Ethno-Nationalism Is the New Conservatism (OPINION)

May 19, 2022
3:14 PM

Payton Gendron is led into the courtroom for a hearing at Erie County Court, in Buffalo, New York, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Gendron faces charges in the May 14 fatal shooting of 10 people at a supermarket. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HOUSTON — The current state of politics in the United States mirrors that of far-right political activities in other countries. Somewhat of a new concept to many, ethnonationalism in the U.S. has been embraced by a vast majority of conservative voters and elected officials. The movement across the nation is drenched in this relatively new bloodthirsty ideology of the political right.

Ethno-nationalism describes how nationality is depicted as an ethnicity or race. In other words, self-proclaimed “patriots” of the far-right have progressed to a place where they consider “American” an ethnicity in addition to a nationality. In the U.S., the ideology embodies whiteness as a race and a key feature of American nationality—as evidenced by the xenophobic, racist, and very broad dog-whistle that is being “anti-woke.”

While not entirely a new concept, ethno-nationalism is new in mainstream politics. It began gaining traction after the election of Barack Obama and the rise of the Tea Party. During the Obama era, racist dog-whistles became the norm alongside the birth of the so-called “alt-right.” The rules of decorum in Congress and statehouses across the country were thrown out in favor of more openly bigoted political speech.

Now, in the era of social media, that speech has a much broader reach and travels with lightning speed. The use of technology resulted in an explosion of hate groups. Social media has been used as a recruitment tool since its inception. Connecting in private groups and chats allowed hate groups to create even more opportunities to boost membership. They groom less extremist young white men to adopt more extremist ideas—a problem that continues today.

They’ve even attracted the attention of police officers, though the cops weren’t intent on stopping them—instead, they joined them. But even that isn’t a new phenomenon. Before social media, we heard about racist cop gangs targeting Black people and Latinos. The FBI has been warning the country roughly every 10 years about extremists and racists infiltrating law enforcement but does nothing about it. Police departments haven’t done anything tangible about it either, thus allowing their presence within law enforcement to grow unabated.

No matter how much money Democrats give to police, most cops will never vote for them nor will police unions endorse or speak kindly of them. They represent the enemy because, to them, “the left” embraces other races and ethnicities unassimilated—despite much of their own obvious and unchecked prejudice. To the ethnic-nationalist, Democrats are a threat to whiteness and white power structures.

Purposeful Chaos

Ethno-nationalism is about creating a white ethnostate. It’s about expelling non-white people and oppressing Black and Indigenous communities. It’s based on the same colonialist ideas that many on the far-right argue were the best thing to happen to the world. Even Enrique Tarrio, the Afro-Cuban chairman of the Proud Boys, assimilated into promoting these ideologies.

To the white ethnic nationalist, any person of color assimilated enough to push forward their ideas is an ally and not much else. “The term ‘assimilation’ has been used throughout US history to describe non-white people who conform to the predefined and well-established white ethnostate,” as I recently wrote in an article for the Medium-owned publication Momentum.

In 2014, Klansmen John Abarr tried to rebrand the KKK as a more inclusive organization. He used the exact same language the Proud Boys use to describe their extremist hate group. In an interview with the Great Falls Tribune about the “reformed” KKK group called the Rocky Mountain Nights, Abarr described his group as a “fraternal organization” seeking members of all races to fight against a “new world order.”

Extremist groups live in a world of purposeful chaos. They say things that seem contradictory to their beliefs, but their actions speak louder than their words. When we saw more attacks on Latinos because of Trump that resulted in mass shootings and public aggression, those actions, along with the manifestos of the shooters, spoke for themselves.

They all echoed the words and ideas of Trumpism and the new right—ethno-nationalism at the highest levels of U.S. political office. It wasn’t just Trump. He surrounded himself with some of the most well-known bigots in the country at the time. He communicated with pundits almost constantly, bringing assimilated people of color into the fold. Trump even adopted groups such as “Blacks for Trump” to make him appear as someone who is tolerant of others not like him.

Hate groups took to Trump like fish to water. They embraced him from day one when he came down that escalator damning Mexicans as if they were responsible for everything that ails the country. It wouldn’t be long before he came after the Black community and other minority groups who remained silent as Black, Latino, and Indigenous people were under constant attack.

In the growing ethnostate that is the United States, we didn’t see “End Latino Hate” or “End Black Hate” movements. But we did see a “Stop Asian Hate” movement —which was needed— when Trump began blaming Chinese people for the pandemic. It’s not unusual for more subtle ethnic nationalists to claim tolerance by protecting a group they deem assimilated. It’s not lost on many that the “Stop Asian Hate” movement was coopted to promote anti-Blackness either.

The mostly-white Silicon Valley tech bros stepped up for the Asian community after being silent for years about the state-sponsored murders of Black people and Latinos. It wasn’t until the civil rights protests in 2020 that tech bros jumped in to speak up. Even then, they monetized the movement by making empty promises in advertising their fake allyship to sell more products.

More Than Race

Ethno-nationalism is about more than race. With elements of Christian extremism, many of the ideas behind the current movement in the U.S. revolve around theocracy. We hear it in speeches and interviews and see it all over social media. The current book banning movement is just that. Conservative ethno-nationalists claim they want to remove pornography from school libraries and replace them with one of the most popular pornographic books ever written: the Bible.

To be clear, there are no books or magazines in school libraries that contain pornographic material. This ridiculous idea stems from books discussing marginalized members of society. As they ban books containing a more accurate representation of U.S. history, including the continued dreadful treatment of Black people, they’re banning educational material about LGBTQ lives too.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law is just that. It bans the discussion or even the mention from kindergarten to the third grade of anything related to homosexuality. Any given child could come from a home with two dads or two moms, and despite that, teachers or students aren’t allowed to discuss it or read books about it. By the time most kids reach the fourth grade, these realities will be alien to them.

We all know how kids are when they don’t understand something about other children. It’s even worse when a child’s parents are bigots. Oftentimes, children have ideas that are already set in stone due to what their parents teach them—kids that mock and bully others that aren’t like them, whether they be Black, Latino, gay, trans, or are the children of a same-sex couple.

We see and hear horror stories every day about Black, Latino, Indigenous, and LGBTQ children’s mental health in a world that’s largely unwilling to accept them. Ethnic nationalism seeks to keep marginalized groups on the fringes of society. But with extremists in positions of power —such as elected officials, judges, cops, doctors, nurses, teachers, and many others— bigoted beliefs are actionable and they are acted on daily.

Take Florida and Texas, for examples. They have banned conversion therapy for trans kids, banned talking about being gay, stripped women’s reproductive rights, and limited Black and Latino voting power in the name of white ethno-nationalism. Those are just a few of the intentional measures taken to promote the white Christo-fascist ideology across the country.

Remember: The KKK is a Christian-based group centered on a gross misinterpretation of specific aspects of the Bible. While the Klan may not be as prominent as it once was, it is being replaced by hundreds of anti-immigrant and anti-Black hate groups. The same groups, like the Klan of old, are bolstered by political operatives that deliver their message in more subtle ways.

As mass murders continue at an increasing rate, it’s disingenuous and dishonest to pretend that Trump is solely responsible or that any of it is new. Complacency has given way to extremist and hateful ideas and actions. Silence in the face of a growing domestic threat from your very own neighbors, family members, and coworkers allowed for hate to grow unabated.

Going Backward

Decades have passed as Black people and other people of color have issued warnings about the growing domestic terror threat in the United States. Most people have this idea that the country is progressing based on incremental and purposely limited policies. But for every step forward, the U.S. takes 10 steps backward. Immigration policy is a great example here.

The Trump administration decimated the immigration system, which Democrats promised to fix during the 2020 election. But the Biden administration has only brought us one step forward as conservatives attack his lackluster action. The ethnic nationalists act as if the U.S. suddenly has an open border, despite Customs and Border Protection removing asylum-seekers at a higher rate than ever without due process—something you would think they’d celebrate.

Instead, we’re seeing hate groups disguised as think tanks claiming the exact opposite. In mid-February, Andre Arthur at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) wrote that border removals fell 70 percent —an all-time low— in 2021 under Joe Biden. Worth noting, CIS was created by John Tanton, who was a promoter of “white extinction” and the “great replacement theory.”

What the statistics don’t account for is the pandemic and the closure of the border under Title 42, a Trump-era policy to deny entry to asylum-seekers based on health concerns. If we were to look at apprehensions based solely on numbers and not the situation at the border, where thousands of migrants are forced to live on the streets and in shelters in Mexico while they wait for their cases to be heard in court, you could easily see how CIS is promoting ethnic nationalism based on manipulated statistics that lack full context.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, apprehensions dropped only 28 percent during and due to the pandemic. Allowing hate groups such as CIS and other Tanton Network groups with powerful lobbies in Washington to spread these lies and conspiracy theories is how voters complacently allow ethno-nationalism to continue growing.

The political right doesn’t applaud Biden’s Trumpian policies, because ethno-nationalism is a politically fascist ideology. Biden represents everything they hate about the U.S. regardless of the majority. They’re not proponents of democracy, because a democratic government is liberal by default, as it requires everyone to participate regardless of race or ethnicity.

Attacks on an accurate retelling of U.S. history, the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, Black and Latino voting rights, and every other political action undertaken by conservatives revolves around the idea of ethno-nationalism. They want white women to have more babies with white men, and they want non-white and non-cis-gendered people to die off.

They know mortality rates for Black and Latino women are higher than for white women. They know that police do their bidding and murder non-white people at exceptionally higher rates. They know COVID kills non-white people at higher rates, too. The anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement is riddled with white nationalist conspiracy theories.

White America wants to act like all non-white people are out to get them. It’s an undeniable victim mentality based on paranoia and fear. One day, it’s the Jews; the next day, it’s immigrants; another day, it’s Mexicans; and even later, it’s the Asian community. Part of the problem with this movement is the profit motive—individuals are making a lot of money promoting these ideas.

Hate is big business.

The Buffalo Shooter

The mass murder of Black people in Buffalo, New York is horrifying, but ignoring what’s in the manifesto left behind by the gunman is why these things keep happening. If everyone were to read it and educate themselves about what’s in it and why, they would realize that the conservative family member they try to avoid sounds just like racist mass murderers.

The Buffalo shooter, Payton Gendron, opened his manifesto by saying: “If there’s one thing I want you to get from these writings, it’s that White birth rates must change. Everyday the White population becomes fewer in number. To maintain a population the people must achieve a birth rate that reaches replacement fertility levels, in the western world that is about 2.06 births per woman.”

“White people are failing to reproduce, failing to create families, failing to have children. But despite this sub-replacement fertility rate, the population in the West is increasing rapidly,” Gendron continued. “Mass immigration and the higher fertility rates of the immigrants themselves are causing this increase in population. We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history.”

Most extremists define “white culture” in a similar fashion. Enrique Tarrio used the term “Western culture” while describing it based on the same prerequisites and terminology.

“White culture is the norm of advanced societies today. Hard work ethics, religion based on Christianity, values in justice and law, emphasis on science and the scientific method, and need for the truth are just some major points of White culture,” Gendron wrote.

He even mentioned the 14 words used by neo-Nazis since the 1980s several times in his screed: “We must ensure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Gendron also mentions ethno-nationalism seven times, saying he represents “millions of European and other ethno-nationalist peoples that wish to live in peace amongst their own people, living in their own lands, practicing their own traditions, and deciding the future of their own kind.”

It’s clear that with his manifesto he wanted to trigger others to do what he did. Disregarding his words leaves too many questions that need to be answered. The only way to get to the root of the problem is to have uncomfortable conversations. That means reading the manifesto and paying attention to those around you who repeat ideologies similar to his.

While you may think your conservative uncles are harmless, heed their words. The Buffalo shooter’s language —borrowed from many others who came before him— likely sounds benign to the vast majority of U.S. citizens. The reality, however, proves that your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or family members may not be the next shooter, but they may provoke the next one into the mass murder of non-white people, as we’ve seen so often before.

The U.S. has no more room for silence, complacency, or ignorance.


Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American father of three young men, an anti-racist, journalist, and publisher of The Antagonist Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here and here.