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'Throughline': The Rise Of The Modern White Power Movement

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The photo of a Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol is an emblematic image from the January 6 insurrection. There were white supremacists among the attackers. Today, Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei at NPR's history podcast Throughline help us understand the evolution of the modern white power movement, starting at the end of the Vietnam War. And a note to listeners - this story begins with hateful and offensive speech.

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LOUIS BEAM: Do you promise them your ever-lasting hate, contempt and utter opposition until this country is rid of them, until America is taken back, until they are off the land or under the land?

(CHEERING)

RUND ABDELFATAH, BYLINE: This is the voice of a man named Louis Beam. He was a Vietnam War veteran from Texas and someone who would become a leader in the white power movement.

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BEAM: Why would you give it away to these satanic, devil-worshiping, child-molesting, homosexual, bathroom sodomites in Washington?

KATHLEEN BELEW: Louis Beam served two tours as a Huey helicopter gunner in the Vietnam War and wrote and spoke often about that experience as deeply traumatic and as kind of a rationale for continuing the violence of Vietnam in the United States.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI, BYLINE: Kathleen Belew is a history professor and author of the book "Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement And Paramilitary America."

BELEW: So when he returned to Texas, Louis Beam got involved in Klan activity, eventually affiliating his group with a national organization called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which was led at that time by David Duke.

ARABLOUEI: The post-Vietnam War years provided a launching point for a new white supremacist narrative that could...

BELEW: Unite a whole bunch of groups and activists that had not been able to get together before. These included people like Klansmen, neo-Nazis, people who followed white supremacist theological beliefs. But to be clear, this is not just about veterans who come home and do violence. And in fact, what I'm talking about is a super tiny percentage of veterans as a whole.

ABDELFATAH: Louis Beam used money from a Texas State Veterans Land Board grant to buy up property and create a paramilitary training facility where he trained KKK members.

ARABLOUEI: And in 1983, the modernizing white power movement took things to a new level. It happened at the annual Aryan Nations World Congress in Idaho.

BELEW: There was a secret meeting of people. Some of the people in that room testified afterward that what they were talking about was declaring war on the federal government and moving to a strategy of revolutionary warfare with the intent of overthrowing the nation. Others in that room have disputed this. But I think we can see just from looking at what happened afterward, that there is a notable change in how these groups behave after this event. The kind of violence they carry out changes, and their intercoordination, the relationships and communications between groups, are just exponentially higher after this meeting in 1983.

ARABLOUEI: They come up with two new strategies that help them both coordinate and not get caught doing it.

BELEW: Both of which are promoted by Louis Beam, who's there.

ARABLOUEI: The first is that they adopted an idea called leaderless resistance.

BELEW: The idea is that one or a few white power activists can work towards a common set of goals without communication with another cell and without direct communication with movement leadership.

ARABLOUEI: This would allow people in the movement or people inspired by the movement to act individually without a direct chain of command, a strategy designed to avoid wide-scale prosecution.

BELEW: In other words, if one person gets arrested, they don't want the whole movement to go down.

ARABLOUEI: And the second idea that came from this meeting is the use of early Internet technology.

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BELEW: So they create this thing called Liberty Net. And then Louis Beam went around the country, teaching people how to go on these message boards, teaching people how to go, effectively, online. We're in 1983, '84. This is way before most people think about, you know, far-right online activism. And what we know about Liberty Net is that it included not just, you know, assassination lists and ideology and kind of, like, the writings of who you should hate and why - although it did include all that stuff - but it also included things like personal ads. So what we see, actually, is that this movement was pioneering social network activism, you know, decades before Facebook.

ARABLOUEI: White power groups became networked and connected in ways that they'd never been in the past, and they were increasing their capabilities to carry out violent, militaristic attacks. But it would be literature that would articulate their vision for a guerrilla war against the government.

BELEW: And to get there, they used this book, "The Turner Diaries."

ARABLOUEI: "The Turner Diaries" is a novel published in the 1970s that imagines an anti-government revolt that eventually brings down the government and starts a worldwide genocide of nonwhite people.

BELEW: This is a huge, imaginative leap. So "The Turner Diaries" gives them this kind of road map for guerrilla warfare and, you know, an eventual genocide. And it's an incredibly violent distillation of movement ideology and ends with, like, you know, the use of atomic and chemical and biological weapons to literally kill all nonwhite people in the rest of the world. They want an all-white world. So with "Turner Diaries" in hand, white power activists are doing a whole bunch of violent activity in the '80s, ranging from obtaining a bunch of stolen military weapons and explosives and other material from Army posts and bases, training in paramilitary camps, assassination plans - some of which are successful, some of which are not successful - smaller-scale bombings and burnings and attacks on infrastructure.

ABDELFATAH: And Kathleen Belew doesn't see these attacks as isolated events, but rather the building blocks of a movement, a movement that is now called the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat by the Department of Homeland Security.

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MCCAMMON: That was Throughline host Rund Abdelfatah and her co-host Ramtin Arablouei. You can hear the whole episode by finding Throughline wherever you get your podcasts. And now you'll be able to hear it on many NPR member stations.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMTIN ARABLOUEI'S "UNTITLED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.