By JONATHAN TILOVE
February 25, 2002
c 2002 Newhouse News Service
While their deportment was excellent and their intellect obvious, the 250 white nationalists as most called themselves at the fifth biennial American Renaissance Conference were all too aware that they exist along the shadowy fringes of American public life.
“We are minoritarian,” said Jared Taylor, who convened the gathering named for the monthly newsletter he edits. “We are marginal in terms of influence and numbers and not only that, according to the mainstream, we are a despicable group.”
But Taylor and others who joined him “In Defense of Western Man,” as last weekend’s conference was themed, are modestly optimistic that white people are beginning to be roused to the self-conscious racial identity that they believe is all that can save them from losing their dominant place in America in the face of immigration and multiculturalism.
In a new book, Carol M. Swain, a Vanderbilt University professor of political science, warns that their optimism may be warranted, that they may not be on the fringe forever and that the broader public ignores them at its peril. Swain, a black woman whose new book, “The New White Nationalism in America,” will be issued July 4, sees the cadre of folks who attend the American Renaissance conferences as the intellectual vanguard of a slicker and smarter racist right that could gain a following among more mainstream white conservatives in years to come, with disastrous results for American race relations. And Swain believes that black leaders and the multicultural left bear some responsibility for creating the conditions in which this movement could flourish.
“I believe the arguments that Jared Taylor puts forth would appeal to a substantially larger percentage of the white population than are willing to admit it,” said Swain, who was previously at Princeton University and whose earlier book critiquing black electoral districts won her several prizes and considerable controversy.
Borrowing from the identity politics of the left and with a finesse and sophistication not commonly associated with what she calls “the misfits and psychopaths” who have come to symbolize white supremacy in years gone by, these new white nationalists could effectively address white grievances that go unanswered even undebated in the mainstream public arena, Swain believes. In the current political milieu, and as their demographic dominance wanes in the face of immigration and lower white birth rates, Swain said, “Whites are going to behave like any minority group. Maybe we have reached the point in history where there are legitimate white interests and maybe more and more whites are going to see that.”
Taylor and company certainly think so.
“We in this room are the Paul Reveres of our time,” said Taylor, a graduate of Yale University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, his voice catching with emotion. “We’re riding through the night not just in a few New England hamlets but all through the world, crying, ‘White man, wake up.'”
“If white America survives, then this meeting will be considered very very important, very important,” said Mark Weber, director of the California-based Institute for Historical Review, which attacks the mainstream scholarship on the existence and extent of the Holocaust. “If white America fails, it will have been the last gasp of a white intellectual America that is gone forever.”
The theme and speakers at this year’s conference were much the same as two years ago, but there were subtle differences in tone and temper that indicated a movement on the rise. The crowd was a bit larger, and as one of the rare women in attendance, Sarah Norman, put it at conference’s end, “It’s more normal all the time.”
A few minutes earlier, her husband, Frank, had taken to the microphone to announce “some very good news.” Holding high a Victoria’s Secret catalog, Norman announced that all the models were white. “I take it you looked at every page,” said Taylor.
Taylor, who is based in nearby Oakton, Va., also offered his own evidence of progress. He pointed to the overwhelming vote in Mississippi last year to keep its state flag with the Confederate emblem, and to the uproar that squashed the recent suggestion that a statue modeled on a photo of white firefighters raising a flag at ground zero in New York City be changed to make the men appear to be of three different races.
Taylor has a talent for presenting his views in a manner that both satisfies hard-liners and sounds not so threatening to a broader white audience, particularly in his frequent talk-radio appearances. Larry Patterson, who teaches engineering at a community college near his hometown of Bellaire, Ohio, outside Wheeling, W.Va., drove to the conference his first on the strength of his positive impression of Taylor, who has a Web site and newsletter. By weekend’s end he was nearly giddy with joy.\
“I’m not wacky,” he said. “I thought there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t ready for the future, that I wasn’t ready for multiculturalism.”
“I came without hope, I am leaving with hope,” he told Taylor. And Patterson, who said he grew up an admirer of Martin Luther King, felt reassured that his new comrades were not bad people. “I fear for my race,” he said, but “I don’t like to have animosity toward anyone. I don’t think there’s a soul in this whole 250 people that would do one thing untoward toward a minority or anybody for that matter,” Patterson said. “I’ve met the nicest people I’ve ever met.’
For her book, Swain had Russell Nieli, an instructor at Princeton University, who is white, conduct extensive interviews with an array of white nationalist leaders because she felt they would respond more openly to a white person. The full text of the interviews will be published in a second book next year.
“It was quite a surprise,” Nieli said of his experience. “They are not nitwits or morons. This is not Jerry Springer.” Indeed, in a recent online edition of National Review, contributing editor John Derbyshire describes Taylor as a “sane, thoughtful, erudite and humorous person, with the flawless manners of a true American gentleman,” and his newsletter as “a useful corrective to the distortions, evasions and downright lies of the mainstream media on matters of race.” The cast assembled for the conference is very diverse, its wingspan extending from Jews to neo-Nazis, from committed atheists to devoted Christians, from tenured academics to former Klansman, like Don Black, whose popular Stormfront Web site includes his son’s “kids page,” which offers students help in writing negative school reports on Martin Luther King.
It is a gathering that picks up where Pat Buchanan’s best-selling new book, “The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization,” leaves off and keeps going and going. This is a forum where “equality” is an epithet, and the politics of Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin and Huey Long are recalled with nostalgia. Glayde Whitney, a former president of the Behavior Genetics Association who taught at Florida State University, was a program regular but died earlier this year. Yet the latest issue of the newspaper of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which was well represented at the gathering, included a last missive from Whitney defending slavery. The headline: “Universal Emancipation: a Colossal Mistake.”
Of course, the occasional newcomer was taken aback by some of what he or she heard. “That’s what we’re supposed to be racialists? I’m not sure that’s the way to go,” said Glenn Spencer, an immigration control activist from California who made a presentation on Mexican efforts to reconquer California through immigration and predicted a second Mexican-American war sometime in 2003.
Robert Weissberg, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, said that he does not consider himself a racial nationalist. At the last conference, Weissberg presented a paper, to a very mixed reception, in which he argued that while Jews don’t like blacks, they fear the white right more. Weissberg said that while he likes some folks at the conferences and loathes others, he keeps coming because he finds the open discussion of race so rare and refreshing.
It is Swain’s fear that that same logic may draw other white conservatives into the nationalist orbit. In her book she argues that it is time to end any racial preferences, reduce immigration and drop the call for reparations, which she said only produce a white backlash that could transform the white nationalist movement from marginal to mainstream. For the same reason, she says, the first priority of black leaders should be to reduce black crime.
While Leonard Zeskind of Kansas City, Mo., who is also writing a book on the white nationalist movement, agrees with Swain about the movement’s savvy and influence, he does not think trying to appease the white nationalists would prove either sensible or effective. “What the white nationalists do not want is the full integration and the full equality and the full recognition of black people and other people of color in a civilization that they regard as a white civilization,” said Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which tracks white supremacist movements. “To blame the black community for this is like blaming black men whistling at white women for the surge in lynchings at the turn of the century.”