The Ugly History of the White Rights Movement

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.

*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.


9 thoughts on “The Ugly History of the White Rights Movement

  1. Normally, the Right and Left hold a balance whereby a society might survive and even grow. However, with the Right now becoming more dominant, the only hope the Left has is for capitalism in the US to grind to a halt.
    The growth of the Chinese economy will possibly achieve this and proves that the obsession with western type of ‘democracy’ has been a bit of a blindfold.


    • Interesting perspective, gerard. I tend to agree with you that capitalism needs to end. I’m not so sure whether the Chinese will play a significant role in this. They seem to be really keen capitalists at the moment, if their billionaire class is anything to go by. In fact their political-economic system sure looks pretty fascist to me – even though they call it communism.


      • Um, Communism IS fascism. I was behind Iron Curtain in 1977 for a month. What I saw there was horrendous because of the fascism. KGB on every street corner, NO ONE on the streets was laughing or even talking much. No one wanted to draw attention to themselves so they didn’t even talk loudly while on the streets. Nothing worked either and everything was upside down and backwards and made no sense. Russians had NO idea what was going on in the rest of the world outside of USSR.


        • Thanks for the comment, wolvenwood. I think a lot of people are confusing the word “fascism” with the word “totalitarian.” I think there’s absolutely no question that Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Third Reich were totalitarian governments. It’s my understanding that Mussolini and his followers originally coined the word fascism and defined it as a government run by and for private corporations operating in a capitalist economy. My view of Stalin’s government was that it wasn’t really communist – in that the Soviet people didn’t run it. It was really a form of “state capitalism” in which the Communist Party elite ran the country for their own economic benefit.


  2. Pingback: The Ugly History of the White Rights Movement | Aisle C

  3. I can only shake my head over the comment by ‘futuret’. Not one word was mentioned about the hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Brotherhood and the like, but this futuret points to your alleged support of the Black Panthers as a reason for you to move somewhere in Africa. I am just absolutely appalled when reading comments such as this. But at this point in time, I really shouldn’t be. For the love of !!!!!! So, I guess, Dr. Bramhall, you should just pack your bags and move to where THE BLACKS are. And now, I shall take a break…..sigh!


  4. Well, Shelby, all I can say is that the comments of Elaine Brown really resonated with me, mainly because the message I heard was “tolerance” – the same message I received from black activists in Seattle – who were the only ones to support me when I was being harassed by the FBI. I found her comment about the need to acknowledge white poverty truly remarkable. Especially when the Democratic Party and the liberal left have totally abandoned poor whites (and blacks for that matter).

    All I can do is look at the ugly racism of my parents when I was growing up and how this totally turned around when they were given a road out of their segregated white suburban lives by retraining as teachers and working in inner city schools. White people aren’t just segregated from black people. They are segregated from each other. The film talks a bit about this, as well. About Roosevelt and his advisors deliberately breaking up extended families and encouraging people to move into separate little boxes in the suburbs. This was supposed to improve the economy by increasing consumption – since each woman had to have her own fridge, washing machine, dryer, stove, vacuum cleaner, etc.

    My father had only one male friend his entire adult life – a black teacher. And it was mainly the black teachers from his school who brought food to the house after he died.

    I’m not going to apologize for exercising the same kind of tolerance that was shown me and my family. People learn by example.


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