LEONARD ZESKIND LITERALLY WROTE THE BOOK ON THE HISTORY OF THE WHITE NATIONALIST MOVEMENT
The Census Bureau has projected that white people will officially become a minority in a nation of minorities by the middle part of this century.
And according to Leonard Zeskind, that is the key factor behind the actions of white nationalists. As a result, he said they have flooded public discourse with opposition to immigration by people of color. They believe that affirmative action has caused white people to become the new “victims.” Talk of discrimination quickly turns to charges of reverse racism and special rights for minorities.
“I believe that your children and grandchildren will be fighting this fight,” said Zeskind. “And the objective conditions of that battle will depend on what we all do today.”
Zeskind has spent his career tracking the white nationalist movement. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream and is a founder of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, headquartered in Kansas City.
At the Presidential Summit, Zeskind will share insight from his lifetime of research on the white nationalist movement.
For his efforts, Zeskind’s been honored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” and over the years, he’s received numerous other awards including the NAACP “Legacy Award” from the Olathe, Kansas branch.
For Zeskind, it all began at the age of 17, when he became a human rights activist.
“I was an anti-racist activist and also against the Vietnam war,” Zeskind, 70, told the Journal during a recent interview. “That’s where my origin is.”
Zeskind also worked on the assembly line at a Chevrolet plant in Kansas City and later became a skilled welder. But his real passion was activism. He said he started paying attention to right-wing white supremacists around 1978, when they again began attacking civil rights activists in the South.
By the early 1980s, he helped found the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, he had his own printer and began publishing The Hammer: Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist News and Analysis. The grassroots publication caught the attention of the Center for Democratic Renewal. They hired him to be the director of research and he’s occasionally served as the acting executive director.
Whenever possible, Zeskind would monitor these hate groups firsthand, read their magazines, and talk to defecting members. He had done so much research, he had enough information to write a book.
“I had something to say and wanted to say it,” said Zeskind, who had contributed articles on the topic to publications across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Kansas City Star and Rolling Stone magazine.
Zeskind admitted writing the book was a challenge, since he didn’t have a college education, but he polished his skills over time. He also continued researching while writing, and finally his roughly 700-page book was published in 2009 after 15 years of hard work.
Zeskind explained that the white supremacist movement of the 1970s and the white nationalist movement since the 1990s have been built on the issue of “white dispossession.” He said its leadership consists of various professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and people with one or more university degrees. They are located in all parts of the country.
“The membership is cross-class, and like most white Americans, working class,” said Zeskind. “And it is everywhere … membership is concentrated, but in no discernible pattern. It is not all Southern working-class men who work in gas stations.”
According to Zeskind, in 1972 a man calling himself Wilmot Robertson published a 550-page book entitled The Dispossessed Majority that became one of the central texts of the white supremacist movement in the 1970s and 1980s when the movement was first forming.
In the 1990s, they began looking at the changing demographics around the time that the census started talking about when white people will become a minority in a nation of minorities.
That date is 2042, according to the preface of Zeskind’s book.
“Unfortunately, this false belief in white dispossession spread from the white nationalist movement to the larger population,” said Zeskind.
According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll from August 2017, 55% of non-Hispanic whites said that discrimination against their group existed today.
“That is compared to 92% of African Americans who more accurately believed they were discriminated against,” said Zeskind. “Sixty-one percent of those white believed it was individual discrimination they experience, rather than government policies. So they thought black- and brown-skinned people were discriminating against them. Philosophers used to call this ‘false consciousness.'”
Zeskind said the internet is not to blame for white nationalism. In the past, he said they had numerous publications. Now, he said the internet simply speeds up their message and provides another outlet to reach people.
He also said the movement is larger than any one politician or movement.
“Today they use the internet, pretty much in the same way progressive organizations do,” said Zeskind. “It is wrong to describe them as born or based on the Internet. This phenomenon was not born when Trump became president. And it certainly will not die when Trump leaves the presidency.”
Solutions need to start at the local level, Zeskind explained. When white nationalists infiltrate college campuses, he said anti-racists need to “speak out and not be quiet.” He said allowing them their First Amendment right to free speech does not mean the anti-racists should give up theirs.
“I think the major thing that has to happen is that people have to stand up in their own hometowns,” said Zeskind. “If we all stand up and oppose it, it will shrink. It will decline. We can beat it back. If we just let it sit there, then it grows.”