White power


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Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew

Revolutionaries for the Right: Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War by Kyle Burke

In the spring of 1975, as America’s war in Vietnam drew to its grim conclusion, a new magazine targeted readers who did not want it to end. Soldier of Fortune was founded by Robert K. Brown, a former Green Beret based in Boulder, Colorado, who made the profitable discovery that his publication could double as an employment agency for mercenaries and a weaponry catalogue. The magazine’s classified ads offered an eclectic menu of ‘professional adventure’. You could enlist in Portugal’s war against anti-colonial guerrillas in Mozambique or sign up for the sultan of Oman’s counterinsurgency against the communist Dhofar rebellion. More sedentary readers could buy a ‘Free Cambodia’ T-shirt, donate to an anti-Sandinista relief fund, support the search for POWs, stock up on Confederate paraphernalia, get a TEC-9 assault pistol, hire a hitman or order dynamite by the truckload.

The popularity of a magazine like this, which at the height of its circulation in the early 1980s had 190,000 subscribers, testifies to the global reach of the paramilitary American right. You could learn more about certain corners of the world from its pages than you could from the Economist. Soldier of Fortune featured ‘participant’ despatches from unofficial war zones, interviews with European colonial rogues, and a sense of drama that cast the US as the last bulwark against the communist tide. Confederate ‘lost cause’ pathos alternated with a buoyant sense of America’s chosenness.

Brown himself led death squads in El Salvador and tours with the mujahideen in Afghanistan. By the late 1970s, American mercenaries were advertising their services in Rhodesian phonebooks. Twenty years later, a handful were serving in Croatian nationalist battalions in the Yugoslav wars, with underground American white power organisations promoting wider recruitment – and seeking out and funding East German neo-Nazis. More recently, some 15 American freelancers have joined gonzo-fascist Ukrainian units in the Donbass to fight ‘Putin’s communists’, though others see the Russian president as a knight for the white power cause.

For more than a century, anti-communism was a reliable binding agent on the American right. Disparate factions, from tax protesters and libertarians to fundamentalist Christians, from anti-abortion activists to the Ku Klux Klan and white power terror cells, could share a common enemy. For much of the 20th century, the struggles against communism and black progress were close to indistinguishable. In the late 1930s, local law enforcement waged war on the Alabama Communist Party and the 12,000 black members of the Sharecroppers Union; in the 1970s, right-wing US politicians actively supported white supremacist Rhodesia and South Africa against anti-colonial insurgencies, which were simultaneously demonised as black uprisings bent on white submission and as communist movements in hock to the Soviet Union. When Dylann Roof murdered nine black Christians in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, he demonstrated the continuing overlap between white power at home and pro-colonial anti-communism abroad: in his profiles online he could be seen proudly displaying Rhodesian military regalia.

London Review of Books for more

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