Historian: White Power Movement Has Roots in the Vietnam War

“The White Power movement in America wants a revolution. It has declared all-out war against the federal government and its agents.”

So writes historian Kathleen Belew in her book, “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.”

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In the book, Belew argues that the white power movement is more organized than previously thought and has its roots in the Vietnam War.

Belew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago, says that after the Vietnam War, anger toward the government among some veterans consolidated many previously disparate groups.

“The white power movement represents an ideologically diverse coalition of different people,” Belew said. “Klansman and radical tax protesters, skinheads and neo-Nazis and other people who had been at odds before the Vietnam war came together using a common story made by that war and the experience of fighting in it.”

Both law enforcement and the media have misunderstood violent acts by people associated with this movement, says Belew. “What we get is a string of stories about lone wolves or a few bad apples or a few errant madmen and we miss the social movement.” 

But that’s not to say there is a centralized, top-down leadership in the movement, Belew says. “We’re pretty familiar with it now, post-9/11, as ‘cell-style terror.’ It’s just the idea of a few groups of people acting together without coordinating with one another and without receiving direct leaders orders from centralized leadership in some way. That strategy was designed to evade court prosecution, but it has the much bigger consequence of evading public understanding,” she said.

Belew says the beliefs and goals of the white power movement from 1983 onward have been more radical than many people understand. The movement, she says, aims to “overthrow the United States and establish an all-white world.”

Related stories:

The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist in ‘Rising Out of Hatred’

‘The Problem We All Live With’: Ruby Bridges on Racism in America Today

Former Skinhead Writes of His Descent Into Hatred, and How He Got Out

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