Support Intelligent, In-Depth, Trustworthy Journalism.
Leave your feedback
White nationalist groups are nothing new to the U.S. But in recent years, their numbers have grown, drawing whites who feel marginalized in today's America. The NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia visits a white separatist community in Indiana to understand why they’re supporting Donald Trump this election. Sensitivity Warning: This report contains graphic images and symbols that are widely considered to represent hate speech.
This report contains graphic images and symbols that are widely considered to represent hate speech.
The number of white nationalist groups has surged in the United States over the past couple of years. Experts say they have been energized by the divisive rhetoric of this year's presidential campaign.
The "NewsHour"'s P.J. Tobia met with the leaders of one group and produced this report.
And a warning:
Some may find the imagery and symbols in this story disturbing.
Late summer, in the hills of East Tennessee, a small group of white power activists hold a meeting. There's merchandise, music, and a rewriting of history.
Despite the mythology, Russian Jews were never oppressed in any way.
Later, the group goes to a nearby town for a rally, in the center of it all, Matthew Heimbach.
MATTHEW HEIMBACH, Traditionalist Worker Party:
Because a white homeland shall be our homeland.
Just 25 years old, the Southern Poverty Law Center has called Heimbach the face of a new generation of white nationalists.
In 2015, he founded the Traditionalist Worker Party. They're white separatists who want distinct homelands in the U.S. for whites and blacks. They want Jews out of the country entirely.
Are you guys racists?
The definition of racist is thrown around all the time in America, and it's used almost exclusively just to determine any white people that want to be able to advocate for their best interests.
But there were Nazis and all kinds of very strident anti-minority propaganda. Anyone with a Nazi symbol on them is going to be considered a racist, if not racially insensitive.
And so our movement is moving towards being a European-style nationalist movement. And I respect all my comrades from other organizations. They might take a little bit of a different presentation than we do. And you can see what direction our movement is moving in. And I'm happy to be a part of that.
This election season, Heimbach is supporting Donald Trump. In March, he was caught on tape shoving a young African-American woman as she was being escorted out of a Trump rally.
When he's not on the road preaching white nationalism, Heimbach lives here, the southern Indiana town of Paoli. Just steps from the town square, Heimbach moved his family to this two-acre plot. Matt Parrott, Heimbach's friend and co-founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, bought the land in a bank repossession.
A handful of Heimbach's other followers have joined them. Their plan? To build a community of like-minded separatists in this rural enclave.
From the Ku Klux Klan to skinheads, white power groups are nothing new in the United States. But, in recent years, their numbers have grown, drawing disaffected whites who say they feel increasingly marginalized in America 2016.
Heimbach sees overlap between Trump's message and white nationalist ideology.
He has shown us that the majority of everyday Americans support our sort of message. They're tired of globalism, they're tired of rampant capitalism, they're tired of Wall Street being put first, instead of Main Street.
At 34, Matt Parrott is one of the older members of Heimbach's group. He's lived in Paoli most of his life. He gave me a tour.
MATT PARROTT, Traditionalist Worker Party:
Everything's winding up and closing down. All through here, you see business for sale, business for sale. Up there, that business is also for sale.
When I was growing up, like, everybody's dad worked in a factory. You would have the dad working in a factory and you would have the stay-at-home mom. And now both mom and dad are working some crappy service job that doesn't pay benefits, oftentimes that's just part-time.
He blames this decline on global trade policies. Using a common anti-Semitic trope, he blames one group in particular.
The globalist trade and things like that are largely due to the global Jewish economic and banking interests.
Parrott says that all of this has fueled both white nationalism and support for Trump.
He taps into a deep sense of foreboding in white America.
Heimbach says this foreboding comes from new attitudes in America. Chief among his complaints? The increasing cultural currency of the Black Lives Matter movement and the notion of white privilege.
I would dare anyone to go into the hollers of West Virginia, or Kentucky, or the communities that have been destroyed by globalism around this country, where the communities have literally been torn apart, and look in the eyes of white working-class men, women and children, and tell them that they have any power in this system whatsoever.
CAROL ANDERSON, Emory University:
Economic anxieties play into it. I think I would say that it's more hyped than real.
Carol Anderson is a professor at Emory University and the author of "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide."
It is racism, pure, unabashed, unadulterated, as I say, USDA grade-A prime beef racism. Race is framing this discussion, even when it seems cloaked in language such as law and order or stop and frisk. That's race.
Race, combined with fear.
What we're seeing is a fear in America that this America is becoming vastly more multicultural, vastly more diverse. It leads to a question about, what will happen to the resources of this nation, as they have to become more equitably shared and distributed based on merit, and not skin color?
This is not just an American phenomenon. White nationalist groups have surged in Europe. Heimbach frequently meets with the leaders of European nationalist groups, like Greece's Golden Dawn and the National Democratic Party in Germany. They all want immigrants kept out of their countries.
You know what? Yes, make American great again, build a wall, kick these people out. This is my country. This all belongs to me.
Trump has earned the endorsement of a number of prominent racists. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke mentioned Trump in his announcement of a Senate run in Louisiana.
I'm overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I have championed for years.
In the run-up to the Iowa caucus, well-known white power writer Jared Taylor recorded this anti-Muslim immigrant robocall that went out to Iowa voters.
We don't need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.
Hard statistics on white nationalist groups are difficult to come by. But the Southern Poverty Law Center says the number of hate groups in the U.S. increased by 14 percent last year.
A recent report by the Anti-Defamation League said that anti-Semitic Twitter attacks on journalists spiked early this year. Words like Trump, nationalist and white appeared frequently in the bios of users publishing the tweets. White power Web site Stormfront sees a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in traffic when Trump makes news on immigration or Muslims, according to an interview with the site's owner.
Critics charge that Trump has been slow to reject the embrace of alt-right groups and racists, including David Duke's endorsement. They also say Trump has echoed the language used by groups like Heimbach's.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system. And our system is rigged. Anyone who challenges their control is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, and morally deformed.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Heimbach and his followers say Trump's rhetoric stops short of their ethnic ideology. Even if the candidate loses, they think this campaign has opened the door for what they hope will be a wider following.
It's about these ideas of nationalism, not globalism. That's what we're building towards. And Donald Trump is just introducing these ideas to a lot of new people. But we were here before, and we're going to be here after.
P.J. Tobia, "PBS NewsHour," in Southern Indiana.
Online, we explore concerns about racial bias in policing and a decade-old FBI warning about white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement. That's at PBS.org/NewsHour.
Watch the Full Episode
Support Provided By:
Support PBS NewsHour:
Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Additional Support Provided By: