The Threat of White Nationalist Terrorism to American Democracy: A Common Sense Understanding


Max Skidmore

Editor’s Note: This post by Max Skidmore is an excerpt from his recently published book The Common Sense Manifesto (Washington, D.C.: Westphalia Press, 2020, 41-43). It is important to remember that this was published in February 2020, nearly a year before the violent insurgency that attempted to seize power from the United States Congress. Then, consider how much recent events have demonstrated that this warning was not exaggerated; the United States was threatened by a clear and present danger from right-wing extremists, and also from self-described “conservatives,” who constituted the Republican Party.

Law enforcement officials became aware decades ago that one of the greatest dangers threatening Americans came from white nationalists, and from various neo-Nazi groups. This is especially true given the widespread availability of even the most lethal firearms to virtually anyone in the United States. Prudently, the Department of Homeland Security began to look carefully at such groups, and to study them seriously. 

When they learned of such studies, though, American conservatives raised vehement protests. Studies of threats from the extreme right, they shrieked, were attempts to suppress “conservatives.”  So powerful was their reaction that the Department of Homeland Security halted all such studies. Republican office holders recognized immediately that studies of right-wing dangers absolutely required study of the dangers of American conservatism, itself. 

Damning examples are easy to find.  In 2016, Ron Nixon wrote in the New York Times that “Homeland Security Looked Past Antigovernment Movement.”[1] In 2012, an article in Wired was titled, “DHS Crushed This Analyst For Warning About Far-Right Terror.”[2] As far back as 2011 the Washington Post reported that “Homeland Security Department Curtails Home-Grown Terror Analysis.”[3] All that led to the anguished cry in November of 2018 that “Law Enforcement Failed to See the threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop it.”[4]

The irony of the situation is what it says about the unintended candor of the conservatives who protested in the first place. In a twisted way, there is something humorous here. Despite their generally staid lifestyles as privileged members of the moneyed elite, Republican elected officials argued that targeting dangerous extremists—those who were often living in the woods while stockpiling assault weapons and the like—was to target “conservatives.” 

They were closer to being accurate than they seemed. The casual observer could have thought of this as paranoid nonsense, but the conservatives knew better. They knew very well that the most violent elements of society were kindred souls ideologically with themselves. As the discussion here makes clear, the violent potential of their ideology brought them closer to their alt-right relatives. Such closeness between overt violent extremists and their kindred in the alt-right has brought about a most terrifying result. 

The Republicans have energized the most violent, and least rational, segment of the American electorate.  Because of the electoral college that disregarded nearly three million more votes for Hillary Clinton, they managed to elect to the presidency of the United States an ignorant and malevolent buffoon. Despite some early criticisms from a few Republicans, he quickly became “their guy,” and Republicans lined up to give him their firm support as he slashes, burns, and rips. 

At the same time, he also whines, and complains that he is being mistreated. He, who obviously knows almost nothing about history or past presidents, says that he is being treated more unfairly than any other president in history.

A widespread uprising has yet to be experienced, but irrational violence is becoming increasingly common. Mass murders are so frequent that they seem almost to have become normalized. On 3 August—on a single day—there in fact were two such massacres by white nationalist terrorists, widely separated. The first was in El Paso, Texas, followed shortly by the other in Dayton, Ohio. Each caused multiple deaths. Even Trump conceded that “perhaps” more should be done (at least until later, when he backtracked after having spoken with an NRA official). His supporters, and perhaps others as well, say that it is unfair to hold Trump responsible. To anyone familiar with American politics, and with Trump’s rhetoric, common sense should make it impossible to deny a definite connection.

[1] Ron Nixon, “Homeland Security Looked Past Antigovernmental Movement, Ex-Analyst Says,” New York Times (8 January 2016), (accessed 27 March 2019).

[2] Spencer Ackerman, “DHS Crushed This Analyst  For Warning About Far-Right Terror,” Wired, (7 August 2012), (Accessed 27 March 2019).

[3] R. Jeffrey Smith, “Homeland Security Department Curtails Home-Grown Terror Analysis,” The Washington Post(7 June 2011), (accessed 27 March 2019).

[4] Janet Reitman “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop it,” The New York Times Magazine (3 November 2018), (accessed 27 March 2019).