The comic book series Preacher asked many years back why exactly it was that white supremacists were the poorest exemplars of the ostensibly superior white race. Watching those tiki-bearing imbeciles march upon Charlottesville, I couldn’t help wondering where the superior members of this white race were, exactly. I mean, one of the first marchers publicly identified worked at a goddamned hot dog stand. If you’re a white supremacist, surely it must be a little bit dismaying that you don’t have marching alongside you white folks with doctorates, Nobel Prize–winning geneticists who can offer some backing to your beliefs in the superiority of melanin-deprived people, or Fortune 500 businessman who exemplify the spirit of industry said to reside in Caucasian DNA. Where is the expertise?
And then, it occurred to me that white supremacists really run parallel to another group: namely, Christian fundamentalists. Just as white supremacists have all their scientific-sounding theories about the benefits of racial purity, so, too, do Christian fundamentalists appropriate scientific terminology for the defense of special creation, of a world less than 10,000 years old, complete with great floods and talking snakes. Just as white supremacists have no real experts willing to back up their views, so, too, can Christian fundamentalists find no internationally recognized biologist or geologist to confirm their ideologies. And if you look at both the cultures of white supremacy and Christian fundamentalism, you’ll find a massive output of cheaply produced literature direly shrill and apocalyptic in tone. Because, as Pascal Boyer has pointed out, fundamentalist lamentations about the state of the materialist world are not about changing “the world”–rather, they are about making the faithful fearful of leaving behind the comfort of the fundamentalist milieu. They are about keeping believers rather than converting unbelievers. Raise the stakes of defection, and few will risk it.
And then I began to see other parallels. For one, there is the worship of losers. As Jack Miles noted in his book Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, the centrality of the crucifixion in the Christian story raises some interesting reversals; namely, it means that perhaps those people so long derided might actually have access to Truth, that the individual cast out might one day be revealed as the Son of God. Many reformers have used this motif to powerful ends. Martin Luther cast his stand against the Catholic Church like Jesus himself standing against the Pharisees, while the heroes of the civil rights movement in America likewise adopted the mantle of Jesus in their fight against institutional oppression. However, there is also a dark side to this ostensible rebellious spirit. For one, creationists have cast their struggle against reality along similar lines–as a scrappy struggle against a well-funded institution called Science, an institution comprised of all those elites with their doctorates and the like. In a similar vein, with open expressions of white supremacy not being the stuff of proper society, white supremacists can cast themselves as rebels against the System. Fundamentalists emphasize the absolute shame of the cross, how much it meant for Jesus to be degraded so completely in order to absorb the sin of humankind. Likewise do white supremacists latch on to such symbols of loss as the Confederate flag and the swastika. In fact, the Lost Cause mythology that gripped the South following the Civil War constituted something of a soteriological vision that sanctified the military loss by transforming the meaning of that loss into a victory–just like the crucifixion.
What does this all boil down to? Faith. The fundamentalist has total and absolute faith in the scientific validity of his scriptures, and the white supremacist has faith in his bloodline. And just as modern science can poke holes in the truth claims of religion, so, too, can any little historical or genealogical inquiry poke holes into the belief that one’s lineage is pure. Hell, I work in a place where people are regularly being surprised by their genealogical discoveries, and the advent of cheap and easy DNA testing can only serve to undermine long-cherished beliefs about one’s ancestors. But when you have faith, you can resist the Truth.
White supremacy, in the end, functions just like fundamentalist religion. It’s not a rational worldview, no matter how much Richard Spencer likes to publicly lament those people who wave Nazi flags. It is fundamentally irrational because it is irrationally fundamentalist, and we need to recognize it as such.