By Jonathan Tilove
February 26 , 2008
c.2008 Newhouse News Service
HERNDON, Va. — The prospect of Barack Obama becoming America’s first black president drew scant attention and little overt alarm among the 250 white nationalists at this past weekend’s biennial American Renaissance Conference.
“I got an e-mail from a fairly prominent person, ‘You should be rooting for an Obama presidency because that would send money and support surging your way,’” said Jared Taylor, the event’s convener and the movement’s most euphonious voice.
But, Taylor said, “I really don’t think that’s true. I don’t think many white people will say, ‘This is the last straw.’”
Those who already “see the world” as he does, Taylor said, “will see this as yet another step, perhaps an inevitable one, in this direction.”
Indeed, many here regarded Obama, contrasted with Republican John McCain, as the lesser of two evils.
Taylor is the founder of American Renaissance, a newsletter and Web site, which since 1994 has sponsored conferences every two years where white men in suits and ties — and a handful of white women — listen to speakers talk about white genetic and cultural superiority and, with increasing urgency, lament the peril to the U.S. national character of mass immigration from places other than Europe.
The last six conferences have been held near Taylor’s home in the Washington suburbs, close to Dulles Airport. He is the glue for the fractious groups and individuals who participate — some of whom can barely stand to be in the same room.
The last gathering ended with long-simmering hostilities between neo-Nazis and Jewish white nationalists spilling into the open. The ensuing weeks and months saw a furious online debate that left neither side entirely satisfied with Taylor. This year’s conference, however, hewed closer to the high-brow demeanor Taylor prefers.
“We’ve got some of the cream of our race here at our conference,” former Alabama Klan leader Don Black said in a radio report for Stormfront, perhaps the most prominent white power site on the Web.
Black’s “cream” is an assemblage that, for monitoring groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, amounts to a rogues’ gallery of the racist right. All who attend an American Renaissance Conference are acutely aware that, politically, they are beyond the pale.
In his address, Taylor admonished the audience that “every one of us is an ambassador to a hostile nation.”
“We have to be better,” he said, explaining that in tone and behavior, they must be “morally unassailable.”
For the most part, Taylor’s speech fit what is now a familiar pattern. First he roused with a call to white racial consciousness “out of duty to our ancestors, out of duty to our descendants.” Then he acknowledged how deaf most whites remain to this call.
“I’ve been trying to get white people to think sensibly about race for about 20 years,” and yet, he said, the puzzle persists: “Why are white people so sound asleep and what is it going to take to wake them up?”
Obama didn’t come up until Craig Langley, a college student from Westchester, N.Y., who four years ago volunteered for Howard Dean in the primaries and voted for John Kerry against George W. Bush, asked what should be the appropriate response.
“It depends on what Barack Obama does,” Taylor replied. “I mean his blackness in and of itself would not necessarily be a handicap. I’d vote for Thomas Sowell (a conservative economist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, who is black) over just about any white candidate likely to come up.”
Obama, he said, “is smart enough to try to have a kind of aracial presidency. … I think I’d almost keep a more beady eye on his wife actually.”
That drew scattered laughter. But in an interview later, Taylor said he doubted that even some of Michelle Obama’s more provocative statements, or the Obamas’ membership in an Afrocentric church in Chicago, would derail Obama’s candidacy.
“I think he will have the charisma and presence to deflect those things,” Taylor said. “I think he’s got the right touch, absolutely the right touch.”
He continued: “People are so eager to have a man who can really unite America as he promises to do that I think they will forgive him those things, and I’m not sure I wouldn’t be prepared to forgive him those things too. He’s an intelligent and serious man and he realizes that he cannot be a ‘black’ president.”
An endorsement? Hardly. “I don’t know who I will vote for.”
For conference attendees, Obama inspires varied responses.
Some wish the marriage that produced him — between a black man and white woman — remained illegal, as it was in many states when Obama was born. Others are quick to point out that Obama is only half black.
And, Taylor noted, his “endorsement” of Thomas Sowell aside, he knows there were some in his audience who wouldn’t vote for a black candidate under any circumstances.
Ron Paul, the libertarian, anti-war GOP congressman from Texas, had a following here. But McCain represents everything they dislike — pro-immigration and pro-war.
Paul Gottfried, a professor of humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa., said he was sure Obama would overwhelm McCain among those who ultimately cast a vote among the American Renaissance crowd.
Gottfried spoke to the conference about his new book, “Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.” In an interview, he said that while he is not a white nationalist, he understands where they are coming from: “Better a black who is honest about who he is than a conservative who is really delivering the liberal agenda.”
As Sam Dickson, a Georgia attorney and American Renaissance fixture, put it in the conference’s closing remarks (in which he offered a “modest proposal” to create a separate “white homeland” in the United States): “We are facing the election of Barack Obama, or, even worse, McCain.”
Louis Andrews, manager of Washington Summit Publishers in Augusta, Ga., said he took an online test to see, based on his position on the issues, which candidate he should back. It told him his No. 1 choice would be Paul — whom he supported — and his No. 2 Obama.
Howard Fezell, a Frederick, Md., attorney, believes Bush invaded Iraq at the bidding of Israel and its neoconservative American supporters. “Having missed out on the 14th century, McCain is eager to participate in another Hundred Years War,” he said.
Perhaps, Fezell observed, some whites will begin to take notice that blacks are flocking to Obama out of racial loyalty and wonder why they can’t do the same. “Only white voters are expected to look beyond race,” he said.
Taylor thinks white people want to vote for the right black candidate out of generosity of spirit. They want things to go better for black people, which, he said, is also why they recoil at the IQ argument, and, time after time, recall for him how “the smartest kid in their class was black.”
“Don’t bother these people with standard deviations,” Taylor said.
He knows that if Obama becomes president, every American will be able to point to that “smartest kid” who is black. But Taylor said an Obama presidency might prove a double-edged sword.
“I think many smarter, far-thinking blacks are going to be worried that any time they start talking about discrimination, certainly institutional racism, people are going to say, ‘Hey, look, you’ve got a black president for heaven’s sake.’”
He doubts whites will say as much “straight out.”
“Whites are rarely capable of making arguments as straight as that in racial terms. But I think it will be an underlying subtext.”