Elle Reeve, a correspondent for VICE News who led the website’s coverage of white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, moderated the discussion, which began with playing footage of the August protests.
Black condemned the ideology and spoke about his process of renouncing his former beliefs. He grew up in a white nationalist household—his father, Don Black, is a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan—and said he had held white nationalist beliefs for most of his life. In Wednesday’s discussion, Black explained the realities of white nationalism and other racist ideologies.
Black attempted to highlight common misconceptions about the white nationalist movement, especially the misconception that most white nationalists are poor southerners.
“I think there’s this strange misconception that the white nationalist movement is a movement of impoverished people, or a trailer park movement,” he said. “It’s not a wealthy movement, it’s generally upper middle class people, lawyers or bankers, people who have jobs, and the ability to participate in something like this.”
He then discussed the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, where neo-Nazi and white supremacist demonstrators clashed with counter protesters in an event that left many injured and one woman dead. Black said the protests were “crazier” and “more chaotic” than he anticipated.
“It spiralled much more than I had expected,” he said.
Muhammad, who studies history, race, and public policy, said he thought the protest marked a shift in people’s expectation of what a white nationalist looks like.
“I thought, these are everyday people who are animated by a kind of racism that is very much subterranean in the country,” Muhammad said. “On some level I was viscerally horrified by it, on another level I was strangely appreciative of being able to see the collapsing of the stereotypical image of a white supremacist.”
Black and Muhammad discussed origins of the modern white nationalist movement, as well as some of the tactics and ideas that Black had tried to spread while he was a prominent figure of the movement.
He discussed these strategies in the context of the Charlottesville protest, specifically arguing that President Donald Trump’s reaction to the event—in which he condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides” —as a win for white supremacists. He added that this group typically considers any publicity as good, and automatically assume that public officials will denounce them.
“The one thing that white nationalists are confident in, is that anybody in any position of power is going to condemn them. It’s so easy. Mayors, people who don’t have power, mosquito commissioners, will condemn the white nationalist rally because it’s just so easy,” Black said.
Black added that the Charlottesville rally made white nationalists more confident of their activism.
“If the point of Charlottesville was to show that they could have a big rally. The political climate now supported their message more now than it ever had, there’s nothing that could have been more encouraging than that,” he said.
—Staff writer Lucas Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @LucaspfWard.