By David Corn February 24, 2024
It’s Black History Month. Could that be why right-wing racism seems to be on the rise?
I’m not sure how you measure it, but there seems to be a pronounced uptick in overt racism within conservative ranks of late. And it goes beyond the egregious conduct of former President Donald Trump. The onetime reality TV celebrity has a long record of racism that stretches from the discriminatory housing practices engaged in by his family business (1960s) to his racist attack on the wrongly convicted Central Park Five (1980s) to his championing of the racist birther theory (2010s). At a town hall in New Hampshire during the 2016 campaign, a man in the audience yelled, “We have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims…When can we get rid of them?” Affirming this burst of bigotry, Trump replied, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there.” And when candidate Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is Mexican American and who was overseeing the Trump University fraud case (remember that one?), even GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan felt compelled to call his remarks “racist.”
Yet Trump’s racism—like so much of his outrageous behavior—never became a decisive issue in the 2016 campaign, and it did not abate during his presidency. There was the Muslim ban. He referred to a group of protesters that included white nationalists and Nazis as “very fine people.” He called African nations “shithole countries.” In the 2020 race, he repeatedly claimed that Joe Biden was teaming up with Black radicals (and commies and Antifa and the media) to assault suburban communities (obviously white suburban communities). We don’t have time to go through a full rundown. Do you want a list of Trump’s racist episodes? Here’s one.
And it only seems to be getting worse. In recent months, Trump has hurled racist attacks at Black officials who are prosecuting cases against him. He has derided Nikki Haley in a racist manner. He has used racist and Hitler-like rhetoric to slam undocumented migrants.
Setting an example with this torrent of hatred, Trump has thrown the door open to denizens of MAGA-land who wish to express their inner racism. Meanwhile, leading strategists of the right, including Chris Rufo and failed wannabe president Ron DeSantis, have launched a war on “wokeness” and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at schools and businesses, a crusade that jibes nicely with Trump’s explicit racism. It’s hard to believe there’s no connection between these strategic initiatives and Trump’s legitimizing of racism.
As bad as this recent history has been, it appears that voices on the right are going further. Look at Fox pundit Raymond Arroyo. Days ago on that network, he declared Black Americans will back Trump in the coming election because…they love sneakers. Yes, he said that. This was his insight following Trump’s recent announcement that he’s selling a limited line of Trump-inspired (and incredibly gaudy and ugly) sneakers at $399 a pair. Arroyo opined:
As you see Black support eroding from Joe Biden, this is connecting with Black America because they love sneakers. They love sneakers. This is a big deal. Certainly, in the inner city. So, when you have Trump roll out his sneaker line, they’re like, “Wait a minute. This is cool.” He’s reaching them on a level that defies and is above politics.
Selling a thousand pairs of ridiculous sneakers will win over Black voters? Tough to be more dismissive, cynical, or…racist than that. When the host asked if “people who are excited about the sneakers” would vote for Trump, Arroyo replied, “Anybody willing to put 400 bucks down for a pair of sneakers—yeah, I think that’s commitment and love.” Arroyo trotted out racial stereotypes, and his Fox interlocutor was fine with that.
On the MAGA right, there’s been a race to a racist bottom, with leading figures seemingly trying to outdo each other. At the front of this pack is Charlie Kirk, the Trump fanboy who heads Turning Point USA. He has declared that he would be nervous if he saw a Black pilot in the cockpit of a plane. As if this captain’s only qualification was checking a box for a DEI initiative. (To be clear, all pilots need to pass the same tests to be certified to fly.) He also noted, “If I’m dealing with someone in customer service who’s a moronic Black woman, I wonder: Is she there because of her excellence or is she there because of affirmative action?”
Floyd Brown, a veteran far-right activist (who was behind the infamously racist Willie Horton ad that ran during the 1988 campaign) and is now campaign manager for Kari Lake’s Senate campaign in Arizona, said something similar about a Black doctor. “Yet now because of DEI, when you see a Black surgeon, you get a question in your mind.” You do?
Kirk has always been an alt-right twerp, but it’s noteworthy that he now has delved into the realm of white supremacy. My colleague Ali Breland did a deep dive on his descent and observed:
Kirk appears to have shifted, embracing racist and white nationalist rhetoric and figures with little hesitation. In the past year, he’s hosted far-right and white supremacist figures on his podcast and has tweeted in support of whiteness, earning praise from white supremacists who have long campaigned to mainstream such rhetoric.
In October, he invited veteran white supremacist Steve Sailer, whose bona fides include writing for overt white nationalist publications including VDare and the Unz Review, on his podcast. During their interview, Kirk called Sailer his favorite “noticer”—a word frequently used in internet conservative spaces as a euphemism for individuals willing to publicly draw bigoted conclusions linking race and criminality. Sailer did exactly this during their conversation, insinuating that Black people commit crimes because of innate characteristics: “Blacks tend to commit murder about 10 times as often per capita as whites…it’s not just all explained by poverty.”
Breland also reported, “Others associated with Turning Point USA are also giving voice to white supremacist positions. In a tweet last week, right-wing internet figure Jack Posobiec, a TPUSA contributor with a history of ties to white nationalists, slammed Nikki Haley’s financial backers as ‘rootless cosmopolitans,’ an established antisemitic euphemism.” (Posobiec was one of the chief spreaders of the violence-inciting Pizzagate conspiracy theory.)
These folks might seem to be marginal figures, but as influencers on the right, they reflect what appears to be a greater willingness generally to openly voice racist sentiments. Axios reported that at a Turning Point USA conference in December, the “emphasis on Haley’s nonwhite heritage was hard to miss.”
Racism and white grievance are everywhere on Planet MAGA these days. A broadcast of Sean Hannity’s Fox show earlier this month featured a live segment in which members of the Guardian Angels, a supposedly anti-crime patrol group, assaulted a man in Times Square who they claimed was a “migrant.” As this was transpiring, their leader Curtis Sliwa exclaimed, “They’ve taken over.” Nope. Their victim was from the Bronx. Here was racist violence shown live on television. It was right out of Network.
By the way, the New York Post expressed outrage that a Google AI chatbot generated a picture of a Black founding father:
Okay, George Washington was not Black. But why go nuts over this and put it on the front page? While we’re at it, Jesus probably did not resemble a white European, as he has often been depicted. (He certainly didn’t look like this.)
Slavery had benefits. Kamala Harris is an idiot. White people are being replaced by people of color (a conspiracy theory promoted by Tucker Carlson and others on the right). Racist comments are zipping through the conservative cosmos at what appears to be a more furious clip than several years ago. There have long been statistics about hate crimes, and in 2023 they were up by 13 percent. But it’s more difficult to track and quantify the dissemination of racist utterances. I sense there’s an acceleration. (Do you?) And I shudder to think how much worse this could get, especially if the Grand Leader and catalyst of this racism revival returns to the White House.