Amidst a global health pandemic and cultural crisis, there is a seismic shift in the awareness of racial disparities and unprecedented action in the United States. Millions of people around the world are actively demonstrating to show support and solidarity. The ugliness and inhumane nature of bigotry and brutality is being revealed. It didn’t happen overnight and the entirety of historical events leading to this are too vast to be contained in a single writing. This is about the calculated coordination of connecting the implicit to the explicit. The covert to the overt. The dog whistle to the bull horn.
To begin, it’s helpful to remember Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy of deliberately using coded language to create racial animosity towards minorities. The different pieces implemented by the current administration can be identified. Several key areas include social media, public demonstrations, and, sadly, even official press conferences from the White House and Oval Office.
The problems date back even earlier than 1981, when Lee Atwater was brash enough to reveal those strategies. They began to form in 1968. On April 4th of that year, Martin Luther King was shot and killed, leading to widespread demonstrations and burning of cities throughout the year. These demonstrations and the dividing of the country by the Vietnam War lead to chaos at the Democratic Convention in Chicago with rioting in the streets. The Nixon campaign seized upon the opportunity by being the “Law and Order” party. Their strategy was to attract votes away from George Wallace (who was openly racist) and also gain support from the Dixiecrats, like Strom Thurman, who later defected to the Republican Party.
After the election, Nixon stuck to his “Law and Order” theme and his Vice President, Spiro Agnew, attacked the press calling them “Nattering Nabobs of Negativity” and appealing to the “Great Silent Majority”. The current occupant of the White House has recently been tweeting “Great Silent Majority” repeatedly, which is ironic for someone who didn’t get a majority of the votes.
“The parallels between 1968, my worst year so far, and 2020, soon becoming my worst year, are striking.” — Frank Ruddy
1968 marked a change in strategy to counter the Civil Rights movement by inciting shock, fear, and outrage amongst whites and portray whites as the victims of the movement. Atwater developed a refined strategy to further exploit racism without admitting to being racist.
A leap back to the 21st Century:
In 2006, the FBI warned of increasing numbers of white supremacists in law enforcement.
In 2008, the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president created a spike in hate crimes and harassment. As early as 2008, conservative politicians and media writers had begun the “birther conspiracy”. By 2011, Donald Trump and at least 16 other key conservative public figures, with no proof or evidence, had widely repeated skepticism about Obama’s birthplace and citizenship. The GOP’s own Colin Powell publicly expressed dismay at the xenophobia and racism embedded in this false narrative.
From 2008–2016, the first African-American President, Barack Obama, and his family were ridiculed and insulted on television, radio, and online, by politicians, news outlets, radio hosts, and opponents within the general public. While criticism about policy and party affiliation has always been part of politics, the number of attacks implicitly and explicitly related to the race, background, and ethnicity of the First Family are too many to list and not worthy of repeating.
In 2014, after multiple shootings and deaths of Black community members, as well as riots in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama created “Task Force for 21st Century Policing.” The members researched and gathered feedback from community members and law enforcement to create a final report which included 6 pillars for civilians and law enforcement, as well as recommendations for how each group could engage. Statistics showed that violence against law enforcement dropped to a historic all-time low. Despite those measurable numbers, many conservative politicians, often the same figures echoing the birther conspiracy, publicly spread the idea that there was a “war on cops” by the administration.
In 2016, amidst controversy and nation-wide tension, Donald Trump was elected president. Leading up to and following the election, there was a spike in hate crimes; the attackers (school children through adults, including elected officials) often invoked the words and name of Trump. Steve Bannon, a self-admitted white supremacist, utilized his firm Cambridge Analytica, to harvest and target racially and culturally biased postings and announcements through social media.
Along with numerous social media postings and rally speeches filled with derogatory and dehumanizing language, as well as active calls for violence, the Trump administration eliminated the law enforcement reform policies of the Obama administration and began to equip police forces around the country with military weapons and vehicles. Along with bolstering the tactical capabilities of law enforcement, the administration, with the help of Mitch McConnell, began filling and continues to fill as many court seats as possible with conservative judges who have lifetime appointments.
During Trump’s administration so far, there have been numerous incidents of violence at rallies and protests involving Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. In certain instances, including Charlottesville, VA, the confrontations have been symbolically racist (torches and nooses) as well deadly.
Many of the extremists have been recruited, organized, and motivated by online hate groups on forums such as Reddit and 4chan. In these forums, a wide variety of cartoons, memes, symbols (the OK hand sign used to symbolize “it’s okay to be White” and “White Power” has been showing up in photos with law enforcement and members of the military), slogans, and phrases (including MAGA) are used to thinly veil and sometimes outright promote white supremacy. In most cases, the intent begins with something that can be explained as innocuous or innocent (drinking milk) but is symbolically tied to an underlying message (lactose tolerance is a sign of superior genetics among Eurocentric people). It is a self-feeding cycle of “triggering” and gloating.
A major part of the Trump administration’s appeal and message to law enforcement has been seen as giving them the green light to inflict violent measures upon communities. In one specific incident, Bob Kroll shared the stage with Donald Trump to celebrate the arming and empowering of law enforcement to attack communities under the guise of “Law and Order”. Bob Kroll has known associations with white supremacy groups and a history of racist behavior while serving on the police force. He has also received demands to resign after falsely accusing George Floyd of having a “violent criminal background.” This has been a common tactic used to justify the murders of Black and Brown community members.
On May 25th, 2020, Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. During those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Floyd was recorded saying “I can’t breathe, everything hurts, please” as well as crying out for his already deceased mother.
The protests that followed have included street marches and a combination of protestors and outside agitators (often not residents of the city.). Some have used the protests to break windows, steal merchandise, attack law enforcement, who have themselves acted, and reacted, with lethal and brutal violence.
Donald Trump has repeatedly posted to social media to characterize people as “thugs” who deserve “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” to be used in “totally dominating” the streets of the cities in which protests and riots are happening.
He recently announced intentions to have “Antifa” (a slogan for anti-fascism with no actual existence as a specific group) labeled as a terrorist organization. He has not specifically described what “Antifa” is which calls into question the logistical practicality of such an announcement. However, it provides a name or phrase that can be repeated and used to point blame, despite any lack of evidence. In some cases, it is being used as a false moniker to sow greater chaos. With the “Antifa” label as a tool of broad sweeping accusation, Trump supporters, including elected lawmakers, Matt Gaetz and Tom Cotton have called for violence and murder.
Throughout all of this, Trump has made only modest and reluctant attempts to verbally criticize or disavow the dangerous violence and deadly actions from the variety of racist and bigoted groups who support him. He has, however, publicly praised the “keyboard warriors” as well retweeted videos and announcements from white supremacists, neo-nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. He has made no effort to disavow the use of the Confederate Flag at his rallies or to support his campaign.
In a recent announcement about the use of military force, he called for help from his “2nd amendment supporters.” In doing so, he combined the police forces he helped militarize, the armed forces which he commands, and the violent white supremacists, some of whom have called him their “God-Emperor.” They have proven they can storm a capital building armed with semi-automatic rifles and pistols. Not only did they not receive any retaliation, but they were publicly encouraged and praised by Trump, who has now deployed three layers of physical force and intimidation as well as an incessant, online barrage of threats, insults, and agitation sowed among his base.
***Update — June 7, 2020: Colin Powell and other GOP members have endorsed Joe Biden for president***
***Update — January 11, 2021: Last week, the US Capitol Building was invaded by Trump-supporting terrorists, some carrying Confederate flags, who placed pipe bombs at the headquarters of both political parties, shouted racial slurs at Black police officers, ransacked the offices of elected officials, hung a noose from self-built gallows while chanting “hang Mike Pence”, and murdered a Capitol police officer.***
MAGA is violent white supremacy and we are living it right now. It’s working because I don’t even want to leave the house. Writing is one of the only ways I can fight back without the risk of violence.
Sadly enough, my predictions, posted to FaceBook, after the election results in 2016 were as follows:
Nov 8, 2016:
“I was stunned, I was surprised, I yelled a little bit. But then…I stopped by the corner store on my way home and a brother working the night shift looked stunned. He shook my hand and said, “Be safe out there.” I went home and wept on my front porch. I was fine till I saw another face that looked like mine. Afraid and confused. Make no mistake, people chose sides tonight. People of color and women were told to learn their place and to stop complaining. People with disabilities now know that they can be openly mocked and treated with hostility. All those red hats look like brown shirts. We have heard, loud and clear, that your discomfort is more important than our decency. I wept. I am not a weak or disillusioned person. We are not exaggerating when we tell you that your entitled sense of normalcy and superiority is a delusion not too far removed from social, economic, and cultural apartheid. These are the last gasps of a changing nation.”