|United States Capitol (image by kmccoy via Wikimedia Commons)|
On April 16 media reported that a group of far-right House Republicans, including Qanon conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, were organizing the launch of an "America First Caucus". A seven-page manifesto, first made public by Punchbowl News, contains nationalist, white supremacist and nativist themes. The document states:
"America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions. History has shown that societal trust and political unity are threatened when foreign citizens are imported en-masse into a country, particularly without institutional support for assimilation and an expansive welfare state to bail them out should they fail to contribute positively to the country ... [T]he reality of large segments of our society as well as the long-term existential future of America as a unique country with a unique culture and a unique identity being put at unnecessary risk is something our leaders can afford to ignore no longer."
The document even claims that infrastructure and architecture should reflect the US' European heritage: "The America First Caucus will work towards an infrastructure that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture, whereby public infrastructure must be utilitarian as well as stunningly, classically beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom."
The "America First Caucus" manifesto is a blatantly racist, white supremacist and nativist text which reproduces old tropes used to justify American racial policies ranging from the Chinese Exclusion Act to Jim Crow laws.
The reference to the US' Anglo-Saxon heritage has a long tradition in the history of white supremacy. One episode in particular highlights the connection between the present-day white nationalist authoritarian insurrectionists and those who in 1898 overthrew by force the bi-racial government of the city of Wilmington, launched a vicious racist campaign against African-Americans and their white allies, and implemented laws to disenfranchise black voters.
In 1898 William A. Guthrie, the mayor of Durham, spoke at a rally at Greensboro attended by 8,000 white supremacists, including Furnifold Simmons and Charles Aycock. Guthrie declared:
"The Anglo-Saxon planted civilization on this continent and wherever this race has been in conflict with another race, it has asserted its supremacy and either conquered or exterminated the foe. This great race has carried the Bible in one hand and the sword [in the other]. Resist our march of progress and civilization and we will wipe you off the face of the earth.”
During the election campaign, the Red Shirts - the paramilitary forces of the white supremacists - terrorized blacks and their white allies across the eastern part of North Carolina. Governor Russell warned that the Red Shirts had broken up political meetings in Richmond and Halifax Counties, and he reported that “in other cases property had been actually destroyed and citizens fired on in ambush; that several citizens have been taken from their homes at night and whipped; that several citizens have been intimidated and terrorized by threats of violence to their persons and their property, until they were afraid to register themselves preparatory to … the casting of a free vote at the ballot box.”
|A group of Red Shirts as they pose at the polls at Old Hundred, Scotland County, North Carolina, on Election Day, 8 November 1898 (via Wikimedia Commons)|
Trough intimidation and the successful coup d'etat in Wilmington, the white supremacists gained control of government in North Carolina. Afterwards, they set out to implement a series of voter suppression laws to make sure that blacks and their allies were completely excluded from the political process, securing what Josephus Daniels called “permanent good government by the party of the White Man".
They installed George Rountree in the North Carolina state legislature. “The chief reason for my accepting the nomination in ’98 to the legislature,” Rountree later wrote, “was to see if I could do something to prevent a re-occurence of the 1898 political upheaval by affecting a change in the suffrage law.” In 1899 he served as chairman of the committee on constitutional reform that drafted and sponsored the infamous "Grandfather Clause".
The switch from manipulating the black vote to eliminating it altogether was made possible by the repeal in 1893/94 during the Cleveland administration of the Reconstruction-era federal election laws that enforced in the South the right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment. As soon as the federal government stopped supervising the implementation of voting rights, the South started to introduce barriers to voting which purged blacks and many poor whites from the electorate.
White supremacist southern Senator James Z. George justified voter suppression as the way to solve what he called "the great problem" of racial equality. "Our situation is without parallel in human history," he claimed, "for hitherto free government has succeeded nowhere, except among homogeneous peoples willing and capable of harmonious political co-operation."
Jim Crow laws passed in this era included the grandfather clause, literary tests and poll taxes. As an ABC News article explains:
"Poll taxes discouraged those who could not afford to pay from voting and were a prerequisite to register to vote in Jim Crow states. Poll taxes disproportionately affected Black voters ... [L]iteracy tests were also implemented to stop those who were uneducated from participating in the voting process. Literacy tests were administered at the discretion of those in charge of voter registration and often discriminated against African Americans. Literary tests asked civics questions such as 'In which document or writing is the Bill of Rights found?' or 'Name two of the purposes of the U.S. Constitution' as found in a 1965 Alabama literacy test. African Americans who took part in these test were descendants of slaves who were not allowed to read or write in several states due to anti-literacy laws. White men who could not pass the literacy tests were able to vote due to the 'Grandfather Clause' allowing them to participate in voting if their grandfathers voted by 1867."
In the North Carolina gubernatorial campaign of 1900, Charles Brantley Aycock made voter suppression laws a priority of his agenda. White supremacists once again radicalized white voters using racist themes like "Negro domination” and they threatened violent insurrection like in 1898 in Wilmington if they did not win.
There can be no doubt that the ideology of white supremacists, as well as their strategy of cheating, intimidation and violence, are still embraced today by a large number of Americans who do not care about universal rights of democracy as much as they care about preserving the supremacy of what they perceive as their "race", culture and identity.
Perman, M. (2010). Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South.
Prather, H.L.(2000). We Have Taken a City. A Centennial Essay. In: Cecelski, D.S. and Tyson, T.B. (eds.) (2000). Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy, chapter 1.
You may like
Rothstein, R. (2017). The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
Whitman, J. Q. (2017). Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law.
Zucchino, D. (2021). Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy.
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