Books: Blood and Politics

Leonard Zeskind explains the history of the white nationalist movement from the margins to the mainstream.

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For the past 40 years, white supremacists have lurked beyond the sidelines of American politics, fantasizing about power yet shunning the public eye. In this 600-page doorstop, Leonard Zeskind, a former factory worker and labor organizer who has become a single-minded watchdog of the racist right, offers a blinding dose of sunlight.

Blood and Politics considers contemporary Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and militia members and argues that they are in fact a single movement with a common—if fractious—history. Zeskind tells this story largely through the careers of the dueling “godfathers” of the late-20th-century extreme right, Willis Carto and William Pierce. Since the mid-’60s, Carto has sought to put a respectable face on white nationalism and infiltrate the mainstream with his benign-sounding Liberty Lobby. His archrival, Pierce, author of race-war novel The Turner Diaries, insisted on violent revolution. (He died in 2002.) The two even disagreed on fundamentals such as Holocaust revisionism: Carto is a denier; Pierce hailed the Holocaust as a portent of things to come. Pierce’s book inspired the Oklahoma City bombing and other acts of mayhem, but his National Alliance party crumbled soon after his death. Carto, now in his 80s, has seen his front groups splintered by a series of self-inflicted legal defeats.

Against this backdrop of bickering and violent outbursts, it might be hard to tell if white supremacists are frightening, pitiful, or both. However, Zeskind is emphatic that they should not be written off. He is particularly concerned with their influence on Republican politics. Though he is correct that the social forces and demographic shifts that animate hate groups have also fueled cultural conservatism, he often blurs the meaningful distinctions between the racialist fringe and white Republicans who cynically play racial politics.

Zeskind’s tome doesn’t attempt to predict the white supremacists’ next move. Yet looking at their history, it’s clear that current conditions—immigration, recession, and, of course, a popular black president—could reinvigorate their quest for an impossible future.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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