On Friends and Foes:
Examining the Evolution of American
White Supremacy Through Dystopian Literature
by Grant Mooney, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Abstract: This article aims to track the evolution of white supremacist thought in America by looking at the thematic development of white supremacist dystopian literature. By examining a variety of dystopian works, ranging from The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan by Thomas Dixon Jr. (1905) to The Day of the Rope by Devon Stack (2018), this article finds that American white supremacist literature often evolves in ways that reflect the broader evolution of American white supremacist thought. For instance, while all the examined works are united in their belief about the superiority of the white race, how they express this belief has evolved in response to shifts in public opinion. Moreover, white supremacist authors will frequently malign any group that opposes their often conservative cultural values as tools of an ongoing anti-white plot. Groups or entities that were previously ignored become seemingly eternal enemies despite not appearing in prior works. As a result, we see the growth of themes such as Islamophobia, misogyny, and homophobia over the course of the examined literature. Thus, this project provides an essential look into both the evolution of white supremacist rhetoric, as well as how it is often formed in response to those who seek to drive social change.
While many Americans agree that white supremacy and ethnonationalism is an abhorrent part of society, its ideological components still hold sway amongst a sizable portion of the American population. A 2017 poll of 5,360 American adults shows that 89 % of Americans believe that all races should be treated equally (Reuters / Ipsos / UVA Center for Politics 2). However, when asked about whether "America must protect and preserve its White European heritage," the results are much more mixed. Only 34% disagree, with a surprising 31% agreeing (Reuters / Ipsos / UVA Center for Politics 2). Moreover, 39% of Americans surveyed agree that "White people are currently under attack in this country," with 38% disagreeing (Reuters / Ipsos / UVA Center for Politics 2).
As defined by the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacy is a multifaceted belief that includes support for the domination of non-whites by whites, support for segregation, a belief in the superiority of white culture, and a belief in the genetic superiority of white people. And in the above responses, we can see the way that a belief in the superiority of white culture likely factors into the conclusion that European culture and the white race are under attack. In order to get a better understanding of how in America this belief still exists, it is crucial to understand how white supremacy has evolved throughout American history.
To that end, this article examines the evolution of American white supremacy by looking towards white supremacist dystopian literature from the early twentieth century to the present. While fictional works, the overall content and popularity of these novels provides an essential look into how white supremacist thought in America has changed over the years, as well as how it has been expressed. Furthermore, these works also provide an invaluable look into the evolution of the white supremacist opinion on non-racial topics such as gender or religion.
The works examined needed to have satisfied three criteria. First, they must portray an objectively dystopian universe. This study used Merriam-Webster's definition of a dystopia as, "An imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives." Therefore, any work that suggested a utopia, either white supremacist or not, was not examined. Secondly, the considered work must also be explicitly white supremacist. For this study, the definition provided by the Anti-Defamation League was adopted. Thus, works like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins were not examined. Third, the work must have some connection to American white supremacy. This criterion means that the works must be popular among, written for, or otherwise connected to the American white supremacist movement.
Many of the examined works would be considered, to a modern reader, fringe. While some, such as The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan by Thomas Dixon Jr., achieved popularity as the basis for D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, most of the works were not as widespread. Thus, it was essential to look to both the historical record as well as independent researchers. Some novels, such as The Turner Diaries by Andrew Macdonald, were cited as an inspiration for the Oklahoma City bombing and was therefore selected for its historical significance (Jackson). Others, such as The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail, are of interest since they have had a significant influence on American nativists such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller (Peltier and Kulish). Less popular works, such as Hold Back This Day by Ward Kendall, are sourced from institutions like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which routinely examines the propagation of American white supremacist literature (Jackson).
Each of the assembled works is ultimately examined both for content as well as how it relates to the broader historical narrative. Initially, the depicted dystopian worlds are examined for who they present as oppressors, who are the oppressed, and how the overall world is portrayed. These various themes are then examined in the light of the overall historical record and connections to the other considered works. The comparative absence or presence of specific themes in early works is also noted. In doing so, there emerged a clear evolution both in the ideological content of the examined works as well as how these thoughts are expressed.
It is to be expected that the examined authors unanimously hold deeply racist views. However, it is important to note both how this belief in white superiority has evolved over the ages and why it has changed. Starting at the turn of the century, works like The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan and The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden, both by Thomas Dixon Jr., showcase a distinct and transparent form of white superiority that was common for the era. The former work, which was adapted for D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, serves as a sort of "alternate history" aimed at reconciling the KKK with modern society (Lehr and Pfeiffer). Much like the film, formerly freed slaves are portrayed as rapacious brutes obsessed with petty revenge and white women. But after the assault of a local teenager and her mother by these former slaves, a group of virtuous Southern men form the KKK and begin a campaign of terror to protect their women and their homeland (Dixon Jr., "The Clansman" 320).
The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden is not as well-known as The Clansman, but also echoes Dixon's blatantly white supremacist worldview. Intended as a rebuttal to Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the novel portrays what Dixon believed to be a more realistic version of the American South (University of North Carolina). The titular Tom is not an oppressed slave, but rather a poor white farmer desperately trying to make a living in post-Civil War South Carolina (Dixon Jr., "The Leopard's Spots" 3). He and his neighbors are abused by violent former slaves and by anti-white Radical Republicans (Dixon Jr., "The Leopard's Spots" 194). In one of the more violent sections of the novel, a group of former slaves randomly kidnap and murder an African American child seemingly for the fun of it (Dixon Jr., "The Leopard's Spots" 93). This murder is aided because the boy's father is a former slave who "turned into a drunken loafer at the time of Independence" and thus is incapable of taking care of his child (Dixon Jr., "The Leopard's Spots" 93). Ergo, much like in his other work, Dixon seeks to promote the view that African Americans are by and large savages, and thus strict measures of control are needed to contain both their supposed barbarism as well as protect the white race, who is by extension superior.
While extreme to a modern audience, it is essential to view Dixon's work in the light of broader American opinion at the time. To that end, Dixon's views were representative of a fair amount of the American populace. While the south is often thought of as a hotbed of white supremacist activity, the historical record shows that most states engaged in some level of segregation and racial oppression during this time. White Pennsylvanians, for instance, attempted to prevent freed slaves from settling in the state (King and Tuck 220). Throughout all of America, voting rights were restricted, with only about five states guaranteeing equality between white and black voters (King and Tuck 220). More relevant to Dixon's work is the fact that racially motivated violence was also quite common outside of the south. When adjusting for the overall size of the black population, from 1889 to 1918 the probability of being lynched was highest in Wyoming, followed by New Mexico and Oregon tied for second (King and Tuck 227).
A widespread belief in the scientific and genetic superiority of whites over all other races was reflected in the nationwide popularity of eugenics (MacKellar and Bechtel 27). Especially popular among white supremacists, many eugenicists came to endorse the idea that the birth rates of non-whites should be regulated, thus resulting in "Asexualization Acts" and the forced sterilization of non-whites (Ko). In California, for instance, forced sterilizations were often tinged by anti-Asian and anti-Mexican bias (Ko). In Mississippi, a similar prejudice resulted in forced sterilizations being performed on African American girls as young as nine (Ko).
The catalyst for America eventually turning away from these policies was its entry into World War II. Having to combat the openly genocidal Third Reich, America suddenly needed to define itself in opposition to Germany's system of white supremacy (Fredrickson 129). Concurrently, to maintain its place on the world stage, America also began to liberalize its segregation and racial policies (Fredrickson 130). As a result, eugenics, which had previously been viewed as the cutting edge of science, now was considered worthless in the scientific community (Fredrickson 128). Concurrently, white supremacists now had to reckon with the fact that America had lost its appetite for any ideology that did not at least pretend to be egalitarian (Fredrickson 128).
To that end, there began a large-scale shift of American white supremacist authors from presenting the white race as a superior force that triumphs over the non-white ones to seemingly being an oppressed race themselves. Modern white supremacist works like Hold Back This Day by Ward Kendall, Utopia X by Scott Wilson¸ and The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail all imagine worlds where the government is now part of a massive anti-white conspiracy that seeks the extinction of the white race while elevating the interests of non-white people. Hold Back This Day, for instance, implies that non-white government officials have led a covert campaign of genocide that involved the forced extermination of white people (Kendall 41). Utopia X imagines a world where white people are routinely banned from reproducing as a form of retroactive punishment for their role in racism (Wilson 20-21). The Camp of the Saints suggests that not only is the government aligned with non-white antagonists, but the entire Catholic Church as well (Raspail 141).
As a result, many American white supremacist authors now rhetorically seek to align themselves with and receive protections associated with marginalized groups such as Native Americans or African Americans. Utopia X, for instance, draws a connection between a Native American whose tribe is now extinct with the supposed extinction of the white race (Wilson 191). Others seek to imply that white supremacist ideas are beneficial to all races. At the climax of Hold Back This Day by Ward Kendall, a wholly Japanese scientist aids the white protagonists in their escape from government security forces out of a perceived sense of solidarity regarding racial purity (226). Of course, his actions also eventually result in the death of both him and every other non-white person in existence (Kendall 263). In Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War by Thomas Hobbes, African Americans are happy with being confined to sharecropping in order to win back the trust of white Americans. (244).
This shift is unique in the sense that it marks a stylistic change that has come to define much of modern American white supremacist thought. While there are some exclusions, it is more likely to see current white supremacists adopt this form of cynical egalitarianism, where they claim that white people are the victim of discrimination or that they just want to help all races. But while they present their arguments differently than previous iterations of white supremacists, they nevertheless believe the same things. Modern authors, like those in the works previously discussed, show the white race as being under attack by an onslaught of non-white plotters and brutes. The governments of both Utopia X and Hold Back this Day are made up of entirely anti-white politicians who are consumed with a burning hatred for white people. They are also portrayed as being stupid and selfish, such as working to censor all examples of white achievement and claim those achievements for themselves. Others, such as The Camp of the Saints, suggest that they will destroy entire nations given a chance (Raspail 310-311). In a stark contrast to earlier works, the white race is now portrayed as the persecuted minority in order to avoid a direct connection to the white supremacist authors of old.
Gender, as a concern of white supremacist authors, shows a similar rhetorical "evolution." Early works, such as those by Thomas Dixon Jr., show women in a distinctly Victorian light. They are delicate, pure, and in constant need of male attention. As part of this innocence, they are also portrayed as the frequent victim of sexual assault by African American men (Patton and Snyder-Yuly 862). This trope makes up a significant part of The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, with the formation of the KKK being a response to the rape of a young white girl and her mother (Dixon Jr., "The Clansman" 327). While this trope did somewhat falter in the intervening decades, its influence can still be seen even in modern works. In The Day of the Rope by Devon Stack, a female clubgoer is assaulted by an African American man in what Stack likely intends to be punishment for her promiscuous behavior (45). Hold Back This Day features the assault of a young white girl by the government's non-white security forces (Kendall 240). The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail portrays the migrant armada as being rapacious brutes who keep French women in sexual servitude (269).
However, throughout the examined literature it is clear that white supremacist authors evolved in their overall opinion of women. While women around the turn of the century were treated as delicate creatures who seemingly existed only to help men, there was an eventual shift to view them as enemies. Although subtle, this shift is first seen in The Camp of the Saints, where "Women’s Lib” protestors are used as an example of the political left’s weakness (Raspail 216). One of the novel’s antagonists, an anti-white journalist named Clement Dio, is portrayed as a supporter of the fleet who also is a champion for women’s causes (Raspail 69). Though not as extreme as ensuing authors, we start to see here the idea that anything related to feminism or the interests of women is a malign force counter to the white supremacist ideal.
This pattern escalates in later works such as Hold Back This Day and Utopia X. While some members of the pro-white resistance movements are women, the governments of these worlds are portrayed as vehemently anti-male and tilted towards the interest of women. The government of Utopia X supports the “World Chapterhouse Movement,” a radical feminist faith that condemns all men as irrevocably sexist (Wilson 7). Hold Back This Day, which portrays a single unified world state as being under the thrall of feminism, shows how liberal divorce laws are responsible for the end of the protagonist’s marriage to his non-white wife (Kendall 129). Perhaps as a result of these generous laws, women in Hold Back This Day are also portrayed as supporters of the anti-white world government. The main character’s wife refuses to believe his claims that the government may be engaging in a campaign of white genocide (Kendall 41). His multiracial daughter, who he never really connects with, is so loyal to the government that she forgoes higher education to serve as a member of the “Junior Euth Corp,” a government force dedicated to euthanizing poor people in order to alleviate world hunger (Kendall 128). This stage, in an escalation of The Camp of the Saints’ portrayal of feminism, now shows women as well as feminist groups as being tools of the enemy. While some may seemingly transcend their gender and still be considered as part of the pro-white resistance movement, this is usually a result of the author placing more of a value on their race than their gender.
This pattern then reaches its final form in works such as The Day of the Rope by Devon Stack and Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War by Thomas Hobbes. In The Day of the Rope, Stack portrays women as fools who are both enemies of white supremacy and incapable of self-preservation. For instance, after being assaulted by an African American man, one female character is so concerned about being accused of racism that she apologies to her rapist for being possibly racist (Stack 46-47). At the novel’s conclusion, a different woman is quickly radicalized into killing one of the protagonists after a short interaction in an “Antifa” chatroom (Stack 130). Concurrently, the protagonist of Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War, a former Marine named John Rumford, is discharged from the service after refusing to recognize the enrollment of women in the Marine Corps (Hobbes 8). His rigid and deeply misogynistic views are exemplified when he approves the massacre of over a hundred students and faculty at Dartmouth College after learning that there is a resurgence of “political correctness” and gender studies on campus (Hobbes 293). This massacre is carried out using ancient Roman swords to reflect a return to tradition and reactionary thought (Hobbes 293).
This shift in how women are perceived is closely tied to how much of a “threat” feminism is imagined to present toward the ideals of American white supremacists. At the turn of the century, women presented little threat to the American white supremacist ideal due to their limited standing in society. The social and legal structure of the nation was profoundly patriarchal and excluded women from most forms of political activity. They were banned from even supposedly egalitarian organizations like labor unions (Helmbold and Schofield 503). As Suffrage came to pass, and later feminist groups sought to challenge male political and social dominance, we see the advent of them as an enemy (Rampton). This attitude is especially prevailing in modern white supremacist movements, whose adherents often believe that women are inherently inferior to men and thus should be confined to traditional gender roles in service to their male counterparts (“When Women Become the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy” 11). Therefore, as the works move further away from the turn of the century, we see an increase in the American white supremacist belief that women are the enemy.
White supremacist authors, largely, are extremely prejudiced regarding religion. Many of the examined authors are anti-Semitic, although to varying degrees. Hunter and The Turner Diaries by Andrew Macdonald, considered hallmarks of white supremacist literature, are two of the most blatant examples of this (Jackson). The first work, which follows a genocidal Air Force veteran’s quest to rid America of what he regards as a racial “sickness,” suggests that Jews are responsible for the decline of white civilization through the promotion of “cultural degeneracy” (Macdonald, “Hunter” 112). The Turner Diaries, also by Macdonald, features a massacre of Jewish people, non-white people, and “race traitors” in what he refers to as “The Day of the Rope” (213). The Day of the Rope by Devon Stack, which takes its title from Macdonald’s massacre, is similarly anti-Semitic. American politics are portrayed as being under the control of a shadowy cabal of elites with ties to Israel (Stack 67). In a seeming allusion to blood libel, these elites also routinely engage in the ritualized abuse of kidnapped children as well as perform human sacrifices (Stack 123). Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War, while not openly genocidal, expresses an admiration for the work ethic of Nazi Germany and downplays the significance of the Holocaust (Hobbes 363).
Islam, which is now considered a significant boogeyman of the modern American far-right, is unique for the way that it suddenly became an enemy in a relatively short period. In the examined literature that existed before the events of September 11th, Islam is a mostly ignored topic. The Camp of the Saints, which focuses on the eventual destruction of France at the hands of immigrants from South Asia, lumps Islam alongside Hinduism as a foreign but not exceptionally evil faith. The author, Jean Raspail, later claimed this was a mistake on his part (xli). The protagonist of Hunter even seems to express sympathy for the fact that he manipulated Jewish agents into a battle with “the poor Arabs” (Macdonald 180). But after September 11th, this dynamic quickly changed. Whereas it previously had been ignored, there was suddenly a sizable coalition of American conservative politicians and religious officials who decried Islam as an anti-Christian force that had always been at odds with Western Civilization (Tamney 621).
As a result of this shift, American white supremacist literature rapidly embraced Islam as an enemy. Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War shows a literal Caliphate invading Boston while carrying out forced conversions and crucifixions (Hobbes 203). Utopia X implies that a massive Islamic invasion destroyed all of Europe before the novel’s events (Wilson 193). One of the most egregious examples of Islamophobia, In the Year 2050: America’s Religious Civil War by Ira Tabankin, employs countless harmful tropes while imaging the descent of America into an Islamic theocracy. America’s first openly Muslim president, Osama bin Mahomed, is portrayed as a despot who uses a religious police force to crush any trace of Western culture (Tabankin 86). His campaign of terror is supported by America’s now sizable Muslim population, who outnumber non-Muslims through increased birth rates and immigration (Tabankin 39). In a seeming nod to birtherism, it is stated that a release of “secret records” revealed that President Barack Obama had indeed been a Muslim (Tabankin 7).
This sudden and extreme evolution in how Islam is portrayed in white supremacist literature is indicative of American white supremacy’s tendency to rapidly “evolve” when faced with social changes. While they often claim that the supposed agents of anti-white plots are eternal enemies, they are usually only seen as such after significant historical currents bring them to their attention. Whether it be the rise of second-wave feminism in the mid-twentieth century or the events of September 11th, white supremacist authors quickly modulate their world view to claim these entities are adversaries. Concurrently, as shown with The Day of the Rope’s belief that liberals and women will bring about their end through their support of Muslim immigration, it is also seen how anyone who seeks to support these marginalized groups will likely be labeled an enemy and part of an anti-white conspiracy (Stack 80).
The LGBTQ+ Community
In the examined works, the LGBTQ+ community is portrayed as a threat to the physical safety of white supremacists, as well as secretive puppet masters behind the increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ equality. As a danger, they are implied to be secretive pedophiles and radicals. In Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War, it is suggested that the goal of placing gay guidance counselors in schools is to provide them with sexual access to children (Hobbes 146). Hold Back this Day implies that a similar pedophilic conspiracy has infiltrated the government and is now engaging in a global campaign of child abuse (Kendall 30-32). Others, such as Hunter, suggest that the LGBTQ+ community is filled with violent radicals who aim to douse crowds with AIDS-infected blood (Macdonald 204).
In a manipulative sense, the LGBTQ+ community is often portrayed as a sort of scheming cabal. Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War implies that the governor’s sudden push to promote LGBTQ+ presence in schools is actually because of blackmail by local activists (Hobbes 84). In Hunter, the LGBTQ+ community make up a key voting block on the censorious “Board of Review,” which they use to prevent any criticism of themselves or their Jewish overlords (Macdonald, “Hunter” 204). In a related sense, Utopia X portrays LGBTQ+ activists as working alongside the government to depress white birth rates by promoting medical treatments that manipulate people’s sexual orientation (Wilson 52).
However, much like Islam, this evolution shows how American white supremacists designate an entity an enemy despite previously ignoring it. Whereas LGBTQ+ people had existed throughout all of history, it is only after the Stonewall Riots that they attracted seemingly any attention from the broader American community (Hall 562). White supremacist authors, by extension, paid no attention to them beforehand. In the examined literature, the first instance of a white supremacist referencing an LGBTQ+ character was in The Camp of the Saints, which was written in 1970 (Raspail 146). Furthermore, Hunter, which was written in 1989, makes the LGBTQ+ community a significant part of the supposed threat to the white race. But The Turner Diaries, written in 1978 by the same author, barely even referenced them. As a result, we see the way that a reaction against cultural change is a significant motivator when American white supremacists consider what threats exist.
In summary, white supremacists hold deeply retrograde views on virtually all social issues. However, these views are often tied more to a reaction against change rather than the examined group posing any serious threat to the author. Whether it be Islam, the LGBTQ+ community, or gender equality, white supremacist authors often come around to view these entities as a threat despite them existing well before entering their consciousness. Due to their obsession with race, these groups are often contextualized in the form of a supposed anti-white plot. Therefore, we can see how American white supremacists often come to incorporate other forms of prejudice in response to a supposed threat to the current social order.
Similarly, it is essential to note that there was a significant rebranding of American white supremacy after World War II. Whereas espousing an explicit belief in the superiority of the white race was considered acceptable, the horrors of World War II rendered such beliefs publicly unacceptable. In response, there began a concentrated effort to rebrand white supremacist thought in such a way that was acceptable to the broader American populace. There began a shift to present the white race as a persecuted minority rather than as the superior overlord. This narrative shift is one likely explanation for why white supremacy still exists in the American mindset. While the content of the beliefs has remained mostly the same, they have now shifted to presenting themselves as protecting whites from a supposed threat rather than asserting dominance. In doing so, they increase their acceptability in the public sphere.
Furthermore, a tendency to ignore existing social or political issues until they are perceived as relevant is not unique to white supremacy. As seen with the exclusion of women from early labor unions, this work suggests that there is a tendency to ignore groups that are outside the mainstream regardless of that group’s ideology. As a result, this serves as a reminder to listen to marginalized voices when forming social movements, as well as to highlight the inherent shallowness of white supremacist ideology. For while American white supremacy often seeks to reference history and “Clashes of Civilizations,” it is often based solely on a reaction to the outside world. Therefore, we can look to current events as a guide for the next evolution of American white supremacy rhetoric. As protests supporting social justice become more widespread, these same events will likely become the targets of white supremacist violence like they were in Charlottesville (Astor, Caron and Victor). It is also probable that American white supremacists will come to consider the recent rise in corporate activism as proof that corporations are agents of an anti-white plot (Snouwaert). Similarly, it is likely that white supremacy will become more intertwined with online movements such as QAnon, whose followers imagine themselves fighting against a cabal of liberal elites (“Quantifying Hate: A Year of Anti-Semitism on Twitter” 27). Ultimately, it is likely that the next target of white supremacist anger will be simply the next thing that aligns with the groups that have learned to hate. As social progress inevitably occurs, this will likely come to include much of modern society.
Anti-Defamation League. “White Supremacy.” www.adl.org/resources/glossary-terms/white-supremacy. Accessed 17 June 2020.
---. “Quantifying Hate: A Year of Anti-Semitism on Twitter.” 7 May 2018, www.adl.org/resources/reports/quantifying-hate-a-year-of-anti-semitism-on-twitter#qanon. Accessed 10 August 2020.
---. “When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy.” 2018, www.adl.org/media/11707/download. Accessed 2 August 2020.