James Woods, the actor who was once a well-respected if creepy addition to many films and television programs, has helped me figure out how to talk about “white culture,” or as the fascists and crypto-fascists would have it, White European heritage. As Charlottesville has dominated the news cycle—rightly so—one component of it was lost for a minute but is now likely to be the rallying point for neo-Dixie movements like those who assembled in Virginia.
Why neo-Dixie? The monuments of the Civil War and Confederacy are going to be the totems of the loosely affiliated white power movements more than ever before. The attempt to remove a Confederate statue in Charlottesville was the proximate cause of the Unite the Right rally and seemingly inevitable violence. Already I’m seeing Cracker Twitter eaten up with discussions of monuments and statues and landmark names, and if you’re not familiar with the American South or even historically racist enclaves in Oklahoma (Tulsa), you should know that Southern whites have a strong affinity for the “heroes” of the Confederacy, especially when it comes to naming public schools. In fact, post Charlottesville, a group in Tulsa is circulating a petition to rename Lee Elementary.
I should say that my experiences with these movements goes all the way back to 1988, when I spent some time with two members of the The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. I was in Muskogee, Okla., and two of their number were being held at the federal detention center at the Muskogee County Jail while their codefendants stood trial for sedition in federal court in Arkansas. (They were acquitted.) I think the feds thought it best to keep the group scattered, as they were a particularly scary iteration of white power movements, having murdered at least one state trooper in Missouri, and if the gentlemen were to be believed, members of the LGBT community in North Carolina. The two members I interviewed over a two-week period were both former U.S. military officers with combat experience, or at least they said they were, and as the son of a career U.S. Army enlisted man, their talk had all the hallmarks of authenticity to me. They were also part of the Christian Identity Movement, and so their hatred for “ZOG” (the so-called Zionist Occupation Government) was combined with a religious zeal that was physically exhausting to be around for more than a few minutes at a time.
The neo-Dixie movements are going to avoid the worst religious components of Christian Identity going forward. You might convince average white folks that it’s okay to “love white culture, too,” but you’re not going to convince members of most Evangelical churches that Jews are actually fake Jews who are thoroughly evil and that the white race is the “real Israel.” Religion will be treated as part of our culture, part of our heritage, and indeed, it will be treated as a personal matter, but one on which most should at least agree that God is totally cool with all races but that all races should get to “celebrate” their heritage. God is, of course, totally cool with that, too.
The coded language has been around for a while, but as neo-Dixie movements achieve mainstream platforms, they will use the coded language far more regularly and eschew the nastier verbiage of their private thoughts and not-so-private meetings. Charlottesville has also had the effect of opening wider the Overton Window, such that terminology that has not been mainstreamed is suddenly crucial to understanding what the hell is happening. Many observers of the far Right believed that was Bannon’s intention all along, and it’s hard to find fault with their reasoning at this point.
But to James Woods…the tweet above has been rightly mocked on Twitter since Woods posted it yesterday. The idea that reasonable people cannot understand the difference between WWII soldiers engaged in a just war and the actions of treasonous Confederate troops is laughably stupid, except that in the current context in which all “truth” is a function of power and politics, such that competing claims are not measured on truth value but pragmatic value, the tweet seems reasonable and accurate to some on the far and not-so-far Right.
This will be the point of contention going forward: the totems of the Confederacy will be defined as monuments to “white heritage” or “white culture,” but that is nonsense, of course. Did no whites fight on the side of the Union? Did only whites fight the Civil War? Is there such a thing as “white heritage” (in the positive sense of the word; there is clearly a negative sense)? The monuments of the Confederacy are simply reminders that once upon a time a group of racist traitors engaged the legitimate government of the U.S. in a war of sedition. The rebellion was quashed, the Union remained intact, and the South immediately began trying to revive Dixie. The monuments need to go. It makes no good sense to keep monuments of the rebellion on public display. It ought to be offensive to all of us, not just African Americans. If, as the neo-Dixie spokespersons say, we ought to keep them around for historical value, then a museum is the perfect place for them, and they ought to be sources of shame for the South, not pride, a reminder that the myth of white supremacy once led people to rebel for the sake of the evil institution of slavery.
Finally, the monuments of our whiteness are everywhere. Our institutions favor whiteness, most of our schools favor whiteness, our statues and monuments celebrate whiteness and white people, our holidays (save one) commemorate whiteness, our entertainment industry is eaten up with whiteness; it is literally the foundation of the country, government, and culture. Only those who don’t think it’s not yet white enough, which is to say only white, will be daft enough to believe that the totems of the Confederacy are ought but the relics of hateful, violent, oppressive whiteness.