Today marks the three-month anniversary of the January 6th, 2021 storming of the Capitol, an act of domestic terrorism led by members from white nationalist groups.
This is exactly the kind of event that author Sara Kamali has spent the last decade researching for her new book, Homegrown Hate: Why White Nationalists and Militant Islamists Are Waging War against the United States. The book is the first to directly compare the histories, beliefs, and grievances of the groups behind today’s headlines, from QAnon to al-Qaʿida. Scholar and activist Sara Kamali asks who are the American citizens—White nationalists and militant Islamists—perpetrating acts of terrorism against their own country? What are their grievances and why do they hate? How can this transnational peril be effectively addressed?
Kamali examines these Americans’ self-described beliefs, grievances, and rationales for violence, and details their organizational structures within a transnational context. She presents compelling insight into the most pressing threat to homeland security not only in the United States, but in nations across the globe: citizens who are targeting their homeland according to their respective narratives of victimhood. She also provides the tools to counter this hate from within, offering hope in uncertain and divisive times. Innovative and engaging, this is an indispensable resource for all who cherish equity and justice in the United States and around the world.
To mark the book’s publication today, we connected with Kamali to discuss what motivated her to write the book, how white nationalism extends far beyond the single-day event of the capitol insurrection, and how we can counter this form of terrorism with a “holistic justice” framework.
Sara Kamali is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. She is a holistic justice activist and a scholar of systemic inequities, White nationalism, and militant Islamism. Her work examines how interlocking institutions of power oppress the many while maintaining systems of privilege for a select few.
What made you write Homegrown Hate? Have your goals or approach changed as White nationalism became more and more prominent in public discourse?
Ultimately, the pursuit of empathy. Not in terms of condoning hate, but in terms of understanding the context in which it develops.
One pivotal event was the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds. One of my earliest memories is the palpable unease and fear within the Muslim American community at the time because headlines initially pointed to an Arab American as the perpetrator. Even though many Arab Americans I knew were Christian or Jewish, they were often erroneously conflated with Muslim Americans. To blame innocent people without evidence caused me so much distress and anxiety, it’s something I can still recall through muscle memory today. Moreover, there was no apology to either the Arab American community or the Muslim American community, when Timothy McVeigh, a White Army veteran, was found to be culpable.
Terrorism then became a scholarly endeavour for me as an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews, where I was privileged to study with Professor Paul Wilkinson, CBE, the founder of terrorism studies. I was also fortunate to work at what was then the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, which led to my doctoral thesis on comparative violence in the name of religion.
Another pivotal event was the 2009 Department of Homeland Security report, and the furore it caused. The report upended the the post-9/11 US counterterrorism infrastructure, directly stating that “rightwing extremists,” particularly within the veteran population, were a national security threat to the United States. The report confirmed that the book I had just started comparing White nationalism and militant Islamism would be a worthwhile venture.
At this time, I was focusing solely on Christian Identity adherents, because they were the most prominent examples of White nationalism, and had the most accessible primary and secondary sources as well as already-published academic studies. However, as I explored all the different facets of what I would ultimately come to term White nationalism, I realized that the ecosystem is much more complex. This complexity is why it took me so long to write Homegrown Hate!
What role has Trump played in the long history of White nationalism?
As long as the United States has been a nation, there has been the idea that it must be a White nation. The underlying history of White nationalism in the United States does not begin nor end with the presidential administration of Donald Trump. His rhetoric, policies, and role in inciting White nationalist domestic terrorism – and moving it from extremism to the mainstream – must be understood within the parameters of this history.
So even though President Trump is quite often thought of as sparking White nationalism, what can be said is that he made what was disguised into a permissible form of expression. It is because of this bigotry by example that his presidency coincided with an exponential increase in White nationalist groups and rise in hate crimes to record numbers, even more than the numbers after President Barack Obama’s elections.
His administration – his own rhetoric and policies – made it acceptable to attack people based on what they look like, what they believe, where they come from, and their cultural heritage and practices.
So in other words, White nationalism “isn’t just about some White dudes who stormed the capitol on January 6th, 2021,” as I heard you put. Why does this phenomenon bring together people from such a wide variety of backgrounds and identities?
As different analyses of the January 6th attack concluded, White men of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographies involved in planting and perpetrating the attack. That was one day. A significant day, but a single day nonetheless.
What they share is the perception that they are the victims in a world conspiring against them to carry out a White genocide. The anxiety of losing power, cultural identity, and even simply being outnumbered by immigrants and people of color is destabilizing and also coalescing. There are also disparate entry points: the various religions that justify both melanin privilege and skin color oppression, divisive politics, social media, and the various regions of the Internet, including the Dark Web. Certainly, how information is exchanged has changed, but a sophisticated network of communication has always driven the proliferation of White nationalist ideas and the expansion of White nationalist organizations.
Also, it’s not just White men. What must also be recognized is the role of women both as objects of vilification and themselves perpetrators of subjugation.
One of the major threads in your book is that White nationalism does not solely arise out of racism, but out of interlocking oppressions compounded by racism. Can you say a little here about what that means in practice?
White nationalists want a White state. This desire is simultaneously based on the notions of White genocide and of White supremacy; namely, White biology, White culture, and even in some spaces, the divine creation of White people, is inherently better than any other skin color deemed to be non-White.
White nationalists do indeed regard people of color, particularly Black people, as subhuman and unworthy, again, biologically, culturally, and religiously, going so far as to state they are damned and mistakes by God. What is also known is White nationalists are misogynists, leveraging sexism and violence against women to legitimise their violence and consolidate their power. Moreover, many White nationalists are also antisemitic. Actually, British Israelism, the precursor to the Christian Identity movement and a prominent strand of twentieth-century White nationalism, is predicated upon the belief that Jewish people are the damned spawn of Satan and Eve instead of the blessed White progeny of Adam and Eve. White nationalists are also vociferously Islamophobic and Queerphobic.
These are not separate dimensions of hate. Individuals and groups leverage all of these expressions of hate to some degree to justify their political aim of a White state. What is clear is that racism—which is really oppression based on skin color—is the central axis through which all of these other types of oppressions interact and overlap. So, for example, being Muslim is viewed as vile; being a Black Muslim is even more abhorrent. Being a woman is tantamount to second-class citizenship. Being a Black woman is regarded as not even human. Trans women, for example, are the category receiving the most physical abuse by White nationalists within the category of Queerness and Black trans women even more so.
Thus looking at White nationalism as a White versus Black issue is short-sighted. Again, we must empathize – not sympathize or condone – but understand the full breadth and depth of what is the greatest domestic national security threat to the United States.
At the end of the book you argue for a shift in policy from “counterterrorism” to holistic justice. What is holistic justice and why is it so important for addressing these issues properly?
Holistic justice provides the framework to recognize and address the ways that people can be oppressed in multiple ways, as I described above. An effective counterterrorist policy must address these interlocking oppressions in as complex a fashion as the ideology of White nationalism. Holistic justice requires therefore we move beyond antiracism to anti-oppression in order to fully address the multifaceted threat of militant White nationalism. We must end the disproportionate vilification of Muslim Americans, which is central to the current counterterrorism paradigm, and other marginalized groups, like Black Lives Matter protesters and political activists of color, thereby demanding equity for all.