The Political Bankruptcy of American White Nationalism

Ron Unz • July 27, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Miama, FL

The last few weeks have seen the greatest wave of American urban unrest in two generations. Massive protests, riots, and looting have swept across dozens of our major cities, accompanied by an enormous amount of political vandalism, often targeting monuments to our country’s former presidents and other historical figures.

Most importantly, powerful elements of our political, corporate, and media elite have now declared their support for various policy goals of the newly-elevated Black Lives Matter movement, even sometimes agreeing that local police departments should be “defunded” and that our most celebrated national heroes such as Washington and Jefferson should be removed from their places of honor in our nation’s capital, proposals that would have been dismissed as utter lunacy just a couple of months ago. Many observers, not least in China, have noted the striking similarities this turmoil bears to aspects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. We seem rapidly heading towards some unknown but probably unfortunate destination.

This enormous national upheaval has centered on race, probably leading many individuals to reassess their racial understanding of the world. But some of these shifts may have been in less expected directions.

I recently received a short email from someone in his thirties with whom I’d been a little friendly over the last dozen years. He had spent most of that period solidly located within the racialist/HBD right-wing, regularly writing for some of its publications and even working with some of its leading figures during part of that period. This background lent particular weight to his conclusions.

He entitled his note “You were a prophet” and then declared:

I was a fool to believe that immigration mattered, that there was anything in American politics and culture other than the sadomasochistic relationship between white liberals and blacks.

He also provided some harsh appraisals of prominent anti-immigration right-wingers:

It’s amazing just how wrong people like Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, and Steve Sailer have been on all these issues…Their mistakes are partly racialism, but more a degenerate nationalism, that ends up sympathizing more with criminals than honest people who contribute to society and mind their own business.

Although my correspondent did not refer to any particular articles of mine, there was really no need. Over the last quarter century, I have published hundreds of thousands of words on the contentious subjects of immigration and race, and my most recent writings take positions not much different from those that I had presented in the early 1990s.

Over the last few years and especially since the election of President Donald Trump, immigration has returned to the center stage of American politics, becoming the primary focus of most right-wing activists and pundits.

I regarded this approach as extremely misguided and counter-productive. Three years ago in the aftermath of the Charlottesville debacle, I circulated a private letter to a couple of dozen prominent figures in the reigning Alt-Right movement, then publicly released it the following year, along with two lengthy columns devoted to similar topics. These three pieces together provoked an enormous outpouring of responses, amounting to nearly 4,000 comments and 600,000 words, with some supportive but the overwhelming majority quite hostile. Those so interested may wish to revisit those discussions and decide for themselves whether or not my analysis has proven correct.

From the time I first became involved in immigration issues three decades ago, it soon became apparent that the overwhelming majority of the strong opposition was racially-driven. John Tanton was the original founder of the modern movement and he had his roots in environmentalism and population control, while Roy Beck, a more recent leading figure, seemed most concerned with the impact of a heavy inflow of foreign workers upon native employment. But such individuals were the clear exceptions. I would say that something like 90% of the energetic core of the anti-immigration groups were soft-core or perhaps crypto-White Nationalists, with the movement representing a safe and somewhat “politically correct” berth for once-common ideological views that had gradually become too controversial to directly advocate.

During all of this time, a dystopian nightmare scenario dominated the fears of these individuals, involving the collapse of our stable middle-class society under a massive influx of non-white foreigners, a population impossible to assimilate and deeply hostile to our culture. Crime and social disorder would skyrocket and the cherished symbols of our national heritage would come under fierce attack. Once California and the rest of the Southwest became heavily Hispanic, a secessionist movement would naturally become a powerful political force, possibly seeking to reunite with Mexico

This sort of apocalyptic vision was indicated by the title of one of the earliest works in the genre, The Path to National Suicide, published in 1990 by the late Lawrence Auster. Over the years, several bestsellers have been produced along roughly similar lines, including Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation in 1995, Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West in 2001, and most recently Ann Coulter’s Adios America! in 2015. Even figures of the highest academic repute have sometimes voiced similar fears, with Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington, one of America’s most eminent political scientists, publishing The Clash of Civilizations in 1996 and Who Are We? in 2004.

And whether we take our information from the pages of the New York Times articles or from informal smartphone videos, exactly these long-dreaded scenes of violent disorder and cultural upheaval have now appeared throughout much of our country. But the circumstances have been quite different than any of these writers had predicted.

Over the last few decades, America’s urban centers have been become overwhelmingly non-white and heavily immigrant, with residents of European ancestry these days reduced to less than 35% of the total. But within that national average, some cities are still largely white, and these have demonstrated an intriguing pattern.

Two of the American cities that have experienced the longest and most sustained urban chaos and anti-government disorder over the last couple of months have been Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, and these are two of our cities that have remained the most overwhelmingly white, each in the range of 65-70%. The flashpoint of America’s racial convulsion was Minneapolis, and its city government has now voted to “defund” the local police department while nearly a quarter of its officers have already announced their plans to quit. Minneapolis is another major demographic outlier, still being 60% white.

Meanwhile, whites had already become a minority decades ago in my own state of California, and this shift has been especially strong in the larger cities, with white Europeans probably down to little more than 20% in Los Angeles and San Jose, while remaining perhaps 35% in San Diego and San Francisco. During my younger years, LA had been America’s most overwhelmingly white large city, and over the last half century it had also developed a reputation for especially deadly racial rioting, becoming notorious for the Watts Riots of 1965 and the Rodney King Riots of 1992. But the disorders this time were very mild by comparison, and almost entirely limited to Westside looting by the local black population, now reduced to less than 10% of the total. Unrest in other California cities has been even more minimal in recent weeks, nothing at all like what has wracked so many other American urban centers.

I noticed this same pattern even closer to home when I compared Palo Alto, quite affluent and over 90% white and Asian, with neighboring East Palo Alto, heavily immigrant and working-class, over 90% non-white with few Asians.

For decades my hometown has been extremely liberal but politically rather placid, and this remained the case in June and July, with activism mostly confined to a large (and overwhelmingly white) Black Lives Matter protest march, accompanied by a little minor vandalism. More recently, BLM activists painted a huge affirmation of their creed on the street in front of City Hall, and arranged to partially exclude traffic from that block to prevent cars from damaging their design. More controversially, a portion of their mural honored a militant from the Black Liberation Army, who had murdered a police officer in 1970, afterward breaking out of prison and escaping to Cuba. Local police officers have expressed considerable irritation at seeing this tribute to a convicted cop-killer so close to their own headquarters.

This sort of minor ideological ferment hardly matches the endless rounds of protest and violence in Portland or Seattle, but still exceeded anything taking place in neighboring East Palo Alto, which as far as I can tell has been entirely quiet after a couple of protest marches by local blacks in early June.

The reality of our day-to-day lives inevitably wears away at our ideological frameworks. The long-committed racialist had mentioned in his note that he had been living for the last few years in a city that was overwhelmingly non-white and heavily immigrant, and his personal experiences had already caused him to reassess many of his beliefs and assumptions. So when his area remained absolutely calm and peaceful while overwhelmingly white cities like Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle burned, he merely reached the terminus of a political road that he had already been traveling.

I suspect that many others in his camp have quietly come to similar conclusions although for various reasons they may be reluctant to publicly acknowledge this. Over the last two decades, blogger Steve Sailer has become a hero and an inspiration to America’s burgeoning Internet racialist community for his willingness to address many of the issues so fiercely suppressed in the regular conservative media let alone its mainstream liberal counterpart. Immigration has long been his signature issue, together with the concomitant demographic and social changes, and he has remained one of the highest-profile writers at VDare, the leading hard-core anti-immigration webzine. A substantial fraction of his regular commenters clearly seem situated in the White Nationalist camp.

Yet over the years I’ve sometimes pointed to an interesting fact that has seemingly escaped the attention of so many of his enthusiastically racialist fans. Like me, he grew up in a Los Angeles that was then the whitest large city in America, with our own San Fernando Valley being perhaps 85% white in those days. He continues to live there, although the white population has declined to less than 25%, now ranking LA as one of our least white large cities. But although so much of his enormously prolific blogging focuses on race, social issues, and crime, as well as the foibles of “political correctness,” for years less and less of his material has been drawn from his own city. I strongly suspect this is because the local LA politics has become so bland and boring that there just hasn’t been much interesting to say.

As we might expect, his traffic and comments surged enormously once the national turmoil began at the beginning of June, but the overwhelming majority of his posts still dealt with the events on the East Coast or the Midwest since the unrest in his own region had been so relatively minor by comparison. All around the country, the visual evidence seemed to suggest that the violent antifa rioters were mostly white while the looters were overwhelmingly black. But America’s huge immigrant population was rather conspicuous by its absence, with some of his commenters even remarking on this point.

Across California as a whole, there were some considerable ironies. For decades fearful nativists ranging from Huntington to Brimelow had suggested that as Hispanics became local majorities, their emboldened leaders might seek to cleanse the state of its public symbols of the 19th century Anglo conquest. However, as I noted in a recent column, events in my state and other parts of the once-Mexican Southwest have actually taken a very different turn.

The original roots of our country were Anglo-Saxon and this heritage remained dominant during its first century or more, but other strands in our national tapestry are suffering similar vilification. Christopher Columbus discovered the New World for Spain, but he has became a hated and despised figure across our country, so perhaps in the near future his only surviving North American monument will be the huge statue honoring him in the heart of Mexico City. Father Junipero Serra founded Hispanic California and a few years ago was canonized as the first and only Latin American saint, but his statues have been toppled and his name already removed from Stanford University buildings. At the time we acquired the sparsely-populated American Southwest, the bulk of our new Hispanic population was concentrated in New Mexico, but the founding father of that region has now had his monument attacked and vandalized. Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, is considered the greatest writer in the Spanish language, and his statue was also vandalized.

Marx famously suggested that all great historical events occur twice, first as tragedy and later as farce. My own appraisal of the heated immigration battles of the last few years has been along similar lines.


Earlier in the 1990s immigration had become an enormously important political struggle, with the battle centered in my own state of California. During that period I was extremely concerned about the threat this conflict posed to the stability of our country, as I later recounted in a long 1999 cover-story published in Commentary. However, when the issue returned to the national political stage under Trump, I viewed the situation with detachment or irritation rather than as any sort of serious danger.

The reasons were simple. The overwhelming majority of American immigrants are concentrated in a handful of large states including California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois, and by all indications they get along quite well with their white and native-born neighbors, as I had demonstrated in a long 2011 article. Therefore, I thought it very unlikely that such equanimity would be seriously disrupted by the harsh rhetoric of Trump and his national allies, even if magnified by the media and the Internet. And this indeed has turned out to be the case.

For obvious reasons, non-white immigration has always been an issue of paramount importance to the white racialist community. Such individuals therefore constitute the bulk of fervent anti-immigration activists, though many of them might fiercely deny the nature of those sentiments, perhaps even to themselves. But these political zealots may mistakenly convince themselves that the general public shares their particular ideological focus. Instead, I see very little evidence that the immigration issue is of overriding importance to “normies,” except in particular situations when it directly affects their lives in a negative way.

As an example, white voters in heavily immigrant California had supported Trump in 2016 by 20-25 points less than whites in the rest of the country, with the striking disconnect between his anti-immigrant rhetoric and their own personal experiences probably being a major factor. By sharp contrast, immigration was an especially powerful issue for Trump in a state like West Virginia, which has almost no Hispanics or immigrants of any kind, and whose voters therefore drew their entire understanding of the issue from FoxNews and Breitbart rather than from real life. But political issues that are substantially a creation of media propaganda inherently have less staying power than those with organic roots. I analyzed the political dynamics at considerable length back in 2011, and I believe that all my predictions have been borne out:

So this is the dilemma faced by Alt-Right leaders and similar “nationalist” right-wingers, including many of the individuals around Trump. They have spent the last few years focusing on a largely synthetic issue that has very little connection to the actual reality that most ordinary Americans see in their day-to-day lives. And as a result, they may have destroyed themselves politically.

Consider an analogy. Suppose that the Alt-Right and similar groups had spent this period focusing on Catholics as the greatest threat to American society, publishing numerous books on the subject and launching websites devoted to the “Great Catholic Menace” while FoxNews brainwashed its ignorant viewers into an anti-Catholic frenzy. Perhaps Trump might have been elected partly running on that platform, but with his victory primarily due to the enormous dissatisfaction so many voters felt at the general state of their country, including their distrust and hatred of the mainstream media and our arrogant and corrupt political elites, with the latter fully exemplified by Hillary Clinton.

Even if elements of such a Trump Administration attempted to implement their anti-Catholic proposals, I doubt there would be much risk of sparking a religious civil war endangering our country. Most ordinary Catholics get along pretty well with non-Catholics, and a little political ranting at the national level would hardly be enough to change that.

However, many Catholics would surely become angry at having been unfairly vilified and attacked and they would naturally gravitate toward Trump’s political opponents. If Silicon Valley were a heavily Catholic industry, many of its executives would regard the noisier anti-Catholic zealots as dangerous lunatics and perhaps begin thinking about kicking them off the Internet, a proposal that bitter enemies of the Alt-Right such as the ADL would do everything to foster behind the scenes.

So as a result, the Trump coalition would have greatly multiplied its political enemies for no good or logical reason. And when some unrelated incident suddenly sparked a national wave of rioting and vandalism by leftists and blacks, many Catholics who might have otherwise have sided with a Trump crack down, would instead choose to remain neutral, or simply distrust Trump too much to even consider his arguments.

Having spent years on the inside of the white racialist movement, my correspondent provided some additional observations, suggesting that a political strategy so heavily focused on immigration had made it very difficult for the Trump Administration to respond effectively to the violent Black Lives Matter unrest:

I thought about what you said about the anti-immigration movement being crypto-white nationalism. That is completely true, or at least it was until Trump got elected. I have noticed though that the WNs who argue for immigration restriction ended up convincing a bunch of opportunists and dumb people who are not WNs to start seeing immigration as a major issue. They seem to really believe in the stupid race-blind nationalism that VDare was pushing disingenuously.

Look at this from one of the main editors of TAC, who seriously argues that Trump should hold a rally in Baltimore and strong arm corporations into creating jobs there.

People who push this kind of stupidity tend also to be “China hawks,” trying to create a national identity based on freeing Hong Kong and war on Mexican gardeners. Unlike WNs though, they’re not tapping into anything real within the population, and I don’t predict they’ll ever see much electoral success.

I think the triumph of this low-IQ nationalism is why public opinion shifted so rapidly in the direction of support for BLM. Trump and those around him were called bigots for their immigration views, so they overcompensated by being extremely pro-black. Reports were that Jared did “criminal justice reform” in hopes of winning them over. When BLM popped up, they didn’t have any response since they had put so much stock in “Blexit.” There here was thus no elite opposition to BLM, and public opinion therefore went along.

This analysis appears quite plausible to me. The senior leadership of the Trump Administration seems heavily skewed towards ideologues and total incompetents, with its haphazard and incoherent public health policies having already led to the Covid-19 deaths of 150,000 Americans, a body-count that will probably double or triple by the end of the year.

A similarly ineffective response to early Black Lives Matter protests allowed these to develop enormous social momentum, and spread nationwide. Future historians will surely marvel at how the death of a convicted violent felon—quite possibly due to a drug-overdose—in ultra-liberal Minneapolis soon led to removal of so many of our most celebrated American presidents from their traditional places of honor and cast down statues of Christopher Columbus all across our country, perhaps eventually even culminating in the destruction of fabled Mount Rushmore.

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