The Americans Who Give Nationalism a Dirty Name

Photo illustration by Louis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by Louis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Peyton Gendron, the 19-year-old white man accused of May’s mass shooting at a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo, reportedly left a 180-page manifesto outlining his motives:

“More than anything it was to spread awareness among my white friends about the real problems facing the West, and to encourage more attacks that would eventually start the war that would save the Western world, save the white race, and allow humanity to move forward. into more advanced civilizations.”

This fever dream is called “The Great Replacement. It’s the white-supremacy idea that liberal elites are plotting to replace white Americans through immigration and birth control policies and that this is an existential threat to white culture,” says University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry. “The Buffalo shooter was very wrapped up in the replacement theory, which is the idea that Americans are being replaced by immigrants – for him, at least. He was obsessed with the decline in the white birth rate and the higher birth rate of immigrants as a threat to American culture.”

in their book The flag and the crossPerry Weill sociologist Philip Gursky uses recent survey data to identify a white identity group—basically ethnic A group – hostile to science, reason, pluralism, elections and other institutions that threaten their perceived place at the head of the government and American culture.

Perry sat down with The Daily Beast to talk about the book.

Repeal of Roe, the January 6th investigation, mass shootings, etc. all happened while I was reading you describing the white nationalist culture that underlies these things. Who are we talking about here?

Nationalism is a belief that the nation is a culturally defined group of people, people “like us”. It’s drawing a circle around people like you and defining it as Americans.

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We distinguish between white nationalism and Christian nationalism. A white nationalist is someone who believes that America is for white people. The Buffalo shooter was clearly a white national. He defines whiteness in his manifesto in both genetic and cultural terms.

And you differentiate it to Christian nationalism?

A religious nationalist – like a Christian nationalist in the United States – is one who puts religion at the forefront of the identity of those who should have political and cultural power. They subscribe to the idea that the nation was founded not only by Christians but by Christians like themselves.

We distinguish this from white nationalism because Christian nationalists have a very specific type of white Christian Political and cultural power at the top.

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Do you consider white nationalists and Christian nationalists overlapping groups, or is one a subset of the other?

There is a fairly wide overlap between the two groups. There are white nationalists who do not identify with Christianity, and there are Christian nationalists who care less about whiteness.

It was quite confusing to me to read the book that there is a large group of people who identify as Christian nationalists but are not regular churchgoers and do not know that much about the basic principles of Christianity.

This is one of the key points we wanted to raise in the book. Christian nationalism is an ideology that believes in a deep story of who we are as a people and that the United States was founded on Christian principles and blessed by God. They believe that America should be shaped by traditionalists with conservative ideas about what society should be.

Christian nationalists advocate sexual purity, family hierarchy and who gets preferential treatment. Most Christian nationalists they self-identified Christians; They go to churches, and many of those churches teach a kind of Christian God-and-State nationalism.

Other Christian nationalists are No Christians who identify themselves, but support this ideology. Why? It’s complicated, but it is ethnic identity.

Do you recognize the January 6 rioters as a mix of white nationalists and Christian nationalists?

There were certainly people in the Capitol who identified as Christians and came from churches that were not radical, right-wing hate groups. Many of these are devout Christians, but I wouldn’t say it was their piety that led them to the Capitol.

The Buffalo shooter says he had no religious motive.

He wrote in his manifesto that he is not a Christian in the sense that he confesses his sins and asked for forgiveness but that he tries to live Christian values ​​and customs. That sounds ridiculous coming from someone who was about to pick up a grocery store.

He also writes about how a human being is genetically white and culturally white, and he says that part of white culture is defined by the Christian religion. For him, part of what it means to “belong” here is grounded in both whiteness and Christianity.

Do you see an evolution from the Skinheads of the 80s to some of these recent mass shooters?

Hate groups come from different situations. The Buffalo Shooter sees himself as a defender of diversity but believes that those diverse cultures should be in their own countries and not in his country. It’s a very Trumpian approach to nationalism, that we should be able to control our own culture in our own country.

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In recent years, two straight losses to Barack Obama have conditioned some white conservative Christians to engage in moral reasoning so that they no longer believe in being “values ​​voters,” that the character of leaders matters. It is about defeating the left and accepting the judges of the Supreme Court. These are the bets.

I came to the book wondering if these white Christian nationalists had strong beliefs or if they were just nodding along to everything Donald Trump said in order to embrace what he believed. If Trump were pushing masks as a way to take credit for ending the Corona epidemic, Trumpers would call them freedom masks. Where are you in the matter?

Political scientists have been able to show for years that the rhetoric of elites powerfully shapes what people believe. Politicians don’t just read the crowd and follow the polls. On COVID, if Trump had said “we are going to come together as Americans and put on the masks and beat the virus,” his supporters would have believed him.

Trump represents a populist movement on the right that already rejects the news media, rejects academic elites, and rejects science, and is susceptible to conspiracy theories. Trump has leaned into these tendencies in his response to COVID, and his followers have gone along with him. If he had gone the other way, I think his men would still have followed him.

Are immigration, abortion, guns, voter suppression, etc. values ​​that come from the population, or do you think they are prioritized by political leaders?

We were able to show with quantitative survey data that Republicans have moved toward ideological purity in recent decades. The Republican Party is becoming more conservative, more evangelical and more nationalistic every year.

It is visible now. The religious rhetoric of George W. Trump, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and many copycats like Marjorie Taylor Green and J.D. Vance are much more interested in stoking populist anger and fear—fear of immigrants, fear of outsiders, fear of critical race theory—without the pretense of using dog-whistle language. The response is aggression, violence, militancy and support for strong leaders over institutions.

I’ve written a lot about the film and television business, and there was a huge push back against a black female character on Disney+ Obi and Ann Kenobi. How much of this has to do with the idea that major characters in major franchises aren’t white by default now as a threat to white people’s place in culture?


In the 2020 elections, the right did not talk about vigilance; They talked about socialism. Trump is fighting the socialist agenda of the radical left. Now Erot is the big slur: they oppose radical identity politics, which includes any movement toward racial justice.

The final chapter of the book is a warning about how the future and the 2024 election in particular could be worse—perhaps a more open attempt to take over or stop the vote counting in the battleground states. How screwed do you think we are?

I am not particularly optimistic given the trajectory we are on. Candidates like Marjorie Taylor Green are a disaster waiting to happen because they spout angry, angry rhetoric that is disconnected from the facts of their political goals to mobilize populism, which is a stronghold of polarization.

Are there historical periods where we have returned to this type of polarization?

The best text on this topic How democracies die By Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat – two professors from Harvard – who did a comparative study of democracies that turned into authoritarian dictatorships or that mobilized and decided as a country to stand against the move of the populists to take over the country.

Overcoming populists requires sacrifice. This requires parties to put the country above their political victories. We need parties to say that this is not the direction we want to go.

Is the end of the red scare in the fifties an example of the rejection of populism?

McCarthyism is a very good example of this. It was this hysterical movement, and eventually people stood up to it and denounced it. McCarthy became marginalized. It may take enough Republicans to stand up to the populists and represent the country at the risk of losing a primary to disperse a radical movement.

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There is a willingness among Republicans to make it harder for certain populations to vote. We find with new polling data that Republicans, conservatives and ideological Christian nationalists are more willing to change laws to make sure they don’t lose in future elections.

They see most as most people like themselves.

exactly. This is why substitution theory is such a convenient trope. If you’re in the minority but you feel like the majority doesn’t really count because they’re drafted or illegal or dead people voting, you think it’s a fraudulent election.

You get to the point where you have to hold on to conspiracy theories or admit that the vast majority of Americans don’t want what you’re selling.

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<p>The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy</p>
<div class="inline-image__credit">The Daily Beast/Oxford University Press</div>
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The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy

The Daily Beast/Oxford University Press

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The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy

The Daily Beast/Oxford University Press

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