At the beginning of the decade, the white supremacist movement looked like its time had passed. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election was met with right-wing protests in the form of the Tea Party and support for militia-style groups — not support for the old white supremacists. But, quietly, a new breed of racist and anti-Semitic politics started emerging: the alt-right.
By mid-decade, this new form — led by young intellectuals in three-piece suits — revived the moribund U.S. white supremacist movement by fusing it with an online culture of misogyny and trolling. Attaching themselves to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the alt-right’s popularity exploded.
The August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., was the largest fascist gathering in the United States since the German Bund’s 1939 rally in Madison Square Garden, and ended with a neo-Nazi murdering a counter-protestor. Public revulsion halted the movement’s growth.
But as its expansion cooled, the alt right split into moderate and militant factions, the latter of whom now openly promote terrorism. White supremacists have always been known for their spasms of violence. Just in the last decade, U.S. white supremacists killed six at a Sikh temple in 2012; three at two Jewish centers in 2014; and five at a historically black church in 2015.
Since then, alt-right violence exploded. Eighty-eight were killed in a series of six attacks in 2018 and 2019. The 2018 massacre of 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was the deadliest murder of Jews in U.S. history. A series of killers using similar approaches — posting an online manifesto and livestreaming the attack — targeted mosques in New Zealand and Norway; synagogues in Germany and California; and immigrants in Texas.
The decade ended with a revived white supremacist movement with several avenues for potential growth. There is continuing anxiety over the end of a white majority in the U.S., and “eco-fascists” (who accuse immigrants of destroying the environment) are expected to take advantage of the mounting environmental crisis. Always looking to flex their muscles in the streets, they may take advantage of the deep polarization surrounding Donald Trump’s impeachment and the bitter divides over immigration.
While the decade began with white supremacists in the doldrums, it ends with them rebranded and repositioned, and eager to take advantage of new opportunities.
Spencer Sunshine is a researcher, writer, activist, speaker and political consultant regarding far right movements.
More essays from The Decade In Review: 2010 – 2019 as well as snapshots from our editorial team on the last ten years in Jewish Journalism, including the key issues they covered locally and nationally.