White Nationalist Richard Spencer Uses Diffusionist Fringe History in Speech Praising Trump, White America
Cast your mind back to that far-off distant year of 2009, when conservative thinkers were outraged that an elementary school teacher in Chicago led her students in a chant praising Barack Obama. Fox News pundits decried what they alleged was an incipient communist cult of personality, and Sean Hannity devoted several segments of his various programs to red-face outrage. Then-GOP chairman Michael Steele said at the time “Friend, this is the type of propaganda you would see in Stalin’s Russia or Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. I never thought the day would come when I’d see it here in America.” Yesterday white nationalists held a meeting in Washington, giving fascist salutes and shouting “Hail Trump!”, led by the man that Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, through his Breitbart website, hailed as a great “intellectual” of compelling brilliance. You get no points for guessing that Fox News downplayed the event, or that Ann Coulter dismissed it as merely thirty people in a room, or that Sean Hannity devoted his time instead to praising torture and begging Vice President-Elect Mike Pence to use the power of his office to silence criticism.
The gathering of members and supporters of the National Policy Institute was led by Richard Spencer, the clean-cut leader of the so-called alt-right movement. Spencer has purposely attempted to use the power of aesthetics to give a more traditional face to white nationalism by downplaying the skinhead and Neo-Nazi stylings of the Frank Collin (a.k.a. Frank Joseph) era of the American Nazi Party in favor a subtler style based on a resurrection of 1950s haircuts and sharp suits.
In a speech to his National Policy Institute, Spencer praised Donald Trump as a white nationalist fellow traveler, asked his audience to offer call-and-response style chants of Nazi propaganda phrases “in the original German” (which, of course, they all knew), and concluded with shouts of “hail Trump,” “hail our people,” and “hail victory” in the style of “Heil Hitler.” Spencer later claimed that such exclamations, and the fascist salutes offered in response were meant as “ironic,” though video of the event does not support this reading. He seemed quite serious at the time. What, after all, is the purpose of referring to the “original German” is not to praise the Nazis who used those words? Spencer told NBC News that using Nazi language was “cheeky” and “fun.”
Michael Steele in 2009 thought that elementary school students singing about how Obama would make “America’s economy number one again” was Stalinism, and yet in two weeks we have descended to the point where CNN actually had the following chyron on screen while discussing that same white nationalist gathering:
Yes, it is now acceptable to argue about which groups count as fully human on national television. Granted, CNN’s pundits still think Jews are human beings and that the alt-right are nasty hatemongers, but making such questions a subject of conversation is the first step toward debating them in earnest.
But the more important problem for our purposes is that CNN completely misunderstood the context of the comments. Spencer was referring to the press, not to Jews, in claiming they were soulless golems. (Granted, for white nationalists, Jews and the media are often conflated.) But this speaks to a larger problem: The media lack the literary, historical, and cultural framework to understand the very real and disturbing allusions and references that pepper the rhetoric of the white nationalists, whether they call themselves alt-right or something else.
In his speech, Spencer declared that white Europeans were “Children of the Sun,” and these words passed through the media filter without criticism or comment because they seem innocuous but are not. “Within the very blood in our veins as children of the sun lies the potential for greatness,” he said. This appears to be a reference to a classic text of fringe history, W. J. Perry’s 1923 book Children of the Sun, one of several that the anthropologist wrote to provide an academic gloss on what was essentially a more scholarly version of Ignatius Donnelly’s vision of Atlantis.
Perry’s Children of the Sun, echoing contemporary work by his close colleague Grafton Elliot Smith, replaces Atlantis with ancient Egypt, but in all other respects, it is the same argument: that there was a global archaic culture of sophistication, based on stone-working, agriculture, sun-worship, mummification, and all the other elements fringe historians typically attribute to the “lost civilization” of ancient times. Perry further argued that this ancient culture had a ruling class, the “Children of the Sun,” who commanded and controlled the entire world from their headquarters in Old Kingdom Egypt. These Children of Sun, identical with the Followers of Horus in Graham Hancock’s similar fantasy of white hyper-diffusion, emerge from the Victorian misconception that Aryans created civilization and were everywhere sun worshipers first and foremost. (Hancock did not use Perry or Elliot Smith directly, but he cited sources that were in turn influenced by these authors.)
This map of Grafton Elliot-Smith’s proposed areas where the Children of Sun influenced culture, taken from one of his colleagues’ books on diffusionism, is strikingly similar, though less widespread, than Donnelly’s map of the areas where Atlantis once reigned. The big difference is that Donnelly did not extend Atlantis into the Pacific while Elliot Smith and Perry made the Pacific a key field of play for their archaic culture.
Needless to say, according to Perry this cult of spiritual rulers was white, even if he tended not to specify this directly. “It is unfortunate,” Louis C. G. Clarke wrote in a review of Children of the Sun for The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, “that he has started with a theory and has tried to adjust the facts to that preconceived idea.” Such is fringe history.
That idea, of course, is that indigenous people were incapable of their own accomplishments and needed the firm hand of colonial masters to rise above savagery. As Elliot Smith put it, there is an “incongruity” between the “primitive and highly developed customs” of indigenous societies that could only be explained by alleging that “they received practically every element of their culture from abroad.” Elliot Smith made no bones about his supposedly scientific racism, couched though it was in academic languages and bromides about the benefits of hybrid racial cultures. He wrote that the “Armenoid” race (i.e. white Caucasians from the area of Armenia) supplanted the indigenous “Brown” race of Egypt and led to the cultural explosion that we call civilization. The influence of this school was very strong, especially among race theorists, even though most anthropologists and historians rejected it. James Henry Breasted, the American archaeologist and Egyptologist, placed in his high school textbook of ancient history, Ancient Times, the label “The Great White Race.” The text was used in American high schools through the 1930s.
Compare this view of the Children of the Sun, the world-conquering master race of ruling elite, to Spencer’s comments in his speech about how to be “white is to be a striver, an explorer and a conqueror.” He added, “We don’t gain anything from [other racial groups’] presence. They need us and not the other way around.” Is this not what Elliot Smith said about indigenous peoples? Elliot Smith reflected the ideology of imperialism in the twilight of the British Empire, while Spencer strips the academic veneer from the underlying ideology. The point, though, is the same, and only partially obscured by Spencer using half-hidden references to Edwardian and Interwar imperialist and colonialist fantasies to give it an aesthetic gloss.
When Spencer speaks, he is using language that is sometimes explicit and more often coded, and those coded phrases, harking back to the hyperdiffusionist school of the early twentieth century, are intentionally designed to elicit an understanding that he is speaking of white supremacy and the white Master Race. The “Children of Sun” sounds merely poetic to the media, ignorant of the obscure diffusionist arguments—celebrated on the History Channel and in the pages of Ancient American and the anthologies of ex-American Nazi Party head Frank Joseph—that Spencer strip mines for hate, but to his followers it is simply another term for the Master Race.
Something I saw online yesterday shows how much has changed in just two weeks. Yesterday on Twitter I saw people talking about what was said to be a deleted tweet that the History Channel had posted last evening to promote Hunting Hitler, their weekly Hitler fetish program. According to these tweets, which included what they claimed were screen captures, the channel’s tweet had said (and I am quoting from memory here since I can’t find the original) that Hitler was a fan of clean living, but new evidence suggests that the Nazis had a dark side. The fact that I can’t determine whether this tweet was a Photoshopped parody, a mistaken attempt at a dog whistle to an alt-right audience, or an ignorant screw up, and that all these option are now equally plausible, speaks volumes.
11/22/2016 12:08:22 pm
Calling the use of Nazi language 'cheeky' and 'fun' is either evidence of extreme ignorance regarding the results of using Nazi language in the past or (even worse) a rather ineffective attempt to hide one's true beliefs and intents.
11/22/2016 12:25:58 pm
More idiosyncratic kooky racism when Native North Americans cannot get their country back because of genuine Great White Race problems.
11/22/2016 12:25:59 pm
I find it hypocritical you take Fox News to task over its pundits reactions to what that teacher did in 2009 when you well know if a teacher had done the same thing for George Bush liberal media outlets would have had the same reaction.
11/22/2016 12:30:20 pm
I remember seeing a video of a Sunday School teacher having her students speaking in tongues as they all touched a card board cut-out of George W. Bush. She then implored them to pray to Jesus to give Bush strength to rid America of evil doers.
11/22/2016 12:35:56 pm
Really? I've never heard of that. If it's true, that is some weird stuff.
11/22/2016 12:37:26 pm
I saw that video also. Jesus Camp, it was called.
11/22/2016 01:17:23 pm
Okay, I just watched a YouTube video with the scene you were talking about. I'm changing my previous opinion. That is some creepy, messed-up stuff. I can see why a lot of folks considered the camp's activities brainwashing and child abuse.
11/22/2016 02:03:36 pm
I haven't watched it in a long time, but I still remember the disgust I felt watching such young children being manipulated, which is how I felt watching the video of the teacher having the kids chant about Obama. They're both equally disgusting in my opinion.
11/23/2016 02:32:56 pm
Only me: It is true. Time Magazine also had an expose on the church camp where this happened.
11/22/2016 01:41:13 pm
My point wasn't to defend the teacher (who would want kids praising the Glorious Leader in school?) but to note the hypocrisy of condemning that while staying silent on the much more serious and widespread problem of white nationalist Trump adulation.
11/22/2016 01:59:07 pm
It's not just the white nationalism issue either, I've been hearing and reading reports that he's requesting visiting dignitaries to stay at his hotels and he's implored members of the Great Britain delegation to lobby against a wind farm project that he thinks will impact one of his golf courses. If these stories are true, than Trump is using his position as President Elect to make money.
11/22/2016 02:14:59 pm
I follow you. I do have to point out though, the media pulled the same silent treatment when it came to Obama's ties with Bill Ayers, a man who committed domestic terrorism.
11/22/2016 02:37:30 pm
Ironically, the problem with the media is in part attributable to government. When the government deregulated the media in the 1980s, it creative incentives to view broadcast TV news as a commodity to monetize rather than a public service licensing requirement, creating a demand for news to be profitable rather than a prestigious loss leader. It's no coincidence that the O.J. Simpson circus took over broadcast TV shortly after. The fact that cable isn't regulated at all (being private) only reinforced the notion that news had to cater to audience prejudices and preconceptions in order to achieve enough ratings to maintain profitability, and that fed right into the ideological "bubbles" of the internet.
11/22/2016 02:56:56 pm
And we can't forget how the rise of the internet has also contributed to this age of disinformation. Just the other day the Oxford English Dictionary declared "post-truth" the word of the year. Defined as "Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." Scary times.
11/22/2016 03:04:23 pm
11/22/2016 04:10:30 pm
DaveR - and correcting that USED to be the focus of this blog (and I hope will be again someday).
11/23/2016 09:40:39 pm
crainey, we already had a word for that, you realize. Dating from the 14th century, in fact. The word is "rhetoric." None of this is actually new. It's typical human behavior--any high school in any nation will show you that much. The Internet is just a tool; the problem is the number of people who don't read information critically, and that's a problem not with the Internet, nor the media, but with a reading education that focuses almost exclusively on fiction and narrative nonfiction with very little exposure to critical reading for information.
11/23/2016 03:35:05 am
I find it disgusting that, in an article about supporters of the President Elect indulging in open Nazi worship to the silence of the media, the only response from some people is "well, the liberal media would have done the same thing if the situations were reversed".
11/23/2016 05:45:49 am
This is why reading both the post and its comments, in full, is so important, Mark L. If you had done so, you could have expressed an informed opinion.
11/22/2016 03:07:52 pm
The slobbering affair with Trump for the conservatives begins, and the irony is that Trump is our version of Putin. In the 1950s they would have jailed a politician siding with Russia to win votes in an election, and he wants to go back to 1950s values. Sure it was the cold war then, long before me, but still. He is more socialist than they claimed Obama was.
11/22/2016 03:17:51 pm
This is in no way surprising. Elites always acted like that, spreading antisemitism like Trump does is a common distraction.
11/22/2016 07:09:52 pm
It's been argued that the United States was founded by a rich man's revolt. Almost all of the major players of the American Revolution were well-educated and often wealthy merchants, professionals, or large landowners. Sure, the various militias and the Continental Army were made up of average citizens, but it's hard to say the Revolution would've gotten off the ground or lasted as long without those of the upper classes.
11/23/2016 02:08:11 am
Agreed, I have long thought of this as the revolt of the squires.
11/23/2016 09:08:46 am
I think it was Lewis Black who said the American government was founded by rich white men who didn't want to pay taxes, and it's never really changed.
11/22/2016 08:04:18 pm
Given that we spent 40 percent less in real dollars on defense during Ike's admin while we protected Europe from the ussr and Japan and Korea from the prc, maybe there were so good aspects of that decade. We started the downfall of Jim Crow, had real sustained increases in wages without massive deficits and were setting the stage for the integrated circuit and laser along with the polio vaccine. We always have room to improve but it was a god decade for America. Not one American in the armed forces was killed in hostile conflict during Ike's admin. We could and have done much worse.
Titus , you're dead wrong about no Americans troops being killed during Ike's presidency. The first American killed in Vietnam occurred in 1956, he was an Air Force Tech Sergeant. A lot of people don't count him as he was seconded to the NSA and was on a listening mission when the Viet Minh overran the position of him and 3 NSA operatives. Furthermore there were other SF troops killed there.
11/23/2016 08:05:03 am
11/23/2016 06:39:04 am
There have been and regularly are countless revolts by the elite. They just call them coup d'etat instead.
11/23/2016 07:52:23 am
I remember seeing in interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney when he was asked about all of the talk regarding a class war, and with that devious smile of his he answered, "Of course there's been a class war, and my side obviously won."
11/22/2016 03:36:54 pm
I find it rather alarming the soon-to-be most powerful man on earth is so closely associated with such crackpots, religious zealots and thinly veiled white supremacy advocates. And the role (or perhaps non-role) of extreme, populist, evangelic, fact-free media plays in not exposing this is depressing and reminiscent of decades gone past. I can tell you (as a Dutchman) that European media and politicians are shocked by the "Heil Trump" images.
11/22/2016 04:03:58 pm
Although alarming, it is not at all surprising. Also of no surprise are his choices for the cabinet. He's filling positions with investment bankers and billionaires from Wall Street, because nothing says "I know the plight of the working class" like billionaires from Wall Street.
11/22/2016 04:12:35 pm
Hahaha it would be funny, if it wasn't so sad and, frankly, dangerous. Let-down lower-middle class America, let down again by their greatest champion. Given some (okay, just one) of the comments on this blog (whose readers I would be inclined to call level-headed) it could be a spark in a powder keg. Imagine the next elections! Assuming of course there will be next elections in the foreseeable future... :-)
11/23/2016 07:59:28 am
Nobody should be surprised by anything Trump does because he's been saying it all along. Deregulate banking, and look how well that worked out the last time we walked that path. Deregulate business, just like banking. Cut corporate taxes to spur growth, when W. Bush did that all corporations did was pay out higher dividends and increase executive bonuses without having any impact on economic growth. Do away with the inheritance tax, which will only benefit multimillionaires and billionaires. Cut income taxes across the board, good in theory, however a vast majority of the cuts will be going to the top 1% of earners. From day one Trump has stated without wavering that he's in it for banks, corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Nobody should be surprised with his cabinet picks, or the economic and tax policies he puts forward because he's been, at least on this issue, telling the truth.
11/22/2016 04:24:07 pm
Well done, Jason. In general for this site, and in particular on this thread....
11/22/2016 04:59:22 pm
I can't take all the credit. A colleague pointed out the connection between Spencer's words and Perry's book to me, but I left his name out so that Google wouldn't associate him with white nationalism in search results.
11/22/2016 07:43:49 pm
Interesting to see that today's Nazi-admirers and neo-Fascists still seek to believe in weird / occult fantasy histories and made-up historical race theorizing.
11/23/2016 03:33:41 am
White trash remains white trash, no matter the century.
Scotty Roberts' Doppleganger
11/22/2016 07:53:13 pm
I watched the entire proceedings on Red Ice TV's YouTube. One error (I assume it was an error and not just your own propaganda Jason) is your claim Spencer said Trump is a white nationalist. He actually said the opposite. He said he doesn't know if he is and doubts it very much. Just a note for honesty's sake, not a defense of Spencer.
11/23/2016 03:43:07 am
To be precise, Jason claims (and claimed when Google cached the page yesterday) that Spencer "praised Donald Trump as a white nationalist fellow traveler". According to The Nation, 24 October 1936, a fellow traveler is, as conceived by the Communist Party, "someone who does not accept all your aims but has enough in common with you to accompany you in a comradely fashion part of the way".
11/23/2016 05:28:51 pm
On the BBC World Service's <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04ggrgl">World Have Your Say</a> program, Richard Spencer clarified that he does not like the term white supremacist but did praise the notion of racial separatism.
11/23/2016 01:45:12 am
It's really a stretch to equate white nationalism with hyperdiffusionism, if you're talking about Atlantis. Just because a lot of people who believe in Atlantis say, or imply that the Atlanteans were white doesn't mean they actually were. Nobody really knows what race the Atlanteans were, if they actually existed.
11/23/2016 01:50:27 am
P.S. I would describe myself as a hyperdiffusionist, and I am most certainly not a white nationalist.
11/23/2016 01:19:54 pm
While Grafton Elliot Smith did argue brachycephalic "Armenoids" from West Asia migrated into Egypt at the start of the First Dynasty, c. 3000 BCE he maintained: "it is impossible to detect any material addition to Egyptian culture that can be attributed to the new-comers. All the wonderful developments of the arts and crafts that followed upon their coming were clearly the result
11/23/2016 02:07:32 pm
So, in your mind, forcing a class of school kids to sing a worshipful, creepy song about Barack Obama is somehow the same as some clown giving Nazi salutes in front of a tiny crowd of like-minded adults? Whatever you say.
An Over-Educated Grunt
11/23/2016 04:28:36 pm
Yet you keep clicking on it. What's that say about your priorities?
11/23/2016 09:47:56 pm
Yes, actually. Kids who are indoctrinated the way those kids were having happen grow up to be "like-minded adults" of the bigoted type. That's what indoctrination DOES, my friend, it's a connection that's been proven over and over and over again.
11/27/2016 08:53:30 pm
The one thing that hyperdiffusionists and/or white supremacists don't take into account is that recent genetic research indicates that brown skin was the norm until about 8000 years ago, even in Europe. Pale skin evolved in response to less direct sunlight in northern latitudes, because of a defiency of vitamin D. It's also thought that lactose tolerance evolved because of the vitamin D in cow's milk.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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