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13.8: White Nationalism

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    "Free White Persons"

    The Nationality Act of 1790 granted naturalization and citizenship in the United States to "free white persons" only and as we covered in Chapter 6.1, immigration policies have kept the country largely white. However, by 2050, the U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority country, discussed further in Chapter 12.5. Across U.S. history, some whites have met changes towards diversity and integration with violence and state legislation designed to restrict and prevent equal opportunity and advancement for all. In recent years, white nationalism (the belief that the United States should be a white ethnostate or white nation-state) has experienced a resurgence as populist attitudes, right-wing political beliefs, and anti-immigrant sentiment have been spurred on by an increasingly globalized world and changing racial landscape. White nationalists see themselves as protecting the Western world from non-white invasion and theft of resources and national identity which has shaped recent political campaigns in the U.S. that deploy "anti-globalist" and anti-immigrant rhetoric (Bonikowski & DiMaggio, 2016).

    Radicalization Online

    In 1995, there were only a few hate groups online; today there are hundreds. The internet is a low-cost and efficient medium with which to amplify the white nationalist message. According to hate group expert Mark Potok,

    The internet is allowing the white supremacy movement to reach into places it has never reached before -- middle and upper middle-class, college bound teens. The movement is terribly interested in developing the leadership cadre of tomorrow...The movement is interested not so much in developing street thugs who beat up people in bars, but [in] college-bound teens who live in middle-class and upper-class homes (Swain, 2004).

    Many of these websites present with informational resources where one can learn about American history and society. In fact, until recently one such site ( had a page dedicated to the "true historical examination" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that depicted him as a communist, a drunk, and a rapist. The site also provided a link to download flyers which visitors were invited to distribute at their schools (Lee & Leets, 2002). Additionally, with the advent of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), radicalization has spiraled in the last several years. As explained in the 2020 documentary (see trailer below in Video 12.5.1), The Social Dilemma, technology via social media connects us but also controls us, divides us, monetizes us, manipulates us, polarizes us, distracts us, and divides us, to the point that former technology executives and designers predict a civil war as a result of the radicalization online.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\): "The Social Dilemma | Official Trailer | Netflix." (Close-captioning and other YouTube settings will appear once the video starts.) (Fair Use; NetFlix via YouTube)

    Mainstreamers, Vanguardists & Alt-right

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center there are two major categories for pursuing a white enthnostate: mainstreaming and vanguardism. Mainstreamers seek to obtain power through an infiltration of traditional political institutions. The goal is to access positions that would put white nationalists in control of resources that could help to exclude and further marginalize non-whites such as instituting anti-immigration policies and eliminating social welfare programs.

    Vanguardists take a more radical position that encourages a violent overthrow and seek to antagonize society towards a race-war and what they believe to be the inevitable collapse of America.

    A third, more recent development merges these two styles and has come to be referred to as the "alt-right." Alt-right tactics focus on online activism in the form of "shitposting," meme making, and online harassment.

    Alt-Right with a definition of their beliefs.
    Photograph of a Donald Trump alt-right supporter.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2a}\); Alt-right. "Alt-Right" (CC BY 2.0; Mike Licht, via Flickr) Figure \(\PageIndex{2b}\); Donald Trump Alt-right supporter. "Donald Trump alt-right supporter" (CC BY 2.0; Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia)

    Unite the Right Rally

    On the weekend of August 11, 2017, an estimated five hundred white supremacists and neo-Nazi's marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, decrying the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and chanting "Jews will not replace us!" and "Blood and soil!" They also chanted nationalist slogans representing Nazi Germany's ideal of a "racially" defined national body. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan which traditionally wears white robes and pointed hoods to conceal their identity, the participants in the "Unite the Right" rally donned tiki torches, white polo shirts and khaki slacks, uniforms that are linked to far-right groups such as Vanguard America and Identity Evropa, which has since rebranded as the American Identity Movement. The purpose of these strict fashion choices are to help the members distance themselves from their historical ideological roots and appear more mainstream and palatable to the broader public.

    Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' Rally
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally. (CC BY 2.0; Anthony Crider via Wikimedia)

    The following day, an estimated 1,000 counter-protestors, many of whom were ordinary residents of Charlottesville while others were part of more organized efforts from the faith-based groups, civil rights organizations, local businesses, and faculty and students at the University of Virginia, gathered to voice their disapproval of the rally. Tragically, one white protestor, Heather Heyer, 32, died when James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors. In what some have argued is a lightly veiled approval of the rally's demands, President Trump remarked that "there were very fine people" on both sides of the protests spurring more debate on whether President Trump is a white nationalist himself, though he claimed he was merely voicing support for the defense of the Robert E. Lee statue (Kessler, 2020).

    January 6, 2021

    While most of the thousands of protesters were peaceful, an extreme incidence of violent domestic terrorism occurred on January 6, 2021 as alt-right, paramilitary and white supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Orchestrated by the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, the violent protesters responded to the online, social media calls to "stop the steal," the (false) reference to President Biden stealing the election from former President Donald Trump - despite the fact that 7 million more Americans voted for Biden who also won the electoral college vote. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested for the violence in the Capitol, violence that was broadcast worldwide, including through the protesters' social media accounts, which in turn led to their tracking and arrests. The deaths of 5 individuals were attributed to the insurrection of January 6, and former President Trump was tried for impeachment in the House and Senate, though the latter fell short of the required 67 votes to impeach. National intelligence experts warn of the increasing threat of domestic violent terrorism, from both the political right and left, pose to our national security. Further, the fragility of our democracy was evidenced in this fateful event.

    Contributors and Attributions

    • Tsuhako, Joy. (Cerritos College)
    • Johnson, Shaheen. (Long Beach City College)


    • Bonikowski, B. & DiMaggio, P. (2016). Varieties of american popular nationalism. American Sociological Review 81(5): 949-980.
    • Kessler, G. (2020, May 8). The "very fine people" at charlottesville: who were they? The Washington Post.
    • Lee, E. & Leets, L. (2002). Persuasive storytelling by hate groups online: examining its effects on adolescents, American Behavioral Scientist 45, 927-957.
    • McDermott, A. (1999, February 23). White hate group websites on the rise. CNN.
    • Swain, C.M. (2004) The New white Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.