- Brian Levinprofessor in the Department of Criminal Justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. His recent article in The Huffington Post is “We All Must Draw a Line Against Hate and Violence.”
- Lester Spenceassociate professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University. His new book is Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics.
After initially refusing to condemn an endorsement from former KKK leader David Duke, Donald Trump has faced a series of questions about why his campaign has been so embraced by Neo-Nazis and Klansmen. We speak to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. Levin talks about encountering Trump supporters at a recent rally held by a chapter of the Klan in Anaheim known as the Loyal White Knights, or LWK.
AMY GOODMAN: Can we get your response, Brian Levin, to what you watched last night in Detroit, the Republican debate, the 11th, I think it was, now down to the four candidates vying to be the Republican presidential candidate nominee?
BRIAN LEVIN: What I found disturbing was that with all the rhetoric coming from Republicans of goodwill—if you listen to, for instance, George W. Bush when he visited a mosque after 9/11, John McCain when he was on the campaign trail and Arabicphobic comments were made, even a speaker of the House tried to say, “Look, we have to put a line in the sand with regard to white nationalists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis.” It was a footnote. It started and said, “Would you disavow.”
And what I think needed to be done was something by all the candidates, not to retreat from their positions—we’re a nonpartisan center—but to say, “There is a line that we draw, and that line is against white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis,” because I have not seen, in the decade that I’ve been researching this, a successful mainstream candidate having the endorsement of a virtual who’s who of Klansmen, white nationalists and others. We’re talking about not just people like David Duke, but folks from the Loyal White Knights, Infostormer, Daily Stormer, Stormfront. It is a tidal wave of support.
And it is because there are not policy messages that appeal to the white supremacists and white nationalists, but rather the xenophobic and racist tones, where Mexicans are labeled as criminals, and Muslims are broadbrushed to an extent that they not only should be excluded from coming into the country, but this not even dog whistle that there should be some sociopolitical exclusion of Muslims. This is a terrible time for the party of Lincoln.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, come back, and I’m going to ask you about your attendance at a Klan rally and what the members had to say about Donald Trump. We’re talking to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, and Lester Spence. He has a new book out; it’s called Knocking the Hustle. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “900 Miles,” performed by Barbara Dane. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re going to turn right now to last Saturday, a Klan rally, a chapter of the Klan in Anaheim known as the Loyal White Knights, or LWK. Dozens of counterprotesters also showed up, when a fight broke out. Brian Levin, you actually stepped in to shield Klan leader Bill Quigg from being assaulted. For our radio viewers, we’re showing scenes of the melee. You can go to democracynow.org for a link. After things calmed down a bit, Brian spoke to some of the Loyal White Knights.
BRIAN LEVIN: What are you trying to rally today for, sir?
LOYAL WHITE KNIGHT 1: White lives matter. I mean, everyone’s—ah, I got some broken ribs.
BRIAN LEVIN: Sure.
LOYAL WHITE KNIGHT 1: Everybody’s on Black Lives Matter and all that. They’re [inaudible]—
BRIAN LEVIN: But what about the Klan’s history hate. Can you see why people would be upset?
LOYAL WHITE KNIGHT 1: We’re not the old Klan.
BRIAN LEVIN: Do you have a candidate that you like? Do you have a presidential candidate that you like?
LOYAL WHITE KNIGHT 2: I’d say voting for Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED: Voting for Trump, sir?
LOYAL WHITE KNIGHT 2: Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And, Brian Levin, you’re director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. Explain what was taking place.
BRIAN LEVIN: Well, the Loyal White Knights, which has had significant growth nationally last year—the Klan only has about maybe 4,500 to 5,500 members nationwide, a far cry from the four-and-a half to 5 million in the 1920s, when future President Harry Truman, future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and the governor of Indiana were members and you really had to get a Klan endorsement to win a political position. Now they’re very small. I think they have just somewhat more than a handful in their chapter. But Klan—the Klan nationally has grown. In California, their minuscule.
Nevertheless, all hell broke loose when about a half a dozen Klansmen tried to get out of their vehicle. And they were set upon with wooden planks, metal rods, fists, feet. And when the vehicle moved away, there were three Klansmen left. Two near me were just brutally set upon by a mob, and I interceded with my outstretched hand and my iPhone as a camera and said, “Do not hurt this gentleman. Do not hurt this gentleman.”
That being said, Mr. Quigg, this grand dragon—grand dragon is the leader of a state chapter, the realm, the California realm, and we’re talking very small number of people here—was getting kicked in the head, was getting attacked. He is a reprehensible person, who believes Hitler is a great person and that the Holocaust didn’t happen and that white Christians are God’s chosen people and that the concentration camps had swimming pools and luxuries. This is the kind of person we’re talking about. He does not—he believes that there is a white genocide going on. He also believes that illegal immigration of Mexicans is taking our country into a tailspin and that Muslims are encroaching on America and destroying it.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did he have to say about Donald Trump?
BRIAN LEVIN: Well, interestingly enough, his lieutenant spoke effusively about Donald Trump. He was much more cagey, because he had effusive, over-the-top tweet back in September saying how all Americans should support Donald Trump. This time, he joked, “Hillary Clinton,” and then he said he’s undecided. He’s not undecided. He’s been quite vocal in his support for Mr. Trump, which I think gives Mr. Trump an opportunity not just to grudgingly say, “How many times do I have to disavow?” but to say what does America mean to him, what does diversity mean to him, and what do the people of goodwill in the Republican Party, who have just totally spoken against bigotry, root and branch—even Ronald Reagan, when running for president and had the Klan endorsement, was quite clear. And so, what I’m worried about is not how many disavowals he gives, but more the authenticity of his rejection of it. And it doesn’t appear genuine, and it doesn’t appear deep.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, but as you say, the Klan is a relatively minor organization now compared to what—its strength decades ago. And you mentioned several other hate groups, as well, all of which are on, you could say, the extreme fringe of white nationalism here in the United States. What about the masses of people that are voting for Trump? How do you think that the positions and the viewpoints of these extreme groups are affecting or reflecting a broader movement, right-wing movement in the country that has—a white nationalist movement that has lined up behind Trump?
BRIAN LEVIN: That is a great question. Look, white supremacists are showing up to his rallies. In the past, you would never see that. Matt Heimbach, who’s a virulent bigot, was involved in physically manhandling an African-American female protester at one of his rallies. In Alabama, there was a white power salute. Somebody like Mr. Trump should say, “Wait a minute. Stop. I have policy positions, but let me make it clear that bigotry is unacceptable.” And that really has not been done.
And if I may, one of the things that the white nationalists, white supremacists, the neo-Nazi movement has lacked has been a charismatic leader. And what I’m saying to you, I’m not saying that Mr. Trump is a neo-Nazi, but they view him as a celebrity brand mouthpiece who is parroting what they’re saying. And the kinds of rhetoric that we see on these hate sites are being retransmitted into the mainstream. There is a problem when 40 percent or more of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim or that Muslims are a threat.
There really is a need for a leader in the Republican Party who can still take their partisan policy positions—we’re a nonpartisan organization—but what they have to do is disentangle the bigotry that comes with it, this xenophobia, this derision towards Latinos and this broadbrushing of Muslims as some kind of horrible threat. This is a—this is just a terrible time for the Republican Party. And I know Republican people of goodwill, people like Lindsey Graham who have made statements. We had George Bush the elder sign the Hate Crimes Statistics Act and make statements against hate. It is a terrible time, and I am hoping that the forces of good within the Republican Party, who may have their conservative policy positions on affirmative action and national security, speak out, because what this is doing, it is inflaming and amplifying this fear and anger that exists with a very significant part of the Republican Party that is slipping through the thin ice of bigotry. And we can’t have that for a party with this kind of tradition.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Lester Spence, this whole issue of the white supremacist movement and white nationalism being such a key force pressing among the supporters of Donald Trump, how do you respond to that? And also, how do you sense, in terms of the African-American community, this is being received?
LESTER SPENCE: So, I think that what Brother Levin says is actually right. This is something that we should be really scared of, and we should actually be a lot more forceful in articulating it, about as forceful as we are on climate change. What this reflects is kind of a political climate change. With that said, it’s important to note that Ronald Reagan began his political—his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, or right outside of it. The only historical significance of Philadelphia, Mississippi, was that it was the home—it was the site of the brutal murder of civil rights workers. And he, at that announcement, argued strongly for states’ rights. So, while we can—
AMY GOODMAN: The killing of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman.
LESTER SPENCE: Yeah, that’s right. So, while we can say that Trump represents an outlier, he’s very well within the kind of the mainstream Republican Party, who’s had to be—who’s had to—in chasing the Republican or the conservative white rural voter, have become more and more and more extreme. Trump is just the outlier. We should be really, really deeply concerned. But he reflects just the general tendency. He’s not some crazy person—well, kind of crazy in that he’s talking about his penis on a debate, but, I mean, he’s not as extreme as we’re positing him to be, first.
Second, I think black voters, one of the reasons—a lot of people have been kind of questioning: Why are black voters supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders? There are a lot—there’s a lot of really, really interesting stuff going on there. Cedric Johnson hits this stuff in a really good Jacobin piece. But one of the things is—one of the things that could be driving some of the voters is, they’re seeing Trump, and they’re frightened. Right? And they kind of should be. And then the question is like, OK, which of these people can actually—actually has the best opportunity to take Trump out and to be kind of a sane governor? And they’re making a decision for Hillary Clinton. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Although some polls indicated that in a matchup, Bernie Sanders would be the one who would beat Donald Trump.
LESTER SPENCE: Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s absolutely right. But, you know, I’m willing to bet that they’re still—you know, separate from the polls, that’s the type of distinction they’re making.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to this clip, very interesting, Super Tuesday night CNN coverage. Analysts Van Jones and Jeffrey Lord, who is a Trump supporter, clashed over Donald Trump’s hedging around David Duke’s endorsement.
VAN JONES: He is whipping up and tapping into and pushing buttons that are very, very frightening to me and frightening to a lot of people. Number one, when he is playing funny with the Klan, that is not cool.
JEFFREY LORD: He didn’t play funny with the Klan.
VAN JONES: Hold on, hold on a second. I know this man when he gets passionate about terrorism. I know how he talks about terrorism. The Klan is a terrorist organization that has killed—
JEFFREY LORD: A leftist terrorist organization.
VAN JONES: You could put whatever label you want to on it. That’s your game to play.
JEFFREY LORD: No, it’s an important—it’s important history.
VAN JONES: But—no, that’s your game to play.
JEFFREY LORD: It’s history.
VAN JONES: No, they’re not labeled—we’re not going to play that game. Not going to play that game.
JEFFREY LORD: We are going to understand history.
VAN JONES: No, no, no, no. You need to take a serious look at the fact that this man has—is playing fast and loose and footsie. When you talk about terrorism, he gets passionate. He says, “No, this is wrong.” But when you talk about the Klan, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know.” That’s wrong. And then you came on the air, and you said, “Well, this is just like when Reverend Wright was speaking.”
JEFFREY LORD: Yeah, yeah.
VAN JONES: Reverend Wright never lynched anybody, Reverend Wright never killed anybody.
JEFFREY LORD: Reverend Wright is—Reverend Wright is an anti-Semite.
VAN JONES: Reverend Wright—no, hold on a second. Reverend Wright never put anybody on a post. And you guys play these word games, and it’s wrong to do in America.
JEFFREY LORD: It is wrong to—
VAN JONES: It is wrong to do.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Those were analysts Van Jones of CNN and also Jeffrey Lord, a Trump supporter, clashing over Donald Trump’s hedging on his support of the—of David Duke—or, of David Duke’s support of him. At last night’s debate, Donald Trump was also questioned about his clothing line.
CHRIS WALLACE: Specifically and quickly on the question: Will you promise that you will—and how soon will you—move your clothing collection, the clothes that are made in China and Mexico?
DONALD TRUMP: They devalue their currencies. I will do that. And by the way, I have been doing it more and more. But they devalue their currencies, in particular China. Mexico is doing a big number now also. Japan is unbelievable, what they’re doing. They devalue their currencies, and they make it impossible for clothing makers in this country to do clothing in this country. And if you look at what’s happened on 7th Avenue and you look at what’s happened in New York with the garment industry, so much of the clothing now comes out from Vietnam, China and other places. And it’s all because of devaluation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lester Spence, your reaction to this, especially since Trump has also been demonizing China and Mexico, as he says, eating our lunch all the time?
LESTER SPENCE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was flip-flopping so often, it was kind of funny. And actually, the one thing I can say about the news analysts, to give them credit, is they actually pushed him on a number of different points on his economic policy.
Going back to the—so I started talking about Detroit and Flint. Those are two large Democratic bodies with large black populations. Let’s say instead we don’t focus on Detroit. Let’s say we focus on metropolitan Detroiters. And if you look at the audience, I saw a couple of black faces, but I’m presuming most of the people in the audience were outside of Detroit, in the surrounding suburbs. They could have easily talked about labor, right? To the extent they talked about labor, a lot of those folk in the suburbs, they’re producing more and more, their wages are flatlining, right? Every time—to the extent they talked about policy, whether it’s foreign trade or the IRS stuff, all this stuff was like repeats of the 1980s, that we know don’t work. Right? How can you, with a straight face, say we should, on the one hand, abolish the IRS and then, secondarily, send a massive military presence into the Middle East? How can we actually do that and be sane?
This is the stuff—so when I say it was like pulling teeth watching the—and I had to do it, because you guys asked me. I’m only going to do that because you guys asked me. But it was like, what are we doing? So, when we talk about Trump as if he’s the outlier, what we have to do is be really, really hardline and say, “No, this is the tendency. This is what the Republican Party is.”