The alt-right movement in America gained national headlines last fall when a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly.
But to UChicago historian Kathleen Belew, the rising tide of white nationalism and white supremacy is far from surprising, but instead part of a long and dark history of white power activism in the United States.
In her new book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, Belew has completed the first complete history of that movement—from its beginnings following the Vietnam War to the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
“What seems new is not new, and I think there is a sense of astonishment that belies the long story of how these groups formed and furthered their actions,” said Belew, assistant professor in the Department of History and the College.
The impetus for the book sprang from Belew’s research on a 1979 anti-Ku Klux Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina in which five members of the Communist Workers Party were murdered. A comment by one the killers, who was among a group of Klansmen and neo-Nazis, stuck with her.
“The commentary was, ‘I shot communists in Vietnam. Why wouldn’t I do that here?’ I couldn’t stop thinking about that,” Belew said. “It collapsed peace time and war time, front lines and home fronts, and different kinds of enemies. I looked through the archive generated by this movement, and that was pervasive throughout the materials. The Vietnam War was a major force in uniting this social movement.”