believed abortion should be mandatory were: several fetal defects, if childbirth endangers the life of the mother, and of course, if the fetus in question is of mixed race. In Johnson's words: "If a woman gets pregnant on vacation in Jamaica, an abortion should be mandatory if she wishes to return to white society." But, as Johnson admitted, "this is just utopian daydreaming."
-One of the main people featured in this book is Matthew Heimbach, who is spending part of this summer in jail for assault- not the charge from the Trump rally where he shoved a Black woman, but from assaulting his wife and her step father after they caught him cheating on her with the step father's wife. Seriously, dude?
Another man mentioned is Art Jones. He's an older white supremacist and is more outspoken, he doesn't try to make the alt-right more palatable like Matthew was. Anyways, he is running for office, as are a handful of other open white supremacists this election season. Thanks, Drumpf.
-Like I mentioned above, this book was hard to read. But it did lay out the roots of white supremacy more. The alt-right didn't just pop up in reaction to Obama's presidency. The author makes it clear from the start that he doesn't agree with the people he is shadowing and interviewing. I agree (unfortunately) with what he wrote at the end: "Ultimately, I believe that the far right in American, at least the incarnation I spent years covering, is destined to fail. Not because America is inherently good and that the forces of justice and progress are always stronger than those of intolerance and hatred, but because white supremacy is doing just fine without the far right. The country has spent decades perfecting an ostensibly nonracial form of white supremacy, and it is serving with remarkable efficiency. Private prisons, mandatory sentencing, seemingly unchecked police power, gerrymandering, increasingly limited access to healthcare and abortion- these are all tendrils in an ingenious web designed to keep people poor and powerless. Yes, white people were caught in that web, too, but when it comes to those experiencing poverty, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos vastly outnumber whites. The people Matthew was ostensibly fighting for- the broken, beaten, and forgotten whites of Appalachia and the Rust Belt- weren't victims in a war against white people but rather collateral damage in a war against poor people and minorities. I believe Matthew was right when he said that the elites and politicians hate his people, but they don't hate them because they're white; they hate them because they're poor."
Like most people outside the US I was first made aware of the growing presence of White Nationalism in America after the Trump election victory in 2016 and, most acutely, after the events that took place a little over a year ago in Charlottesville VA. My first reaction was to chalk them as deranged lunatics, nothing more than racist idiots who will forever remain on the periphery of politics. However, when the President of the United States was openly pandering to Alt-Right and the White Nationalists after the events in Charlottesville, I immediately began to think them more politically significant than I had initially thought them to be.
Vegas Tenold's book, Everything you Love will Burn, is a pretty good journalistic account of all that encompasses the insanely violent world of American White Nationalists. I have my problems with the book, particularly with Tenold's framing: his far too close proximity to his main subject, Matthew Heimbach, which sometimes leads him to sympathize with him, and some minor sociological quibbles. Nevertheless, after reading this book these are some of the takeaways for me:
1. All White Nationalists, regardless of group and religious affiliation are all united in their "concern" for the "plight of white people" and the issue of demography in the United States. Whites in America will cease to be the overall majority in a couple of decades, and this thought of a non-white majority America terrifies them. This concern can lead to the outright genocidal - "we believe Blacks should be all sent back to Africa and jews kicked out of the country" - or to a kind bizarre, quasi-archaic separatism.
2. However, despite that, simply calling ALL White Nationalists in America "Nazis" or "Neo-Nazis" isn't useful. Undoubtedly, many of them are, but American White Nationalism is a very broad political movement, encompassing everything from the out-dated and Hitler admiring National Socialist Movement, the apartheid loving Traditional Workers Party, the religious fanaticism of the KKK, the pseudo-intellectual NPI/Alt-right of Bannon and Spencer, and the sadistic racism of Hammerskin Skinheads. All of these groups have serious political and philosophical differences, and merely bracketing them in one over-arching explanatory umbrella term dismisses the very real and fractous tensions among these groups. This leads to the next takeaway.
3. All of the various White Nationalists have serious gripes with each other, and these gripes have hindered the possibility of coalition building. Some believe the inflammatory rhetoric of the more extreme old-right of the NSM isn't politically useful in building a mass movement; other WN groups believe the KKK's religiosity is far too over the top and old-fashion and not helpful in the modern era of mass politics; and others (like Matthew Heimbach and his NF) believe the suit White Nationalism of Richard Spencer and the National Policy Institute is, to put it crudely, too boujee. This mosaic of racist views and opinions, leads to my last takeaway
4. American White Nationalism as a programme is a political non-starter. It has zero hope of ever gaining the kind of popularity needed to re-order society in the way that many of their very vocal and provocative leaders have continually advocated for. To put it simply, White Supremacy in America has no use for White Nationalism. It has historically been able to function, often times with pretenses to equality, with the KKK and other White Nationalist movements shunned to the margins. This is a historical peculiarity - or Irony, if you like - that many of the skinheads and alt-righters haven't fully grasped.
This book is simultaneously frightening and unintentionally hilarious. Reading about the sort of obtuse dipshits that make up the white nationalist movement is hilarious (there's a part where Tenold describes a KKK member explaining to a KKK adept how to light the crosses on fire without setting their robes on fire and it seems like every white power rally is a march from a Kroger parking lot to a Walmart parking lot. Also don't get me started on their white nationalist conference reception, which was basically a hotel serving complimentary donuts in the lobby where all of these shitheads stayed for the weekend.) but their personal ideology is terrifying.
Tenold follows around an "up and comer" in the white nationalist movement named Matthew Heimbach. Heimbach understands that if he actually says the ignorant shit he thinks, he will turn off potential followers from his movement. People who have met Heimbach think he's smart, but still, he lacks that bit of intelligence that would indicate that if he thinks his personal philosophy would turn people off from his message, MAYBE THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIS MESSAGE. As Tenold continues to engage Heimbach, he wonders if he is "humanizing" Heimbach too much and not doing a good job as a reporter. Let's face facts though...Heimbach is human...he's just a horrible human. By the end of the book Heimbach has swerved even further right and Tenold just has to shrug his shoulders. He's seen it coming from a mile away.
The real lesson here is that Tenold believes that somehow, Trump has tapped the power of prejudice. Guys like Matthew Heimbach are the outliers, because even though Heimbach knows he shouldn't say the stuff he believes, he can't help saying it because he believes it. (Other hilarious moments: Heimbach gets pissed off when an old Klansman named Art Jones keeps getting his hands on the mic at the rallies to spew his racist bullshit, even though Heimbach explicitly keeps telling people to keep the mic away from Jones.) Perhaps, the truly frightening people in this country are not the Heimbachs of the world, but instead your neighbor who so easily says "I'm not racist but..." before spitting out something horribly racist, simply because they feel that those words have shielded them from revealing the prejudices they cling to in fear. Those people voted for Trump too, and that is not a good thing.