The rainbow putsch coalition
Whence these white supremacists of color
This week’s big story is Donald Trump’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner with a neo-Nazi, a pedophilia endorser, and the artist formerly known as Kanye West. (If you’re somehow just hearing about this for the first time, Karen Giorno, the longtime GOP operative turned Trump adviser who attended the dinner, gave a tick-tock to the Washington Post.) The pedophilia endorser and serial self-promoter, Milo Yiannopoulos, is now trying to claim with medium plausibility that he set the whole thing up, in order to “send a message” to the former president about ignoring “the people who put him in office.”
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There’s plenty to say about Trump’s longtime coddling of actual Nazis in his base, and how the dinner and the excuses he made after fit snugly into his pattern of coyly playing with the genocidal right. (Hence Yiannopoulos’s frustration with, as he sees it, having been strung along.) But what has gotten a lot of people especially confused were the names and faces at the patio table at Trump’s historically putschist manse.
Howard Stern put it this way on his radio show Monday:
Since when does a guy named [Nick] Fuentes become a white supremacist? … What is Kanye West, a Black man, doing with [him]? What kind of white supremacist is hanging around with a Black guy? And what kind of self-hating Black man is Kanye West?
“It’s weird,” Stern jokingly concluded to his co-host, Robin Quivers. “You can’t even follow white supremacy anymore.”
It is weird, but it isn’t new. White supremacists who in many (or sometimes any) cases wouldn’t pass as white have always been an odd feature of the white supremacist landscape. This is in part because, contrary to the white supremacist’s most fundamental claims, race is a fiction — or, better said, a culturally derived, ever-changing, and porous set of overlapping categories that derive from and reinforce systems of domination and exploitation, and are consequently always in flux. It’s also because individuals attracted to what we might call domination politics are always a bundle of contradictions, prone to making common cause over here before lashing out violently over there, especially when they feel their personal social power is at stake.
A historical example in this hemisphere was Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the late quasi-fascist dictator of the Dominican Republic. An ex-cattle thief and guard at an American-run sugar mill, Trujillo climbed the ranks of a U.S. occupation–created military to seize absolute power in 1930. Over the next 31 years, Trujillo remade Dominican society on anti-Black lines — which in the binational context of the island of Hispaniola meant anti-Haitian. The nadir of Trujillo’s barbarity came in 1937, when he oversaw an extermination campaign in the island’s borderland, with his troops and regular citizens killing some 20,000 people suspected of being Haitian or having Haitian ancestry.
After the slaughter (known in the D.R. as “El Corte,” the cutting), Trujillo’s regime and his successors restricted Haitians to living in guarded sugar plantation work camps. They also mandated eugenicist school curricula that taught generations of Dominicans that they were superior to Haitians intellectually, culturally, and morally on the basis of slightly higher proportions of “European blood” on the Spanish-speaking side of the island.
Yet not only would Trujillo himself have struggled to pass a brown paper bag test in the New Orleans of in his day (the dictator was rumored to lighten his complexion with face powder), he himself was part Haitian — with direct ancestry from the Black Republic on his mother’s side.
I’m sure one could come up with a Freudian explanation for Trujillo’s self-negating racism (“self-hating,” as Stern put it in Ye’s case). There were obvious material rationales: access to whiteness meant access to power and resources in a hemisphere and a country dominated by the white-preferring, if not often explicitly white-supremacist, United States. (Trujillo’s meteoric political career began when he grabbed a spot on the U.S. Marine–run client army, the Jim Crow–era Guardia Nacional, by asserting in his application that he was a “white married man who did not drink or smoke.”)
And there is a clear political explanation: Trujillo quickly learned that antihaitianismo, and its constant explicit threat of foreign invasion by a subhuman Other, proved an effective means of social control. Who would you rather have over you, Trujillo or the Haitians? was a winning implicit message whose pernicious legacy is still felt in the Dominican Republic today, both in violent repression of the Dominico-Haitian minority and the obsession many Dominicans have with doing anything they can to seem or appear whiter. (See: any recent picture of Sammy Sosa.)
But in the end, the explanation doesn’t really matter. The point was that Trujillo, and his still-living acolytes, were and are white supremacists, in spite or perhaps even because of their particular shades of skin. And they are still useful to the American “nativist” right: In 2010, Trump’s future Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) adviser Jon Feere praised the “clarity” of the Dominican Republic’s new constitution that stripped birthright citizenship from the Haitian-descended minority.
So today, we have another white supremacist with Hispanic ancestry, Nick Fuentes. His paternal grandfather was reportedly Mexican, though even that detail is not necessarily disqualifying from a Nazi point of view. A pro-Nazi “clerical fascist” movement, the National Synarchist Union, claimed a million members in Mexico before, during and after World War II, with Hitler’s admiration. (Fuentes’ Catholic brand of militant antisemitism — “I want this to be a Catholic-occupied government, not a Jewish-occupied government,” he recently said — is of a distinctly sinarquista bent.) And indeed, the surname that gives Stern pause is evidence of an even older European settler-colonial tradition than the one that exists in the United States: suffice it to say that “Fuentes” is not an Aztec name.
And then there’s Ye, whose current bout of antisemitic logorrhea, it should be said, began in retaliation to the criticism he got for wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt to a Paris fashion show in October. (The shirt bore a photo of Pope John Paul II on the front, above the phrase — in Spanish! — “seguiremos tu ejemplo,” or “we will follow your example.” Ye’s fellow white-supremacist-clout-chasing provocateur Candace Owens wore the same shirt en blanco.)
I’ve been meaning to write something longer about the particular historical strains of antisemitism in the African American community (and anti-Blackness in the predominantly white American Jewish community). But suffice it to say here that, while mostly incoherent, Ye’s free-for-all-style bigotry against Jews and his own community doesn’t come from nowhere. There’s a long tradition of conservative Black nationalism, which in the late 20th century saw one of its chief antagonists in the Jewish landlords and shop merchant class who stayed in neighborhoods like the South Bronx and the south and west sides of Chicago, as other formerly impoverished Jews took advantage of white flight policies to move to the suburbs and other parts of their cities that had previously excluded them. (One might aptly compare that dynamic to the antagonism between Black residents and Korean shopkeepers in inner-city Los Angeles in the early 1990s.)
Ye grew up mostly in the west Chicago suburbs. His father was a former Black Panther. His mother, Donda West, was an English professor at Chicago State University on the South Side; as a child she participated in a famous civil rights sit-in at the Katz Drug Store (no relation) in Oklahoma City — a Jewish-owned national chain that, in Oklahoma City at least, enforced local segregation laws. As Ye became extremely famous and wealthy, his politics and interests became steadily more reactionary, until he landed where he is today. It seems likely that his embrace of right-wing conspiracism, trolling, and broad-spectrum bigotry — claiming that George Floyd was not actually murdered by the white cop Derek Chauvin, the White Lives Matter shirt, his now-explicit idolization of Adolf Hitler — are less evidence of “self-hate” and more evidence of a history of bad incentives and self-destructive narcissism.
The armchair analysis of Ye’s ranting has focused on his apparent psychology — and, let’s be real here, the man is obviously not well. But he is just as obviously not alone in his attraction to a political tendency that in most places and at most times would want almost anyone who looks, sounds, or has a name like him dead. Stephen Miller and Breitbart editor Joel Pollak are Jewish. Trump is the son of an immigrant. Yair Netanyahu, scion of the eternal Israeli prime minister, attempting a sweaty plea to Ye to cut it out with the Judenhaß, went on a rant on Elon Musk’s website last month against “globalists” and insisted that he “support[s] strengthening Christian identity in USA and Europe.” All of them, it shouldn’t be missed, are also at root male supremacists — with Fuentes only being the most comical case. (He declared earlier this year that his self-declared sexual celibacy makes him “more heterosexual than anyone” because “having sex with women is gay.”)
Like Trujillo (who, among other things, was a notoriously prolific rapist), all of these brands of domination politics feed on and use one another, even if in the final analysis they would eventually all have to turn on one another. Antisemitism, in a certain fevered imagination, is a way to live out an anti-whiteness that doesn’t understand itself as anti-domination. Because it never menaces any of whiteness’ actual foundations, least of all capitalism, it becomes useful to white supremacy itself.
Some Nazis will certainly not like the alliance, but an American Nazi named Fuentes may feel like he’s living on borrowed time anyway; so why not join forces with a broadly anti-Black Black misogynist who shares his love of the Führer? And why wouldn’t Donald Trump, given his history and his dreams of a return to power, break bread with both of them? And why wouldn’t the Republican Party, whose only political mode since roughly 2009 has been an accelerating quest for cultural, political, and bodily domination over all enemies, real and imagined, hesitate before distancing themselves from their once and perhaps future presidential candidate — and, indeed, “the people who put him in office.”
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