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 		 [The concept of “white genocide” has an American past in need
of excavation. Without such an effort, we may fail to appreciate the
tenacity of the dogma it expresses, and the difficulty of eradicating
it.] [https://portside.org/] 

 WHITE NATIONALISM’S DEEP AMERICAN ROOTS  
[https://portside.org/node/19590] 

 

 Adam Serwer 
 March 13, 2019
The Atlantic
[https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/adam-serwer-madison-grant-white-nationalism/583258/]


	*
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	* [https://portside.org/node/19590/printable/print]

 _ The concept of “white genocide” has an American past in need of
excavation. Without such an effort, we may fail to appreciate the
tenacity of the dogma it expresses, and the difficulty of eradicating
it. _ 

 , Edel Rodriguez 

 

Robert Bowers wanted everyone to know why he did it.

“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/robert-bowers-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooter.html],”
he posted on the social-media network Gab shortly before allegedly
entering the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27 and
gunning down 11 worshippers. He “wanted all Jews to die,” he
declared while he was being treated for his wounds. Invoking the
specter of white Americans facing “genocide,” he singled out HIAS,
a Jewish American refugee-support group, and accused it of bringing
“invaders in that kill our people.” Then–Attorney General Jeff
Sessions, announcing that Bowers would face federal charges,
was unequivocal in his condemnation
[https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/pennsylvania-man-charged-federal-hate-crimes-tree-life-synagogue-shooting]:
“These alleged crimes are incomprehensibly evil and utterly
repugnant to the values of this nation.”

The pogrom in Pittsburgh, occurring just days before the 80th
anniversary of Kristallnacht
[https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-long-shadow-of-kristallnacht-hangs-over-the-pittsburgh-shootings],
seemed fundamentally un-American to many. Sessions’s denunciation
spoke to the reality that most Jews have found a welcome home in the
United States. His message also echoed what has become an insistent
refrain in the Donald Trump era. Americans want to believe that the
surge in white-supremacist violence and recruitment—the march in
Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not
replace us”; the hate crimes whose perpetrators invoke the
president’s name as a battle cry—has no roots in U.S. soil, that
it is racist zealotry with a foreign pedigree and marginal allure.

The president’s rhetoric about “shithole countries” invites
dismissal as crude talk, but behind it lie ideas whose power should
not be underestimated.

Warnings from conservative pundits on Fox News about the existential
threat facing a country overrun by immigrants meet with a similar
response. “Massive demographic changes,” Laura Ingraham has
proclaimed
[https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/08/laura-ingraham-white-nationalist-rhetoric],
mean that “the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore”
in much of the country: Surely this kind of rhetoric reflects mere
ignorance. Or it’s just a symptom of partisan anxiety about what
those changes may portend for Republicans’ electoral prospects. As
for the views and utterances of someone like Congressman Steve King
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/steve-king-nearer-the-throne/519336/] (“We
can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies”),
such sentiments are treated as outlandish extremism, best ignored as
much as possible.

The concept of “white genocide”—extinction under an onslaught of
genetically or culturally inferior nonwhite interlopers—may indeed
seem like a fringe conspiracy theory with an alien lineage, the
province of neo-Nazis and their fellow travelers. In popular memory,
it’s a vestige of a racist ideology that the Greatest Generation did
its best to scour from the Earth. History, though, tells a different
story. King’s recent question, posed in a _New York
Times_ interview
[https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/us/politics/steve-king-trump-immigration-wall.html],
may be appalling: “_White nationalist_, _white
supremacist_, _Western civilization_—how did that language become
offensive?” But it is apt. “That language” has an American past
in need of excavation. Without such an effort, we may fail to
appreciate the tenacity of the dogma it expresses, and the difficulty
of eradicating it. The president’s rhetoric about “shithole
countries” and “invasion” by immigrants invites dismissal as
crude talk, but behind it lie ideas whose power should not be
underestimated.

The seed of Nazism’s ultimate objective—the preservation of a pure
white race, uncontaminated by foreign blood—was in fact sown with
striking success in the United States. What is judged extremist today
was once the consensus of a powerful cadre of the American elite,
well-connected men who eagerly seized on a false doctrine of “race
suicide” during the immigration scare of the early 20th century.
They included wealthy patricians, intellectuals, lawmakers, even
several presidents. Perhaps the most important among them was a blue
blood with a very impressive mustache, Madison Grant. He was the
author of a 1916 book called _The Passing of the Great Race_, which
spread the doctrine of race purity all over the globe.

Grant’s purportedly scientific argument that the exalted
“Nordic” race that had founded America was in peril, and all of
modern society’s accomplishments along with it, helped catalyze
nativist legislators in Congress to pass comprehensive restrictionist
immigration policies in the early 1920s. His book went on to become
Adolf Hitler’s “bible,” as the führer wrote to tell him.
Grant’s doctrine has since been rejuvenated and rebranded by his
ideological descendants as “white genocide” (the
term _genocide_ hadn’t yet been coined in Grant’s day). In an
introduction to the 2013 edition of another of Grant’s works, the
white nationalist Richard Spencer warns that “one possible outcome
of the ongoing demographic transformation is a thoroughly
miscegenated, and thus homogeneous and ‘assimilated,’ nation,
which would have little resemblance to the White America that came
before it.” This language is vintage Grant.

Most Americans, however, quickly forgot who Grant was—but not
because the country had grappled with his vision’s dangerous appeal
and implications. Reflexive recoil was more like it: When Nazism
reflected back that vision in grotesque form, wartime denial set in.
Jonathan Peter Spiro, a historian and the author of _Defending the
Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison
Grant _(2009), described the backlash to me this way: “Even though
the Germans had been directly influenced by Madison Grant and the
American eugenics movement, when we fought Germany, because Germany
was racist, racism became unacceptable in America. Our enemy was
racist; therefore we adopted antiracism as our creed.” Ever since, a
strange kind of historical amnesia has obscured the American lineage
of this white-nationalist ideology.

Madison Grant came from old money. Born in Manhattan seven months
after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, he
attended Yale and then Columbia Law School. He was an outdoorsman and
a conservationist, knowledgeable about wildlife and interested in the
dangers of extinction, expertise that he soon became intent on
applying to humanity. When he opened a law practice on Wall Street in
the early 1890s, the wave of immigration from southern and eastern
Europe was nearing its height. “As he was jostled by Greek
ragpickers, Armenian bootblacks, and Jewish carp vendors, it was
distressingly obvious to him that the new arrivals did not know this
nation’s history or understand its republican form of government,”
Spiro writes in his biography.

Jews troubled Grant the most. “The man of the old stock,” he later
wrote in _The Passing of the Great Race_, is being “driven off the
streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews.” But as the
title of his 1916 work indicated, Grant’s fear of dispossession ran
wide and deep:

These immigrants adopt the language of the native American, they wear
his clothes, they steal his name, and they are beginning to take his
women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals and
while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks
calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are
exterminating his own race.

Grant was not the first proponent of “race science.” In 1853,
across the Atlantic, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, a French count, first
identified the “Aryan” race as “great, noble, and fruitful in
the works of man on this earth.” Half a century later, as the
eugenics movement gathered force in the U.S., “experts” began
dividing white people into distinct races. In 1899, William Z. Ripley,
an economist, concluded that Europeans consisted of “three races”:
the brave, beautiful, blond “Teutons”; the stocky “Alpines”;
and the swarthy “Mediterraneans.” Another leading academic
contributor to race science in turn-of-the-century America was a
statistician named Francis Walker, who argued in _The Atlantic_
[https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1896/06/restriction-of-immigration/306011/] that
the new immigrants lacked the pioneer spirit of their predecessors;
they were made up of “beaten men from beaten races,” whose
offspring were crowding out the fine “native” stock of white
people. In 1901 the sociologist Edward A. Ross, who similarly
described the new immigrants as “masses of fecund but beaten
humanity from the hovels of far Lombardy and Galicia,” coined the
term _race suicide_.

Grant blended Nordic boosterism with fearmongering, and supplied a
scholarly veneer for notions many white citizens already wanted to
believe.

But it was Grant who synthesized these separate strands of thought
into one pseudo-scholarly work that changed the course of the
nation’s history. In a nod to wartime politics, he referred to
Ripley’s “Teutons” as “Nordics,” thereby denying America’s
hated World War I rivals exclusive claim to descent from the world’s
master race. He singled out Jews as a source of anxiety
disproportionate to their numbers, subscribing to a belief that has
proved durable. The historian Nell Irvin Painter sums up the race
chauvinists’ view
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDZUBX_nY_0] in _The History of
White People _(2010): “Jews manipulate the ignorant working
masses—whether Alpine, Under-Man, or colored.” In _The Passing of
the Great Race_, the eugenic focus on winnowing out unfit individuals
made way for a more sweeping crusade to defend against contagion by
inferior races. By Grant’s logic, infection meant obliteration:

The cross between a white man and an Indian is an Indian; the cross
between a white man and a Negro is a Negro; the cross between a white
man and a Hindu is a Hindu; and the cross between any of the three
European races and a Jew is a Jew.

What Grant’s work lacked in scientific rigor, it made up for in
canny packaging. He blended Nordic boosterism with fearmongering, and
supplied a scholarly veneer for notions many white citizens already
wanted to believe. Americans’ gauzy idealism blinded them, he
argued, to the reality that newcomers from the Mediterranean and
eastern Europe—to say nothing of anyone from Asia or Africa—could
never hope to possess the genetic potential innate in the nation’s
original Nordic inhabitants, which was the source of the nation’s
greatness. Grant gleefully challenged foundational ideas:

We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have
controlled our social development during the past century and the
maudlin sentimentalism that has made America “an asylum for the
oppressed,” are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the
Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control and we continue to
follow our national motto and deliberately blind ourselves to all
“distinctions of race, creed or color,” the type of native
American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of
the age of Pericles, and the Viking of the days of Rollo.

His thesis found eager converts among the American elite, thanks in no
small part to his extensive social connections._ The New York
Times_ and _The Nation _were among the many media outlets that
echoed Grant’s reasoning. Teddy Roosevelt, by then out of office,
told Grant in 1916 that his book showed “fine fearlessness in
assailing the popular and mischievous sentimentalities and attractive
and corroding falsehoods which few men dare assail.” In a major
speech in Alabama in 1921, President Warren Harding
[https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1921/10/27/98760670.pdf] publicly
praised one of Grant’s disciples, Lothrop Stoddard, whose book _The
Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy _offered similar
warnings about the destruction of white society by invading dusky
hordes. There is “a fundamental, eternal, inescapable difference”
between the races, Harding told his audience. “Racial amalgamation
there cannot be.”

Harding’s vice president and successor, Calvin Coolidge, found
Grant’s thesis equally compelling. “There are racial
considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental
reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will
not mix or blend,” Coolidge wrote in a 1921 article in _Good
Housekeeping_
[http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=hearth;rgn=full%20text;idno=6417403_1366_002;view=image;seq=15].

The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the
outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body
suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a
nation as immigration law.

Endorsing Grant’s idea that true Americans are of Nordic stock,
Coolidge also took up his idea that intermarriage between whites of
different “races,” not just between whites and nonwhites, degrades
that stock.

Perhaps the most important of Grant’s elite admirers were to be
found among members of Congress. Reconstruction struggles; U.S.
expansion in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii; high levels of
immigration—each had raised the specter of white people losing
political power and influence to nonwhite people, or to the wrong kind
of white people. On Capitol Hill debate raged, yet Republicans and
Democrats were converging on the idea that America was a white man’s
country, and must stay that way. The influx of foreigners diluted the
nation with inferiors unfit for self-government, many politicians in
both parties energetically concurred. The Supreme Court chimed in with
decisions in a series of cases, beginning in 1901, that assigned the
status of “nationals” rather than “citizens” to colonial
newcomers.

A popular myth of American history is that racism is the exclusive
province of the South. The truth is that much of the nativist energy
in the U.S. came from old-money elites in the Northeast, and was also
fueled by labor struggles in the Pacific Northwest, which had stirred
a wave of bigotry that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Grant
found a congressional ally and champion in Albert Johnson, a
Republican representative from Washington. A nativist and union
buster, he contacted Grant after reading _The Passing of the Great
Race_. The duo embarked on an ambitious restrictionist agenda.

As the eugenics movement gathered force in the U.S., “experts”
began dividing white people into distinct races.

In 1917, overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, Congress passed
a law that banned immigration not just from Asian but also from Middle
Eastern countries and imposed a literacy test on new immigrants. When
the Republicans took control of the House in 1919, Johnson became
chair of the committee on immigration, “thanks to some shrewd
lobbying by the Immigration Restriction League,” Spiro writes. Grant
introduced him to a preeminent eugenicist named Harry Laughlin, whom
Johnson named the committee’s “expert eugenics agent.” His
appointment helped ensure that Grantian concerns about “race
suicide” would be a driving force in a quest that culminated, half a
decade later, in the Immigration Act of 1924.

Johnson found a patrician ally in Senator David Reed of Pennsylvania,
who sponsored the 1924 bill in the Senate. A Princeton-educated
lawyer, he feared that America was going the way of Rome, where the
“inpouring of captives and alien slaves” had caused the empire to
sink “into an impotency which made her the prey of every barbarian
invader.” This was almost verbatim Grant, whose portrait of Rome’s
fall culminated in the lowly immigrants “gradually occupying the
country and literally breeding out their former masters.” (His
plotline helped him preserve the notion that fair-haired and -skinned
people are responsible for all the world’s great achievements:
Rome’s original inhabitants were Nordic, but contemporary Italians
were descendants of Roman slave races and therefore inferior.)

Grant’s slippery pseudoscience also met with significant resistance.
The anthropologist Franz Boas, himself of German Jewish descent, led
the way in poking holes in Grantian notions of Nordic
superiority, writing in _The New Republic _in 1917
[https://www.unz.com/print/NewRepublic-1917jan13-00305/] that “the
supposed scientific data on which the author’s conclusions are based
are dogmatic assumptions which cannot endure criticism.” Meanwhile,
the Supreme Court was struggling mightily to define whiteness in a
consistent fashion, an endeavor complicated by the empirical
flimsiness of race science. In one case after another, the high court
faced the task of essentially tailoring its definition to exclude
those whom white elites considered unworthy of full citizenship.

In 1923, when an Indian veteran named Bhagat Singh Thind—who had
fought for the U.S. in World War I—came before the justices with the
claim of being Caucasian in the scientific sense of the term, and
therefore entitled to the privileges of whiteness, they threw up their
hands. In a unanimous ruling against Thind (who was ultimately made a
citizen in 1936), Justice George Sutherland wrote:

What we now hold is that the words “free white persons” are words
of common speech to be interpreted in accordance with the
understanding of the common man, synonymous with the word
“Caucasian” only as that word is popularly understood.

The justices had unwittingly acknowledged a consistent truth about
racism, which is that race is whatever those in power say it is.

As the Immigration Act of 1924 neared passage, some in the
restrictionist camp played up Grant’s signature Nordic theme more
stridently than others. Addison Smith, a Republican congressman from
Idaho, proudly invoked the Scandinavian, English, Irish, and other
northern-European immigrants of his district, highlighting that among
them were no “ ‘slackers’ of the type to be found in the
cities of the East. We have ample room, but no space for such
parasites.” Johnson was prepared to be coy in the face of opposition
from other legislators—mostly those from districts with large
numbers of non-northern European immigrants—who railed against the
Nordic-race doctrine. “The fact that it is camouflaged in a maze of
statistics,” protested Representative Meyer Jacobstein, a Democrat
from New York, “will not protect this Nation from the evil
consequences of such an unscientific, un-American, and wicked
philosophy.”

“A fundamental, eternal, inescapable difference” exists between
the races, President Harding publicly declared. “Racial amalgamation
there cannot be.”

On the House floor in April 1924, Johnson cagily—but only
temporarily—distanced himself from Grant. “As regards the charge
… that this committee has started out deliberately to establish a
blond race … let me say that such a charge is all in your eye. Your
committee is not the author of any of these books on the so-called
Nordic race,” he declared. “I insist, my friends, there is neither
malice nor hatred in this bill.”

Once passage of the act was assured, however, motives no longer needed
disguising. Grant felt his life’s work had come to fruition and,
according to Spiro, he concluded, “We have closed the doors just in
time to prevent our Nordic population being overrun by the lower
races.” Senator Reed announced in a_ New York Times_ op-ed
[https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/04/27/101592734.pdf],
“The racial composition of America at the present time thus is made
permanent.” Three years later, in 1927, Johnson held forth in dire
but confident tones in a foreword to a book about immigration
restriction
[https://archive.org/stream/immigrationrestr00gari/immigrationrestr00gari_djvu.txt].
“Our capacity to maintain our cherished institutions stands diluted
by a stream of alien blood, with all its inherited misconceptions
respecting the relationships of the governing power to the
governed,” he warned. “The United States is our land … We intend
to maintain it so. The day of unalloyed welcome to all peoples, the
day of indiscriminate acceptance of all races, has definitely
ended.”

“It was America that taught us a nation should not open its doors
equally to all nations,” Adolf Hitler told _The New York
Times _half a decade later, just one year before his elevation to
chancellor in January 1933. Elsewhere he admiringly noted that the
U.S. “simply excludes the immigration of certain races. In these
respects America already pays obeisance, at least in tentative first
steps, to the characteristic völkisch conception of the state.”
Hitler and his followers were eager to claim a
foreign—American—lineage for the Nazi mission.

In part, this was spin, an attempt to legitimize fascism. But Grant
and his fellow pioneers in racist pseudoscience did help the Nazis
justify to their own populations, and to other countries’
governments, the mission they were on—as one of Grant’s key
accomplices was proud to acknowledge. According to Spiro, Harry
Laughlin, the scientific expert on Representative Johnson’s
committee, told Grant that the Nazis’ rhetoric sounds “exactly as
though spoken by a perfectly good American eugenist,” and wrote that
“Hitler should be made honorary member of the Eugenics Research
Association.”

He wasn’t, but some of the American eugenicists whose work helped
pave the way for the racist immigration laws of the 1920s received
recognition in Germany. The Nazis gave Laughlin an honorary doctorate
from Heidelberg University in 1936. Henry Fairfield Osborn, who had
written the introduction to _The Passing of the Great Race_, received
one from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in 1934. Leon Whitney,
another of Grant’s fellow travelers, evidently received a personal
thank-you letter from Hitler after sending the führer a copy of his
1934 book, _The Case for Sterilization_. In 1939, even after World
War II began, Spiro writes, Lothrop Stoddard, whom President Harding
had praised in his 1921 diatribe against race-mixing, visited Nazi
Germany and later wrote that the Third Reich was “weeding out the
worst strains in the Germanic stock in a scientific and truly
humanitarian way.”

What the Nazis “found exciting about the American model didn’t
involve just eugenics,” observes James Q. Whitman, a professor at
Yale Law School and the author of _Hitler’s American Model: The
United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law_ (2017). “It also
involved the systematic degradation of Jim Crow, of American
deprivation of basic rights of citizenship like voting.” Nazi
lawyers carefully studied how the United States, despite its pretense
of equal citizenship, had effectively denied that status
[http://aeon.co/ideas/why-the-nazis-studied-american-race-laws-for-inspiration] to
those who were not white. They looked at Supreme Court decisions that
withheld full citizenship rights from nonwhite subjects in U.S.
colonial territories. They examined cases that drew, as Thind’s had,
arbitrary but hard lines around who could be considered “white.”

The Nazis reviewed the infamous “one-drop rule,” which defined
anyone with any trace of African blood as black, and “found American
law on mongrelization too harsh to be embraced by the Third Reich.”
At the same time, Heinrich Krieger, whom Whitman describes as “the
single most important figure in the Nazi assimilation of American race
law,” considered the Fourteenth Amendment a problem: In his view, it
codified an abstract ideal of equality at odds with human experience,
and with the type of country most Americans wanted to live in.

Grant, emphasizing the American experience in particular, agreed.
In _The Passing of the Great Race_, he had argued that

the view that the Negro slave was an unfortunate cousin of the white
man, deeply tanned by the tropic sun and denied the blessings of
Christianity and civilization, played no small part with the
sentimentalists of the Civil War period, and it has taken us fifty
years to learn that speaking English, wearing good clothes and going
to school and to church do not transform a Negro into a white man.

The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, he believed, had failed to
see a greater truth as they made good on the promise of the
Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal: The white
man is more equal than the others.

Grant’s final project, Spiro writes, was an effort to organize a
hunting expedition with Hermann Goering, the commander in chief of the
Nazi air force who went on to become Hitler’s chosen successor.
Grant died in May 1937, before the outing was to take place. A year
and a half later, Kristallnacht signaled the official beginning of the
Holocaust.

America has always grappled with, in the words of the immigration
historian John Higham, two “rival principles of national unity.”
According to one, the U.S. is the champion of the poor and the
dispossessed, a nation that draws its strength from its pluralism.
According to the other, America’s greatness is the result of its
white and Christian origins, the erosion of which spells doom for the
national experiment.

People of both political persuasions like to tell a too-simple story
about the course of this battle: World War II showed Americans the
evil of racism, which was vanquished in the 1960s. The Civil Rights
Act and the Voting Rights Act brought nonwhites into the American
polity for good. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 forever
banished the racial definition of American identity embodied in the
1924 immigration bill, forged by Johnson and Reed in their crusade to
save Nordic Americans from “race suicide.”

The truth is that the rivalry never ended, and Grantism, despite its
swift wartime eclipse, did not become extinct. The Nazis, initially
puzzled by U.S. hostility, underestimated the American commitment to
democracy. As the Columbia historian Ira Katznelson writes in _Fear
Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time_ (2013), the South
remained hawkish toward Nazi Germany because white supremacists in the
U.S. didn’t want to live under a fascist government. What they
wanted was a herrenvolk democracy, in which white people were free and
full citizens but nonwhites were not.

“It was America that taught us that a nation should not open its
doors equally to all nations,” Hitler told _The New York Times_.

The Nazis failed to appreciate the significance of that ideological
tension. They saw allegiance to the American creed as a weakness. But
U.S. soldiers of all backgrounds and faiths fought to defend it, and
demanded that their country live up to it. Their valor helped defeat
first the Nazis, and then the American laws that the Nazis had so
admired. What the Nazis saw as a weakness turned out to be a strength,
and it destroyed them.

Yet historical amnesia, the excision of the memory of how the seed of
racism in America blossomed into the Third Reich in Europe, has
allowed Grantism to be resurrected with a new name. In the conflict
between the Trump administration and its opponents, those rival
American principles of exclusion and pluralism confront each other
more starkly than they have since Grant’s own time. And the ideology
that has gained ground under Trump may well not disappear when Trump
does. Grant’s philosophical framework has found new life among
extremists at home and abroad, and echoes of his rhetoric can be heard
from the Republican base and the conservative media figures the base
trusts, as well as—once again—in the highest reaches of
government.

The resurrection of race suicide as white genocide can be traced to
the white supremacist David Lane, who claimed that “the term
‘racial integration’ is only a euphemism for genocide,” and
whose infamous “fourteen words” manifesto, published in the 1990s,
distills his credo: “We must secure the existence of our people and
a future for white children.” Far-right intellectuals in Europe
speak of “the great replacement” of Europeans by nonwhite
immigrants and refugees.

Read: Jeff Sessions’s unqualified praise for a 1924 immigration law
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/jeff-sessions-1924-immigration/512591/]

In the corridors of American power, Grant’s legacy is evident. Jeff
Sessions heartily praised the 1924 immigration law during an interview
with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chief. Bannon regularly
invokes what has become a cult text among white nationalists, the 1973
dystopian French novel _The Camp of the Saints_, in which the
“white world” is annihilated by mass immigration. Stephen Miller,
a former Senate aide to Sessions and now among the president’s top
policy advisers, spent years warning from his perch in Sessions’s
office that immigration from Muslim countries was a greater threat
than immigration from European countries. The president’s stated
preference for Scandinavian immigrants over those from Latin America
or Africa, and his expressed disdain for the Fourteenth Amendment’s
guarantee of birthright citizenship, are Grantism paraphrased.

That nations make decisions about appropriate levels of immigration is
not inherently evil or fascist. Nor does the return of Grantian ideas
to mainstream political discourse signal an inevitable march to
Holocaust-level crimes against humanity. But to recognize the
homegrown historical antecedents of today’s rhetoric is to call
attention to certain disturbing assumptions that have come to define
the current immigration debate in America—in particular, that
intrinsic human worth is rooted in national origin, and that a certain
ethnic group has a legitimate claim to permanent political hegemony in
the United States. The most benignly intentioned mainstream-media
coverage of demographic change in the U.S. has a tendency to portray
as justified the fear and anger of white Americans who believe their
political power is threatened by immigration—as though the political
views of today’s newcomers were determined by genetic inheritance
rather than persuasion.

The danger of Grantism, and its implications for both America and the
world, is very real. External forces have rarely been the gravest
threat to the social order and political foundations of the United
States. Rather, the source of greatest danger has been those who would
choose white purity over a diverse democracy. When Americans abandon
their commitment to pluralism, the world notices, and catastrophe
follows.

_Adam Serwer is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers
politics._

_Subscribe to The Atlantic and support 160 years of independent
journalism_

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