What It Is > What American White Nationalists Believe

What American White Nationalists Believe

Most young people don’t become engaged with white nationalism because they are attracted to its core beliefs. As one analyst puts it, what draws young people isn’t the ideas, it’s the community—but ideology is the price of admission to the community. This is why it can be counter-productive to argue about ideas with young people who have become engaged with white nationalism. What’s at stake for them isn’t necessarily the validity of the ideas, it’s membership in a group of companions that seems to offer them social rewards.

But families, schools, and communities can be better prepared to respond constructively to young people engaging with white nationalism if they have a clear sense of its basic beliefs and ways in which those beliefs are based on misinformation or distortion. And while telling young people they have been misled may not often work, pointing towards ways they can discover that for themselves can sometimes be effective.

On this page we lay out four core ideas of white nationalism in America. Each section is followed by a brief review of some factual problems with these ideas. (In the “Sources and Discussions” section at the end of this page we dig a little deeper.) Finally, we include for each section a few examples of the types of questions that could help a young person reflect on the white nationalist beliefs they may be tempted to embrace.

The four points covered on this page are fundamental to the white nationalist belief that an American white ethnostate, a nation restricted to the white race, is essential in principle. These points underlie all aspects of the movement, even when not explicitly stated, but they rarely in themselves motivate young people to become engaged. Instead, the motivating triggers are conveyed through a white nationalist crisis narrative that portrays the white race as under a life-and-death attack by a conspiracy of global agents and accomplices, led by powerful Jewish interests. The elements of this narrative are explored in sections that discuss the theory of White Genocide, the core role of anti-Semitism, and forms of misogyny and toxic masculinity in contemporary American white nationalism.

Other pages on key white nationalist beliefs:

White nationalism holds that race determines personal potential and character

White nationalists see race as the most important characteristic each person possesses. They believe that genetics defines every person’s potential and limits, and that different races have different genetics, aptitudes, and characters. Some cite evidence from what they call “race science”: studies by people with academic credentials that appear to support these views.

The example of “race science” white nationalists most frequently cite is the 1994 book The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. They argued that race-based genetic differences have strong influence on IQ. The majority of scientific responses to The Bell Curve have criticized its methods and don’t support its findings. But white nationalists consider the majority to be ideologically biased, while citing any other studies that share The Bell Curve’s approach. The largest scientific association devoted to the study of genetics has strongly challenged “race science” on the basis of many studies by specialists in the field, which Herrnstein and Murray were not. It may be useful to prompt a young person engaged with white nationalism to reflect on whether they are advocating for a social revolution by relying on a small body of disputed science that they themselves are not able to verify.

  • Do you know that because world populations have genes reflecting such a mix of peoples, many scientists think that there is no such thing as “race” in any simple sense?
  • Have you had a chance to learn that many scientific studies indicate that racial differences don’t seem to have any significant correlation with aptitude and character?
  • Do you know most scientists think “race science” is based on defective data and poor arguments?

White nationalism views race as more important than ethnicity or nationality

Historically, the divisions between human groups that people most stressed were national or ethnic. White nationalists, however, see “white people” as a single group that crosses national borders and ethnicity. The meaning of “white” is not even settled within white nationalist circles. Today, most white nationalists view all people of European descent as white, but some argue that Slavic people such as Russians or Serbians are not. Hispanic people from European countries like Spain and Portugal are generally regarded as white, but those from Latin American countries like Mexico or Brazil are not—even though those countries were colonized by people from Spain and Portugal. White nationalists regard European Jews as genetically non-white, even if they are physically indistinguishable from non-Jews.

The idea of a white race unified by genetic characteristics is very recent. America has a long history of discrimination against what were considered “inferior” European ethnic groups (Irish, Italian, Hungarian, etc.). The white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan (the KKK), which dominated Indiana in the 1920s, focused its propaganda more on “un-American” Catholics of European descent than on Blacks. The Nazi concept of the “master race” in the 1930s included only a subset of white races (those sometimes called “Nordic”). It wasn’t until the 1950s that the leader of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell, promoted the idea of a unified white race to gain more followers across the United States.

  • Do you know that the idea of white people as a single group is not widely shared, even in Europe, where “nationalism” has focused on ethnic groups, such as German, Swedes, and so forth?
  • Are you aware that throughout American history, certain European groups (for example, Irish or Italian immigrants) faced exclusion and discrimination because other groups of European descent considered them racially inferior?
  • Have you wondered why some say people from Central and South America are not white even though many are of European descent, just as Spanish and Portuguese people are?

White nationalists claim that race purity is the real “diversity”

Contemporary white nationalists try to avoid the label “white supremacist” by stating that all races are equal but distinct, each with unique characteristics. They say these distinct characteristics are natural and therefore important to preserve in a pure form. They believe a society of diverse races will result in intermarriage and genetic impurity, leading to a debased form of human uniformity.

This idea has no scientific basis. It’s largely used as a talking point, because it coopts liberal views that value diversity as a social ideal in American political discourse. It relies on a vaguely indicated faith that races have some type of purposeful destiny. While genetic profiles correlated with distant geographical regions of the world show some differences, variation within such groups can be wide, often greater than variation between different groups. The idea of a “pure” genetic group profile is not scientifically valid.

  • Have you asked whether there is any basis for the idea that a mixed-race person is inferior to a “pure-race” person?
  • If you believe that races are equivalently good and have unique characteristics, why would it be better to keep races separate rather than encouraging them to work together, letting their strengths complement one another?

White nationalists hold that the United States should be a white homeland

White nationalists believe that races should be geographically separated in different countries (“homelands”) to end intermarriage between races, preserve racial purity, and enhance the unique character of each race. They claim that white Americans are, by “birthright,” the sole rightful inheritors of the US homeland, because they say non-whites have made no meaningful contributions to the United States and have merely received benefits created by members of the white majority. Non-whites are not and cannot become “true Americans.”

Many European countries have long viewed themselves as “nation-states” of a particular ethnic group. Contemporary European white nationalists often advocate for maintaining the dominance of those groups (“Norway for Norwegians” or “Germany for Germans”). From its beginnings the United States has been viewed as a different kind of “nation,” one with citizens from many ethnic groups. Contemporary American white nationalists, however, treat the entire white race as if it were a traditional ethnic group so that “America for Americans” excludes non-whites, who cannot be “true Americans.” Earlier generations of white nationalists drew the border of “true American” differently, to isolate whatever groups they wished to exclude. Early white nationalist groups would have rejected some of today’s prominent white nationalists because they are Catholic.

  • Do you know that most contemporary African-American families first came to America long before the families of many white Americans, some 400 years ago?
  • Have you heard about black American volunteers who fought at Bunker Hill and served in Washington’s army?
  • Are you aware there were almost 60,000 free non-white Americans recorded in the initial 1790 census, and that the Declaration and Constitution did not restrict political rights to members of any race?
  • Do you personally feel comfortable claiming that you have a greater birthright to American identity than other native-born citizens such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?
  • Would you be open to learning more about contributions by those you feel are not “true Americans?”
Sources & Discussion2022-04-23T14:04:11+00:00

The brief description of white nationalist ideology sketched here is primarily derived from white nationalist websites, such as American RenaissanceCounter-Currents, and Stormfront. There is no single authority for a definition of white nationalism, and there are points upon which white nationalists may disagree. A useful summary guide, intended for teachers, is Explainer: White Nationalism, developed by the non-profit group Facing History and Ourselves.

The fact that specific points of ideology play a secondary role in recruitment is widely noted. The characterization of beliefs as a “ticket” recruits punch to gain admission to rewarding group membership is an observation made by Ian Danskin, whose video analyses of the process of white nationalist recruitment are described in Christy Somos, Dismantling the ‘Alt-Right Playbook’: YouTuber Explains How Online Radicalization Works. However, despite the fact that particular points of ideology are generally not central to recruitment, awareness of the general outlines of white nationalist beliefs plays an important role. Assuring recruits that there is a crisis narrative and an action path forward instills confidence in group leadership and provides a sense of meaning that bonds new members.

In their own words

“Many whites are uncomfortable about resettling non-whites who have put down ‘roots’ in our homelands. Non-whites have tens of thousands of years of roots in their homelands. Yet somehow they managed to move here. So if their roots there did not matter to them, why should their “roots” here matter to us? And if their shallow roots here matter to us, shouldn’t our own deep roots matter that much more? Freedom of choice is an important thing, but preserving our race is more important.”

  • Greg Johnson, “Restoring White Homelands” Counter-Currents 2014

For a detailed exploration of “race science” and its scientific critics, this page draws on Angela Saini’s Superior: The Return of Race Science. We focus on The Bell Curve because it has been a flashpoint for public debate for two decades. Public talks by Charles Murray, the surviving co-author, have generated demonstrations and counter-protests, and more focus has been given to the question of whether Murray’s views deserve a hearing than to the disputed data and methods of his book. Whether Murray and others who agree with him should be offered platforms to speak is a very different question from whether their arguments are scientifically reasonable. White nationalists frequently claim that attempts to stifle their speech demonstrate that their opponents fear it because it is true. This type of argument can be convincing to recruits, and is one reason to be cautious about seeming dismissive of young people when they advocate white nationalist ideas.

We have included comments and sample questions to ask young people primarily with teachers in mind, though some parents may find them useful as well. We’ve specified some of the sources we relied on to formulate these questions, sources we think may be useful to teachers as they further explore these issues.

“Ideology matters, but not necessarily its core messaging. . . . Rather, radical groups use religion and ideologies to legitimize grievances, placing themselves as agents of change and promising empowerment and a sense of purpose.”

“Some groups appropriate the language of diversity by claiming that white supremacists are the true multiculturalists, because they seek to separate and preserve all cultures, as opposed to those who would promote ‘race mixing.’”

With regard to the issue of geneticists’ research on race, we consulted the organizational statement and discussion published by the American Society of Human Genetics. An accessible discussion of the underlying genetic science is Vivian Chou, How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century. For a geneticist’s view of the likely productivity of genetic intermixing, see White Supremacists Believe In Genetic “Purity.” Science Shows No Such Thing Exists.

Prompting a young person to question whether the white nationalist idea of a unified white race of European descent is a self-evident truth or a recent innovation is one strategy for weakening its ideological power. Many sources document discrimination against whites from Eastern and Southern Europe in 19th and early 20th century America, for instance. A particularly useful example is an 1896 essay by Francis A. Walker, president of MIT: Restriction of Immigration. The role of George Lincoln Rockwell in devising a redefinition of whiteness suitable for America is recounted in Heidi Beirich and Kevin Hicks, White Nationalism in America.

Helping young people become more aware of the many contributions people of non-European descent have made in US history can weaken the hold of white nationalist assertions that white Americans are somehow “true” Americans and others cannot be. The question we propose concerning Revolutionary Era black soldiers is based on Phillip S. Greenwalt, George Washington’s Integrated Army; the information from the 1790 census is available on Wikipedia.

“Although a person’s genetics influences their phenotypic characteristics, and self-identified race might be influenced by physical appearance, race itself is a social construct.”

“There were many to exclude, but to Indiana Klan members, Catholics were by far the most dangerous.”

Updated, October 2021

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