The Confusing Rhetoric of "White Supremacism"

I keep running into the following in books and articles I read about current affairs. An author writes about critics of a current social policy or tendency, and he characterizes the criticism as "white supremacist." There's something dishonest about the move that I can't quite put my finger on.


Can you help me figure it out?


It happened again this morning. I was finishing a brief new book on the work of the House Committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol. (If I don't agree to characterize it as an "attack" on the Capitol, does that make me a "white supremacist"?)


The author is a one-term congressmen, former Republican, intelligence analyst and former committee investigator, Denver Riggleman. The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation into January 6th is the title of the newly released volume. It is one of the first in what I expect to be a tidal wave of works on the committee's work. A report of some sort is likely to be published before the House changes partisan hands in early January 2023.


Riggleman describes himself as providing technical support to all the "teams" among the committee's investigators. He's an adept at the use of big data to track relationships. He writes, at one point, that "[t]he data indicates that white supremacist organizations and other extremist groups have been gaining a foothold in our military and law enforcement communities." The Breach, p. 85.


Later he writes, of a new congresswoman, Mary Miller of Illinois: "As she boasted of her commitment to 'Christ' and 'conservative values,' Miller went full Nazi." Id., p. 168. Huh? What is Riggleman doing? His is an extreme form of something, but what? How to explain it?


I'll have more to say about Riggleman's book later -- it does provide insight into the workings of the committee. I suspect he'll be an insider in Liz Cheney's campaign for the White House. She's been criticized for trying to focus the Committee's report on Donald Trump to the exclusion of other factors. Riggleman's work is an teaser for Cheney. He writes that someone in the White House was in contact with a "rioter's personal cell phone" as the events of January 6 unfolded. 


He doesn't name the rioter. I suspect he's left that gift for Liz to disclose. The White House contact? Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.


Riggleman's casual embrace of the "white supremacism" to lump together those critical of the left seems dishonest. And this business of calling a congresswoman a Nazi for talking about her Christian commitments is chilling in a neo-Orweliian way.


I've begun compiling a list of organizations that authors use to support their off-handed characterization of critics of the left as "white supremacists." They include the obvious candidates, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a series of entities like the George Washington Program on Extremism and the Network Contagion Institute. 


Is anyone aware of a study of these groups? What informs their ideological commitments? How has it become acceptable claim that race is a "social construct," unless you are using race or identity to advance your own interests, in which case "whiteness" is suddenly all too real and convenient demon?  And how is it that anyone calling all this out as nonsense is a "white supremacist"?


I'm aware of the obvious pop culture works of folks like Ibram Kendi or Robin DeAngelo. I'm less interested in that. Are there serious studies of this trend?


Send me a note about what you are reading and seeing.


I say its time to push back against this rising tide of hate speech.  I'm white. I despise identity politics. That doesn't make me a white supremacist. Trying to take advantage of your identity while marginalizing mine with a rhetorical trick isn't honest. 




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