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Demonstrators carry Confederate and Nazis flags during a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/E.Molli

White supremacy and neo-Nazis in the US

Nancy Isenson
August 16, 2017

The candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump have given right-wing extremist organizations a boost in the United States. Hundreds of hate groups are active in the country. DW takes a look.


Ku Klux Klan: The KKK was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by six former Confederate soldiers as a social club, but it rapidly evolved into a terrorist group that intimidated, attacked and killed blacks in the South during the post-Civil War era. It later disbanded after the federal government cracked down on it. The group was revived in 1915 and remained active into the mid-1920s, spreading across the US and adding other non-whites as well as Catholics and Jews to its list of targets. Today's KKK became a force again in the 1960s, taking many lives by bombing, beating and murdering black and white activists in reaction to the civil rights movement. Klan-related violence subsided in the 1970s. The KKK is made up of dozens, some say up to 130, small, independent chapters with an estimated 5,000 - 8,000 members. Heavy infighting has hampered concerted actions. Their main activity has been distributing white supremacist leaflets. Many of their leaders, including former KKK chief David Duke, backed Donald Trump's presidency.

A Klansman saultes during a rally in Pennsylvania in 2004
Klansmen are known for wearing white hoods to hide their identitiesImage: Getty Images

Neo-Nazis: Neo-Nazis take their inspiration from Adolf Hitler and the Nazi era and are especially fond of appropriating their symbols. Anti-Semitism defines them, though they hate other minorities too. The popular website Daily Stormer has branched out into physical chapters and was believed to have 30 by the end of last year. The site was forced to retreat to the dark web to stay online after it attacked a civil rights activist killed during the violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that it helped organize. The Nationalist Front, an umbrella organization for numerous groups, wants the establishment of a white "ethnostate" in the US and eradication of the Jews as well as other races. Its founder, the late William Pierce, has inspired dozens of domestic terror attacks with his book "The Turner Diaries." Internal fighting has meant a frequent waxing and waning of neo-Nazi groups.

Neo-Confederates: Also called southern nationalists, neo-Confederates look positively on the Confederacy, the 11 southern states that seceded from the US beginning in 1861 and fought against the North in the American Civil War. Their beliefs vary, but many want the South to again break away and form its own country. Some claim the war was about states' rights rather than slavery and use that argument to paper over racism within their ranks. Some of the groups see Christian identity as a unifying feature.

A monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia
Neo-Confederates think the South was right to secede from the US during the Civil WarImage: picture-alliance/AP/J. Rendleman

White supremacists and nationalists: The borders may be fluid as to who is a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a neo-Nazi or a neo-Confederate. Anyone who espouses the belief that other races or ethnic groups are inferior to whites is a white supremacist. Anyone who calls for special territorial and legal protection for whites is a white nationalist. Some American white nationalists make a point of avoiding neo-Nazi imagery, while their ideology is hard to distinguish from that of neo-Nazis. Richard Spencer, for example, who came up with the term "alternative-right" or "alt-right" to give racism a rebranding, runs the National Policy Institute, which tries to suggest that white nationalism has solid intellectual underpinnings. The American Freedom Party was started by racist skinheads who want to deport immigrants and establish rule by and for whites (which they say do not include Jews) in the US. They have fielded candidates in the past two presidential elections.

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