So called ‘White Nationalists’

By Al Harron

In the wake of the violence of Charlottesville, the term “white nationalists” has been prominent in US media.

The term has a very particular meaning and history in America, and through several organisations throughout the world.

The earliest use of the phrase I can find is referenced in an article on the Mirriam-Webster site published recently:

The white nationalists point out that the bulk of the nation will interpret the failure of the German delegation on these points as a return with empty hands.
—The Minneapolis Star (Minneapolis, MN), 14 Oct. 1925

Mirriam-Webster defines “white nationalism” as “one of a group of militant whites who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation”: white supremacist is defined as “a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” Mirriam-Webster also acknowledges that “white supremacist” predates “white nationalism” by several decades, with the earliest use of thee former term dated to the late 19th Century:

The White Supremacist….In the light of the election held last Tuesday “The Champion of White Supremacy” appears in rather bad shape.
—St. Landry Clarion (Opelousas, LA), 2 Apr. 1892

A very important thing to note is that “white nationalist” is the preferred term many of these groups adopt for their ideology, specifically distancing themselves from “white supremacist” on the slimmest of distinctions:

Daryl Johnson is the owner of DT Analytics, with DT standing for domestic terrorism. He is a security consultant and a former counterterrorism expert at the Department of Homeland Security.

Johnson was the primary author of a 2009 report about right-wing extremism that drew fierce outrage on the right.

White nationalism is a “new buzzword,” Johnson said, but the first time he saw the term was in “white supremacy literature.”

The far rightists used “white nationalism” to appear more credible and patriotic, Johnson said, and the term detracts from the stereotypes conjured by white supremacy.

But make no mistake, he argued, white nationalism is a euphemism. “They want to distance themselves from white supremacy,” he said.

Thus, white nationalism is the term favoured by many of these groups, as a much softer term than one with negative connotations, such as “white separatism,” or “white supremacy.” It is not a nationalism as the word is normally understood, for it does not posit the creation or perpetuation of a single “white nation”: there are no calls for the countries of North America, Europe, or Australia to become a single nation with a unified government, nor for citizens of those nations to list their nationality as “white” rather than “American” or “Australian.” The rhetoric about taking their country back, of removing foreigners from their country, of making their country great again – in every single instance, the white nationalist is speaking of a supranational movement operating within multiple, already existing, independent nations.

The BBC reports on the events also use the term to describe those present:

Charlottesville white nationalist marchers face backlash

Far-right white nationalists who attended rallies this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, did not cover their faces as they marched around with lit torches, chanting slogans like “you will not replace us”.

– BBC News, 14th August 2017

BBC USA correspondent Laura Bicker


Some objected to the use of the term, noting the historical use of the word “nationalist” in UK politics is entirely different from the United States. The defence was that “white nationalism” was the accepted term, and was clearly nothing to do with Scotland:

Oh don’t be so ridiculous. This is nothing to do with Scotland. Talk about parochial and paranoid!
James Cook

Yes, really. As in, ‘people who believe in the supremacy of the white nation.’ This is common parlance. It has *nothing to do with Scotland*
Jamie Maxwell

I would disagree on two points. For one, since the BBC is Scotland’s national broadcaster, how the BBC reports on any subject is, by definition, everything “to do with Scotland.” The broadcaster must take the terminology it uses in its broadcasts into account, and in Scotland, the word “nationalism” means something entirely different than the context in the United States. But the point I disagree far more on is that the term is “appropriate” or “common parlance” and that the BBC had a duty to reflect that:

BBC style is to prefer “white supremacist,” “Neo-Nazi” and KKK along with “white nationalists” as appropriate to describe these groups.
James Cook

This would all be fine, if the BBC was consistent in choosing which terms they felt were appropriate common parlance. That, however, is not the case.

Representatives of ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah refer to themselves, in English, as “The Islamic State” or a variation thereof. This is the “common parlance” as used by those who coined the phrase. However, the BBC do not refer to the organisation as “The Islamic State,” but as “The So-Called Islamic State,” following pressure from the UK Government, and particularly then-Prime Minister David Cameron:

No one listening to our reporting could be in any doubt what kind of organisation this is. We call the group by the name it uses itself, and regularly review our approach. We also use additional descriptions to help make it clear we are referring to the group as they refer to themselves, such as ‘so-called Islamic State’.
BBC statement, The Guardian, 29th June 2015

Other organisations use the term Daesh, the word favoured by opponents of the group in their homelands.

So the question becomes: why does the BBC choose to respect one accepted term which is endorsed by the group in question, but actively subverts the other through use of qualifiers? Why would they make such a bold stand against the legitimisation of one evil, yet not do the same for another? Would it take another hundred MPs to suggest that the BBC employ a bit of tact & sense in their terminology, as they seem to have done in the case of the “so-called Islamic State”?

Perhaps the BBC simply has less respect for Islamic extremism than it does for white nationalism, and affords the “so-called Islamic State” a uniquely resolute condemnation which even white supremacists escape. It could, alternatively, simply be lack of care: that since the United States media uses the term, the BBC uses it in kind, without thought of the role that same media plays in exacerbating the problem.

Or it could be because the BBC has had significant problems with what they call “white nationalism” in recent memory. Many have criticised the BBC for offering a disproportionately generous platform to such figures as Nick Griffin, Nigel Farage, Sebastian Gorka, & Marine le Pen, with Fox News’ Ann Coulter recently enjoying exposure on the UK’s public broadcaster to comment on the Charlottesville violence.

Just last year, the organisation was embroiled in scandal when it was revealed that an audience producer personally invited Boston EDL & South Leicestershire UKIP members to join Question Time audiences, in addition to having a history of sharing material from groups like Britain First on social media.

The BBC didn’t need to act consciously to associate the white supremacist movement with the Scottish Independence movement through use of the word “nationalism”: that already happens on a depressingly regular basis.

We’re well used to being compared with the worst evils in humanity’s history by virtue of a word with many meanings, a name for an ideology with many definitions, often to our very faces. But, by the same token, the BBC did not have to consciously choose to legitimise this cause by using groups’ own favoured euphemism – especially when the broadcaster did not dignify the “so-called Islamic State.” It is a sad irony that the BBC’s decision, one regularly criticised by far right media and commentators, was only made after complaints by the right-wing UK government.

The saddest irony of all this is that if the Scottish independence movement truly were comparable to the “so-called white nationalists” of Charlottesville, if we truly were composed of ethno-nationalist white supremacists who seek to demonise immigrants and minorities, then the evidence suggests that we would have as cosy a relationship with the BBC as the champions of Brexit and Trump do now.

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6 thoughts on “So called ‘White Nationalists’

  1. Scott Egner

    Had there been a death toll in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum I’m betting they elwould have linked in a convenient parallel. Of course none was made with brexit.

  2. John Martin

    BBC is an elletist supremist tory unionist nationalistic .Royalist bootlicker egoistic snobists.

  3. grizebard

    It must be very hard then for the BBC to describe the handful of shaven-headed Union-Jack-waving right-wing nutters who were in George Square to greet the large march of “nationalists” (various colours) that filed by for Independence earlier this summer.

    Oh wait, the broadcaster didn’t. No problem then.

  4. Pingback: Lost Histories | A Wilderness of Peace

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