Identity Politics Violence is Tearing America Apart
Americans can be one nation or many hostile tribes.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
Three years ago, a bloody summer of black nationalist violence claimed the lives of eight police officers with the massacre of five police officers by Micah X. Johnson in Dallas and the murder of three police officers in Baton Rogue by Gavin Long.
Johnson had declared his support for the Black Lives Matter racial nationalist group and told police that he wanted to kill white people, and especially white police officers.
In the fall, Marc LeQuon Payne tried to run over Phoenix police officers. Next spring, Kori Ali Muhammad went on a shooting spree in Fresno, murdering three white men.
Muhammad and Long were both part of the Moorish Science Temple black nationalist movement. Muhammad had posted Nation of Islam content which claims that "white devils" are subhuman. Long had admired the killing spree by Johnson. Payne had posted that, “the Caucasian needs to be slaughtered like the pigs that they are right along with the niggas who serve and protect them.”
Long wasn’t alone in viewing Johnson as a black nationalist hero.
A former Miss Alabama had described the racial nationalist killer as a “martyr”. Babu Omowale, a co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, said, "The fact that Micah just got five of the bastards, that's what got you all upset right now." Yafeuh Balogun, another co-founder of the black nationalist group named after the founder of the Black Panther Patyu, wrote, "He shall be celebrated one day."
While the white nationalist shooters of this year have been banished to 8chan, Johnson, Payne and Long were radicalized and posted their rantings on Facebook. The outpouring of support for their acts of violence also took place on Twitter and Facebook with no effort at censorship by the social media sites.
The alternating mass shootings by white nationalists and black nationalists predated Trump. They’re part of a cycle of violence going back decades if not generations. The cycle of violence had largely died down until it was triggered by the resurgence of identity politics in the Obama administration.
The rise of a new age of identity politics was not a response to injustice, but a cynical political strategy.
Facing a more challenging political landscape after his original victory, Obama pivoted from universal appeals to racial nationalist rhetoric. “Punish your enemies,” he urged Latinos. Joe Biden told black people that Republicans would "put y'all back in chains." The racial nationalism became more strident as the political position of the Democrats weakened. Race riots were stirred up from Ferguson to Baltimore. The violence spiraled into mass shootings of police officers and white people.
Violence was only the most explosive symptom of a deeper racial polarization. White nationalist hate groups, long considered a joke, experienced their biggest revival in decades. Black Lives Matter protests convulsed major cities. Christian churches were vandalized with graffiti reading, “Negroes Are the Israelites,” while two synagogue shootings and a rash of swastika graffiti exploded into the news.
The hate group revival was tapping into polarized racial attitudes. Their growth was not an outlier, but an expression of the deeper sickness of identity politics. Polls showed that perceptions of race relations on both sides had cratered. Politics had become driven by naked appeals to racial interests. America had become a fractured country whose inhabitants identified as members of warring tribes.
The identity politics fracturing of the country was motivated by the political roadmap of the Democrats.
Trump had performed better with black voters than Mitt Romney, but black voters had become a larger share of the Democrat base, and the Democrats relied largely on racial appeals to mobilize their votes. These appeals highlighted a classic racial nationalist message that that pitted blacks and whites against each other with black people depicted as being the enslaved and oppressed victims of white people.
Such messages only deepened the racial polarization on both sides. And the political racial polarization limited the options of the Democrats who had become inescapably dependent on the black vote, yet knew no other way to speak to black voters except through conspiracy theories of racial victimhood.
The Democrats feared losing the black vote and the only way they knew how to keep it was by doubling down on the racial polarization that had divided the country and hollowed out their political party.
Conspiratorial messages of racial victimhood were meant to stem the defection of black voters and increase turnout by spreading racial paranoia and hostility toward white people and Republicans.
By 2014, what had been a cynical and divisive political strategy became a killing field as violence exploded in major cities, initially by mobs, and then through acts of racial nationalist terrorism.
The gunmen spreading terror and death are the manifestation of the identity politics strategy.
Racial violence is a deliberate effort to polarize the country by sowing racial hatred. The gunmen in their manifestos often speak of a desire to radicalize and divide the country along racial lines. The objective of the killers attacking churches, shopping centers and public streets is another brand of identity politics.
White and black racial terror plays into stereotypes and hostilities on both sides. Beyond inspiring a small group of potential imitators, the shooters also reinforce the racial nationalism of the other side. They play into the identity politics conviction that beneath the surface, a racial civil war is underway.
Identity politics was born out of an effort by leftist activists to identify and mobilize potential supporters by breaking down a sense of national solidarity along the lines of group victimhood. Every act of terror breaks down national solidarity further and strengthens the appeals to race over nationality.
Lessons about tolerance, white privilege and racial consciousness don’t end racism. They spread it.
What inhibits racism isn’t leftist politics, it’s nationalism. We are less likely to view each other as the enemy if we are all on the same team. When nationalism declines, then tribes arise. Identity politics is the politics of tribalism. Its group nationalisms are not positive affirmations of a common strength, but negative identifications of a common enemy without and a common weakness within the victim group.
And it’s only natural for warring tribes, taught that they are the victims of oppression, to turn violent.
Nations make war on rival nations. When a nation fractures into rival nations warring with each other, acts of racial terror become commonplace. That is what is happening to the United States of America.
The only way to stop racism is by rebuilding our common purpose as a nation.
Without nationalism, different groups will find their own purpose through a lens of group identity. These identities will be innately hostile to each other and to the country they were formerly part of. They will reject its founding principles for failing to serve the interests of their tribes and they will destroy them.
Democrats and their media eagerly denounce these behaviors when they manifest in white nationalism, while upholding them when they appear in black nationalism. And that’s the problem. The politics of racial nationalism are either good or bad. They can’t however be good for one race and bad for another.
When you divide a country along racial lines, the divide will cut along both sides, not just your side.
The resurgence of racial nationalist violence won’t end until we affirm the centrality of the nation over the identity politics that has fractured our political and cultural life. Until we get rid of identity politics, racial nationalist violence will continue tearing apart communities across a divided United States.