Commentary

White nationalism is racism

May 15, 2023 6:59 am
Senator Tommy Tuberville with the U.S. Capitol behind him.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, speaks at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol Building on April 27, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

White nationalism is racism.

Don’t take it from me. That’s the dictionary definition.

“The belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior to people from all other racial and ethnic groups, and that in order to preserve their white, European, and Christian cultural identities, they need or deserve a segregated geographical area, preferential treatment, and special legal protections,” says dictionary.com.

And the definition of a white nationalist?

“One of a group of militant white people who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation,” says Merriam-Webster.

It’s tragically easy to find examples of these thugs spilling blood over the pages of Alabama history. White nationalism has strangled democracy and public education in our state and ruined millions of lives. 

So when Alabama’s senior senator treats this lethal, authoritarian concept as just another shade of opinion, you better be outraged.

Last Monday, WBHM published an interview with U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville about his holds on military promotions. Tuberville is blocking the promotions because of a Pentagon policy on abortion, a move that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks a bit much

In the middle of a rambling answer to a question about what message his stand sends to foreign adversaries, Tuberville brought up white nationalism. 

“The Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in our agenda, as Joe Biden’s agenda,” he said. “They’re destroying it. This year, we will not reach any recruiting goals in the military. So, if we want to talk about — looking weak — that’s where we’re going to look weak.”

If you read this as Tuberville saying that kicking racists out of the military is a sign of weakness, you’re not alone.

When interviewer Richard Banks asked Tuberville if he believes white nationalists should be allowed to enlist, Tuberville said “They call them that. I call them Americans.” 

Later in the interview, the senator said “this country is for all of us,” but not after suggesting Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is Black, expelled white nationalists because he opposed “people that don’t believe how we believe.” 

Let me be clear: I am 100% in favor of expelling racists from the military. I am even more in favor of keeping violent racists as far from the nation’s largest cache of automatic weapons as existentially possible.

Tuberville’s office didn’t respond to questions I sent on Wednesday. In a statement to al.com, a spokesperson said the comments showed Tuberville was “skeptical of the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military.” (A few days after this statement, the Washington Post reported Jack Teixeira, accused of leaking classified information as a member of the Air National Guard, had used slurs in posted videos and appeared to be preparing for a race war.) 

When NBC News reporter Julie Tsirkin explained to Tuberville what a white nationalist is, Tuberville said “I look at a white nationalist as a Trump Republican. That’s what we’re called all the time.”

Given multiple chances to condemn white nationalism as a cancer on our nation; given plenty of opportunities to say racism is a threat to our national defense, Tuberville did what Alabama leaders always do: retreat into whiny, self-pitying victimhood.

It’s true that Tuberville is a fan of former President Donald Trump. He owes his place in the Senate to straight-ticket Republican voting for Trump that allowed Tuberville to overcome a significant financial disadvantage against then-U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in 2020. (Jones happens to share my stance on violent racists.

As Trump spewed lies about his loss that year, Tuberville voted to overturn the results of democratic elections in Arizona and Pennsylvania, even as an authoritarian mob put his life and the lives of other duly-elected officials in danger.   

When a New York jury last week found Trump civilly liable for sexually abusing and defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll in a civil case, Tuberville said the verdict “makes me want to vote for him twice.”

And at a campaign rally in Nevada for Trump last October, Tuberville accused Democrats of being “pro-crime,” and then went even further. 

“They want crime, because they want to take over what you got,” he said. “They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”

Reparations are proposals to financially compensate Black Americans for the generation-spanning damage that slavery and segregation did to their physical, psychological and economic well-being. Tuberville equated Black Americans to “people that do the crime.”

Will Tuberville pay any kind of political price for this? Probably not. After all, the senator’s not doing anything to upset Republican activists, like fighting to expand health care coverage or trying to save Alabamians from the gun violence killing our state.

As long as Tuberville can get through a GOP primary every six years and keep that R next to his name, he’ll have job security. 

And if he has to repeatedly abase himself before Trump to do so, all the better. GOP primary voters want one and only one thing from federal officeholders: total submission to the former president. If they could elect a parrot trained to push voting buttons the way Trump wants, your social media would be flooded with officials posing with MAGA-branded cuttlebones.

But you should still be outraged.

A senator from a state where at least 359 men and women were lynched between 1877 and 1950 should condemn the poison of white supremacy in forceful and unmistakable terms. 

A man who values the conspiracy theories of a habitual liar over the sworn testimony of a woman should not be in a position of power. 

And a state that put that man in the Senate should be ashamed.

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Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.

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