B lood and Politics, Leonard Zeskind's history of the modern white-nationalist movement, took 15 years to write, but it couldn't have been published at a more relevant moment. This spring, at tax protests around the country, conservative groups feigned outrage when a leaked Department of Homeland Security memo claimed that right-wing nationalist movements would be a threat to the United States in the coming months. Many demonstrators at nationwide "tea party" protests on April 15 took offense, flashed signs proclaiming their new terrorist status, and announced that the DHS memo was the first step in a power-mad Democratic Party plot to silence Republicans. The tea-party angst turned out to be another Fox News manipulation: The memo mainly focused on white supremacists who, angered by the idea of an African-American man becoming president, would take extreme action against Americans out of sheer rage.
And of course those outraged Republicans didn't apologize when the DHS memo proved to accurately forecast the future. On June 10, 88-year-old white supremacist and Holocaust denier James von Brunn allegedly opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., killing an African-American security guard. Though not an act of terrorism on par with the Oklahoma City bombing, von Brunn's act strikes many experts as the kickoff event in what could be a long hot summer of white-supremacist and extreme-nationalist aggression.
Blood, a 645-page beast of a book, covers the white-nationalist movement from 1974, when it was at a particularly low ebb, to 2004, when the Republican Party had assimilated many white-nationalist talking points on hot-button issues like immigration and welfare. Like many important books, Blood isn't an easy read. In many ways, the white supremacists who Zeskind quotes believe in a sort of anti-God. They are obsessed with "the Jews" as an all-powerful force that controls the world. These Jews are imaginary despots who, like the evangelical God, are obsessed with the smallest detail of the lives of Aryan peoples. One supremacist maintained that abortion was a plot to rid the world of heterosexual Aryan babies: "Almost all abortion doctors are Jews. Abortion makes money for Jews. Almost all abortion nurses are lesbians. Abortion gives thrills to lesbians."
In 1984, a schism erupted in the movement when American Independent Party head William Shearer published a statement in a white-power newsletter that stated, "Both Jews and non-Jews can be found in the ranks of international bankers, pornographers, and usurious lenders, just as both Jews and non-Jews may be found among victimized borrowers, farmers, and crusaders for decency." This was too much for some to take: "A political party... will never remove our bondage, nor prevent our race's slaughter to gratify the blood lust of the eternal, destroying Jew," a dissenter wrote. Many nationalists have contrived a biblical mythology that involves God making imperfect nonwhite races out of mud as practice for the perfect Aryans, or imagines them as spawn created by Satan's rape of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Some are convinced that when the Bible mentions "Satan," that is code for "the Jew."
The only solution for most white nationalists is to create a separate white country. In the early 1980s, the movement relocated to Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to create the Northwest Republic, an all-white nation that would secede from the United States. Whidbey Island and Seattle, for a time, became hotbeds of nationalist terrorism—gunning down a prominent Jewish radio talk-show host and engaging in gun battles with FBI helicopters—which spread to nationwide assaults on Brinks trucks to fund massive real-estate land grabs. After the bombing in Oklahoma City, many still believed that terrorism, though "a nasty business," was a necessary "form of warfare" for that nationalist state, and even September 11 was a cause for celebration because it "lifted the lid on the 'Jewish Issue.'"
More shocking than the religion of white nationalism, though, are the very real connections between white supremacists and the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan, Zeskind wrote, "mastered the art of the racist innuendo," beckoning angry white voters who felt betrayed by the Democratic Party's push for civil rights into the GOP, where they remain to this day. David Duke taught conservatives to lace their speech with cues that would signal their true intent to racists—he lamented the "growing welfare underclass" and said that drug addiction was "worse than slavery." Pat Robertson would use Duke's vocabulary to nearly unseat incumbent President George H. W. Bush in the 1992 Republican primaries.
Blood is a sincere and disciplined history of a movement; though Zeskind obviously despises racism and anti-Semitism, he doesn't draw many conclusions. In a rare bit of analysis, he theorizes that the appearance of anti-Semites on a popular episode of Geraldo Rivera's talk show, in which a white supremacist broke Rivera's nose, did more to promote and recruit for the white-supremacist movement than almost anything in the last 30 years. And he suggests that as the memory of World War II fades to secondhand sources, white nationalism will no longer necessarily carry the stigma of Nazism for the public at large. If, as Homeland Security predicted, agitated white-nationalist activity does increase even more in the immediate future, Blood and Politics could provide a useful plan for extinguishing the flames to come.