Why I left white nationalism

I could easily have spent the night of Nov 8 elated, thinking: "We did it. We rejected a multicultural and globalist society. We defied the elites, rejected political correctness, and made a statement millions of Americans have wanted to shout for decades." I'd be planning with other white nationalists what comes next, and assessing just how much influence our ideology would have on this administration. That's who I was a few years ago. Things look very different for me now.

I was born into a prominent white nationalist family - David Duke is my godfather, and my dad started Stormfront, the first major white nationalist website - and I was once considered the movement's bright future. In 2008, at age 19, I won a Palm Beach County Republican committee seat. I looked at my white friends and family who felt dispossessed, at the untapped political support for anyone - even a kid like me - who wasn't afraid to talk about threats to our people from outsiders, and I knew not only that white nationalism was right, but that it could win.

Several years ago, I began attending a liberal college where my presence prompted huge controversy. Through many talks with devoted and diverse people there - people who chose to invite me into their dorms and conversations rather than ostracise me - I began to realise the damage I had done. Ever since, I have been trying to make up for it. For a while after I left the white nationalist movement, I thought my upbringing made me exaggerate the likelihood of a larger political reaction to demographic change. Then Mr Trump gave his Mexican "rapists" speech and I spent the rest of the election wondering how much my movement had set the stage for his. Now I see the anger I was raised with rocking the nation.

People have approached me looking for a way to change the minds of Trump voters, but I can't offer any magic technique. That kind of persuasion happens in person-to-person interactions and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides. Much has been made of the incoherence of Mr Trump's proposals, but what really matters is who does - and doesn't - need to fear them. None of the ideas that Mr Trump has put forward would endanger me, and I once enthusiastically advocated for most of what he says. When the most powerful demographic in the US came together to assert that making America great again meant asserting their supremacy, they were asserting my supremacy.

The wave of violence and vile language that has risen since the election is only one immediate piece of evidence that this campaign's reckless assertion of white identity comes at a huge cost. More and more people are being forced to recognise now what I learnt early: Our country is susceptible to some of our worst instincts when the message is packaged correctly. No checks and balances can redeem what we've unleashed. The reality is that half of the voters chose white supremacy, though saying that makes me a hypocrite. I was a much more extreme partisan than a vast majority of Trump voters and I never would have recognised that label. The motivations that led to this choice are more complex. I have no doubt many of his supporters voted thinking he'd soften his rhetoric, that his words didn't really matter. The words were not disqualifying for them because they don't see, or refuse to see, what the message of hate will reap.

Most of the Trump supporters did not intend to attack our most vulnerable citizens. But with him in office, we have a duty to protect those who are threatened by this administration and to win over those who don't recognise the impact of their vote. Even those on the furthest extreme of the white nationalist spectrum don't recognise themselves doing harm - I know that because it was easy for me, too, to deny it. That is the opening for those of us who disagree with Mr Trump. It's now our job to argue constantly that what voters did in elevating this man to the White House constitutes the greatest assault on our own people in a generation, and to offer another option. There are millions who don't understand why anyone might worry about the effects of this election. They see it as "feelings" versus their own real concerns. Those of us on the other side need to be clear that Mr Trump's callous disregard for people outside his demographic is intolerable, and will be destructive to the entire nation.

If I had not changed, I would have been more certain than ever that anxiety from a shrinking white majority would result in the election of more people who tap into this simple narrative. Now I'm convinced this doesn't have to be our destiny. Mr Trump's win must make all Americans acknowledge that the choice of embracing or rejecting multiculturalism is not abstract. I know this better than most, because I've followed both paths. It is the choice of embracing or rejecting our own people.

NYTIMES


  • The writer is a graduate student in history, focusing on early Middle Ages.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Why I left white nationalism'. Print Edition | Subscribe