Blood and Faith: Christianity in White American Nationalism. By Damon T. Berry. Syracuse University Press, 2017.
In the epilogue to Blood and Faith, St. Lawrence University religion professor Damon Berry evokes the 2016 presidential election: “If the economic policies of the new administration do indeed end up hurting the white working class that voted Trump into office, we should not expect the administration to automatically receive the blame. Rather, we should expect scapegoating….The same accusatory politics that brought Trump to electoral victory will be mobilized to keep him from accountability.” He further warns that “those who want an equal, open, and tolerant society” must face the stark truth that a “society based on those values is not guaranteed to us…. We are going to have to construct it” (206).
Would that this were the most unsettling conclusion of this chilling book. Berry takes us inside a dark world that most know more through popular stereotypes than careful analysis. The cavalier use of terms such as “deplorables,” “little Nazis,” and “Christian right” may ameliorate our fears, but we err badly if we think of them as merely weak-brained dupes and fools. Few of us have heard of people such as Revilo Oliver, William Pierce, Ben Klassen, William Pelley, James Madole, or Alain de Benoist, nor do we know much about Cosmotheism, Creativity, racialized atheism, Odinism, Wotansvolk, Occult Fascism, or the Left-Hand Path. And we haven’t considered the enormous impact of European New Right movements upon American Alt-Right figures such as Stephen Bannon.
If there is any good news, it is that the forces of the hard right are disputatious and divided. Berry delves into these often idiosyncratic fractures, but most nationalist groups agree upon essential values. The first is what Berry dubs “racial protectionism;” that is, white nationalists are either blatantly racist or supporters of racial separatism. Like older hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, they extend racial protectionism to voice opposition to egalitarianism, multiculturalism, feminism, immigration, and non-heterosexuality; unlike the KKK, most nationalists also oppose Christianity, a phenomenon often missed in discussions of groups such as Christianity Identity. White nationalists castigate Christianity for being effeminate, weak, and overly inclusive, but mostly it clashes with their second shared value: virulent anti-Semitism. They are the heirs to views propagated in the infamous 1903 The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Henry Ford disseminated in the 1920s, and of Francis Parker Yockey (1916-60), whose Imperium is a seminal work. Christianity is often called “Jewish Christianity,” and is therefore both “alien” and corrupt. Those who adhere to it at all are careful to differentiate “historical Christianity” from that “profaned” (181) by modernism. Many are more likely to embrace neo-pagan views akin to the Nordic and Indo-European mysticism found in German Nazism. (Berry is careful to differentiate racialized paganism from positive spiritualism.) Still other nationalists are agnostics, Satanists, or atheists who reject—in the words of Creativity’s White Man’s Bible—“Jewish spooks in the sky.”
Another surprise is Berry’s discussion of the word “nationalism.” Extreme patriotic rhetoric notwithstanding, white nationalism is refracted through bioracial and cultural lenses that are pan-Western European; they are (in my terms) the white equivalent of negritude. We should make no mistake; the nationalists are dangerous people, not dress-up delusionals. Violence is part of their modus operandi past—including the murder of Alan Berg and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing—and present-day attacks on African Americans, American Muslims, and LGBTI individuals. White nationalists feel they are engaged in RaHoWa, their shorthand for Racial Holy War. This also puts them at odds with mainstream conservatives, of whom they are as contemptuous as they are of liberals. To give you a sense of their fervor, many of its theorists quit the John Birch Society because it was too soft. Consider also the fact that Bannon’s freelance extremism was beyond even that which Donald Trump could forbear.
I have a few nits to pick with Berry’s book. First, he correctly rejects the notion that modern white nationalism emerged in the 1980s, but makes too much of his own assertion that it actually crystallized in the 1950s. He’s not wrong about those connections, but in his third chapter he takes us through a cogent litany of even deeper roots: Manifest Destiny, the wars on Native peoples, Social Darwinism, immigration restriction movements, eugenics, and a welter of other things. As Gunnar Myrdal famously expressed it in 1944, race has always been “an American dilemma.” For a book that pulls few punches, Berry held back on this one. White nationalism isn’t a single breed of poisonous snake; it’s a broad suborder of venomous vipers.
I also longed for a more thorough explanation of how white power theorists decoupled nationalism from the volk-specific associations of post Enlightenment romanticism (whose language they often appropriate) to move it beyond national borders while simultaneously opposing globalism. These may well be ideational contradictions within movements, but they warrant closer analysis.
Berry’s attention to subtle distinctions, theoretical structures, use of postmodernist terminology, and breadth probably make this a book best suited for graduate students and specialists. But even if all you do is sample, we should heed Berry’s evocation of Henri Bergson that these are people “prepared for war” (14). They must be held accountable.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst.