John Henry Smith will host Cutline: Everyday White Supremacy, which will air on Thursday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television. This hourlong special features frank discussions with thought leaders from around Connecticut -- and the country -- on the depth to which both violent and nonviolent white supremacy infects modern society, why people espouse these views and what everyone can do to make for a more equitable world.
For the show, we spoke with two former white supremacist group members, Scott Ernest and Shannon Foley Martinez. In the linked audio interview, you can find a portion of our talk that did not make it into Cutline. In it, you’ll hear them discuss the degree to which violent episodes like the Capitol riot allow nonviolent people who hold supremacist views to deny those views. You’ll also hear them discuss the symbiotic link between Islamic terror and white supremacist terror, how things like racist jokes and complaints about political correctness lead to white supremacist violence, and the lengths to which violent white supremacists are going to join the police and military.
I think I actually believe that when we see things like what we saw at the Capitol on Jan. 6, that a lot of white America likes to actually scapegoat white supremacy out onto those bad people out there. And they’re just like, look at those bad white supremacists out there that is terrible, and that is awful. And that disconnects us from the very intimate and internal work that we have to do in order to functionally dismantle white supremacy, as the system that we all exist within still to this day. And so I think that there’s a lot of functionality there to externalize white supremacy onto the most violent and overt expressions of white supremacy to distance ourselves from acknowledging how white supremacy protects itself and is perpetuated in day-to-day life in America.
John Henry Smith:
So that’s an interesting point. And I’ll pick up on that. Scott, what do you say to people who are watching this, who say exactly what Shannon said, I’m not a violent white supremacist. That’s those people, I would never do something like that. And yet perhaps hold some views that may be troubling. What do you say to those people, Scott?
Those people that are actually in the movement that are doing that sort of thing, they actually view it the same way half the time. When I was on Stormfront, every time something violent would happen -- there would be a mass murder somewhere, for example, Anders Breivik over in Norway -- so many people would say, that's not us. We are a completely different, uh, and, and it’s, uh, it’s a way to try to, uh, distance yourself. And it's basically wearing blinders. You, you you’re, you’re not accepting that what you’re doing is, is affecting all of us.
JHS: Is there an understanding and acknowledgement among white supremacists about how much their ideology, how much of what they do mirrors a group that they purport to dislike -- strongly radicalized Muslims, people who populated the group ISIS, for example,
SE: I think a lot of them don’t really understand that. Some certainly do. But I think a lot of them would -- they’ll be like but were white, you know, were not the same as them. Well, what we're doing is absolutely correct. The cops are gonna support us. The, you know, the politicians are gonna support us.' It's a very much a disconnect between reality and what is going through their minds.
JHS: Shannon, is that a good comparison would you say?
SM: Well, I think, again, that it depends on who we’re talking about and that there are some violent white supremacists that have overlap with accelerationist beliefs. And a lot of them actually really admire the ISIS and jihadist fighters and terrorists, that they actually admire what their tactics are and the violence that they’ve utilized and that there is an acknowledgement that the jihadist terror feeds the ability for white supremacist terror to normalize and to escalate that they -- that there’s sort of this feedback loop that they recognized was happening. That norm, you know, that after 9/11, we had just such a massive wave of anti-Islamic sentiment in this country that, again like that, that's a way that systemic things, that are going on underlying cultural realities, feed and fueled the most overt and violent expressions of white supremacy.
JHS: Shannon, I want to read you something they wrote about you. 'She had black friends in school. She said she wasn't explicitly taught to hate, though. Her parents did reflect the sort of socially acceptable racism of the era cracking racist jokes, for example, or hurling racial epithets in traffic.’ Uh, how much of a role did such microaggressions play into you becoming an avowed white supremacist?
SM: Part of it, I think was for me, my trajectory into the movement coincides with my adolescence, right? And there was actually some funeral there for me that my parents main objection was how I looked because I -- this was the era of, like, skinheads. So like, you know, I had shaved head and boots and stuff. And they were upset about me explicitly sort of identifying with Neo Nazi beliefs. So the word was problematic, but then also that as an adolescent, you know, my response to that was like, ‘You’re just upset about how I look -- you actually believe this stuff. You’re just too much of a coward to actually sit to own it and say it out loud.’ And so that there was sort of that fuel there too. And I think a lot of the dynamic is, again, culturally kind of what we see that there, that there is widespread normalization, and just rampant microaggressions that happen all day, every day. Interactions between people in an intimate way, where there is the sense in which, you know, racism and white supremacy is upheld and perpetuated and normalized.
JHS: You hear so much from certain folks these days, about how much they hate political correctness, so on and so forth, that you can’t go around and speak to people any way that you choose to speak to people. And, and those peoples who complain about political correctness, complained about feeling censored. But the things they're censoring themselves from are, for example, maybe calling someone who is Asian 'Oriental' or telling that off-color racist joke that's been getting a laugh at cocktail parties for years. But how, how important is it in your experience to squash those types of things early in order to keep people from becoming radicalized?
SM: I think it’s vitally important. I have kids, a whole house full of kids ranging from 23 down to five years old. And it’s something that we do for one another all the time, because of course I have to continue to focus on my growth and my anti-racist learning and ways of being. I mean, people aren't being censored, they’re being held accountable, and those are two different things. It’s OK to learn new skills and it’s OK if you learn that something is hurtful or harmful to someone to say, 'well, I didn't know that I'll try to do better going forward. Like, ‘I’m sorry that that hurts you.’ Rather than entrenching and just being like, ‘I can’t say anything anymore, that it’s like we have some new ways of learning how to be, and that that’s OK because all of us as human beings on a lifelong trajectory of growth. I mean, hopefully that we see that as a good thing, rather than something where we’re losing something, not learning new ways of being, especially if those ways make it easier for other people around us. I mean, that sounds a whole lot like the tenets of most of the main religions in the world is to treat other people how we would like to be treated.
JHS: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Absolutely. I'll throw this out to both of you and Scott. Maybe you go first, but when Scott’s done, feel free to just jump in Shannon. Is it true that becoming members of law enforcement and the military has been a methodical, purposeful plan by white supremacists for years now
SE: Getting combat skills is absolutely a paramount thing for white supremacists to do. One of the people that lived in Montana with me, his goal was to become a member of the U S military -- that failed several times. So then he started looking about, well, what happens if I decide to go over to Ukraine and ended up with Asov battalion, because they accept foreigners and it becomes a big thing is you try to look for whatever skills you can, and if you get those skills, then you can join groups like the Oath Keepers, which --I was actually a member of the Oath Keepers. I was never in the military. I was never in law enforcement. But I was a first responder. So I counted enough to be able to get into it. But in the movement, you look for whatever skills you can get, for being able to use in a future conflict because, you know, they definitely want a conflict. They've been screaming about having civil war for, you know, ever since I was a part of it. And even beyond that.
SM: When I was in the movement, as when I was leaving, it was the early 1990s. And it was during that time that Tom Metzger -- who just died last year, who was a big organizer in the violent white supremacy movement -- that he actually like began putting forth this strategy of normalizing, of, of infiltrating purposefully, um, law enforcement, military education, government jobs, so that you could spread this ideology from the inside out. And during the five years that I was in the movement, I made about 30 contacts while I was in that were active duty military. So this is incredibly, not a new problem. Hopefully what will be new is that we will take this seriously. And that we will begin to enact some of the reforms that needs to happen to ensure that we are not looking to people that we expect to keep us safe, and to protect us, who are actively engaged in wanting to harm half of our nation.
JHS: But our new secretary of defense, he says he’s made it a primary directive -- on top of the list of things to do -- to root out white supremacists from the military. And yet, how do you do it? I mean, nobody walks in with a big billboard on top of their head ‘I am a white supremacist.’ It would seem fairly easy to blend in, in some way. Is that a problem? That's solvable? Scott, what do you think?
SE: One way to start would be to start changing the culture. Right now the culture around the military, it tends to lend itself toward that aspect. It’s really kind of hard for me to explain. I’m not exactly an expert on this sort of subject, but when you look at things like the transgender ban now that wasn’t necessarily the military's fault, but things like that, all go towards a culture of intolerance.
JHS: The Anti-Defamation League concluded that right-wing extremists were responsible for all but one of the 50 domestic extremist-related killings in 2018. So of course if you watch the inauguration speech the other day, you realize President Biden listed white supremacy right up there with the pandemic, right up there with the economy, as primary threats to American democracy and the pursuit of happiness, that America has to deal with. Was he right? That it is a primary threat? Is that how you see it?
SM: Yes, absolutely. I will also say that in that speech, that he called for unity without also calling for accountability. Without also calling for truth and healing and transformation processes to take place in this country. And to me, it remains to be seen whether or not that these are words that we will once again say, or if there will be resources that are allotted to free up monies to be able to effectively better combat white supremacists terrorism. And again, at the same time that we know that this is actually cyclical violence and that white supremacist violence ebbs and flows and peak has peaks and valleys. So to me this needs to happen at the same time that we are addressing the underpinnings of white supremacy that are, you know, part and parcel of even the foundational documents of our nation.
JHS: Shannon Foley Martinez and Scott Ernest, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your insights.