The Radical Roots of Trump Talk
Donald Trump regularly adopts talking points and conspiracy claims that originate on the furthest fringes of the radical right.
For years, the American radical right has insisted that huge numbers of South African whites are being subjected to a racist genocide by their black countrymen. The late neo-Nazi leader William Pierce was already decrying the alleged genocide in the 1970s, long before the end of apartheid. More recently, a multitude of other extremists have taken up the cry, accusing the black majority government of encouraging the murder of thousands of white farmers.
The story is a racist myth, created by the American and South African radical right. But that didn’t stop US President Donald Trump from swallowing the tale whole, going on to order Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate the dispossession and “large-scale killing” of white South African farmers.
It is now widely accepted, at least across much of the American political spectrum, that Trump regularly displays racist, bigoted, xenophobic and misogynistic views. He infamously suggested the violent neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year included “many fine people.” His policies, across the board, are among the most right-wing seen in America in decades. But what is less understood is that Trump, in addition to concocting his own conspiracy theories and falsehoods, regularly adopts talking points and conspiracy claims that originate on the farthest fringes of the radical right.
The South African genocide claim is a case in point. It took root long ago in both the American neo-Nazi scene and South African organizations like AfriForum and the Suidlanders, whose leaders met with a variety of right-wing US groups last year. It grew to the point where it was absorbed by people like Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine black churchgoers in 2015 and displayed a South African flag (and a Rhodesian one, too) on his T-shirt. By this fall, it was being parroted by right-wing media personalities like Michael Savage and Tucker Carlson, whose Fox News “report” was the prompt for Trump’s declaration.
It is all false, of course. Murders of South African farmers are at a 20-year low, and whites there are murdered at vastly lower rates than other racial groups. As Patrick Gaspard, the Obama administration’s ambassador to South Africa, told The New York Times: “Here you have the president of the United States who is trafficking in a white supremacist story line and talking point that has caused incredible damage in the country, in the region, and that is easily disproved.”
What follows is a very partial list of similar claims made by Trump — ideas that originated in whole or large part on the radical right, but that nonetheless have been put forward by the president. He has repudiated none of them.
In November 2015, during his campaign, Trump retweeted a graphic, complete with what appears to be a masked black gangster with a gun, claiming that 81% of whites murdered that year were killed by black people. The claim, which is extremely common on the racist right, originated with a Hitler admirer whose Twitter account featured a modified swastika. The truth of the matter is almost the exact reverse — 82% of whites murdered in 2015 were killed by other whites.
That same month, Trump repeatedly claimed to have personally seen “thousands and thousands” of Arabs cheering the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Center. While that rumor may have originated in a single email about what one doctor allegedly saw, as one scholar reports, it was amplified dramatically by anti-Muslim extremists like Pamela Geller, who charged that the “enemedia” had covered up the facts. As numerous probes showed, there was nothing at all to the claim.
In November 2017, Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos: “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”; “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!”; and “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” They were posted originally by Jayda Fransen, the leader of the fascist Britain First, one of whose supporters murdered a member of Parliament in 2016. One of the videos was entirely false, and the others highly misleading.
In July of this year, Trump told a British newspaper that immigration to Europe was a “shame,” and had “changed the fabric of Europe … and I don’t mean that in a positive way.” This idea is a longstanding trope of the US and European radical right, most famously expressed in the racist 1973 French novel The Camp of the Saints. The 2009 thread on the white nationalist Stormfront website, headlined “Europe is dying,” is just one small example. In a similar vein, Trump earlier in the year made clear that he preferred immigrants from Norway over people from “shithole” places like Haiti and the African continent.
In October, Trump proposed eliminating birthright citizenship — the guarantee that those born on American soil, with very few exceptions, are automatically American citizens. According to Mother Jones, modern support for that idea stems largely from two controversial scholars, Lino Graglia and John Eastman. But it has been pushed for years by groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose founder once wrote that it was essential that America retain a “European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
Also in October, Trump tweeted that George Soros, the liberal Jewish-American financier, was behind the “paid professionals” who demonstrated against the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. The same month, just weeks before a pipe bomb was sent to Soros and other prominent Democrats including the Clintons and the Obamas, the president claimed “a lot of people” believe Soros also financed a caravan of Central American refugees headed for the US. There is zero evidence to support any of these claims, which originated in the anti-Semitic swamps of the American neo-Nazi underworld.
There is a multitude of other examples, beginning with Trump’s very public, early endorsement of “birther” claims about Barack Obama’s citizenship. He has described sanctuary cities that welcome immigrants as crime-ridden hellholes, suggested police treat arrestees more brutally and described black legislators as “low-IQ individuals.” He praised a conspiracy theorist who falsely claimed the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was fake and pardoned men, including Joe Arpaio, a racist Arizona sheriff who defied the federal courts. He repeated far-right claims about “millions” of “illegal alien” voters and praised leaders of the Confederacy while decrying removal of honorary memorials to Civil War generals.
It has often been noted that white supremacists and their fellow travelers are overjoyed at the election of Donald Trump — the movement’s “glorious leader,” in the words of one particularly loathsome neo-Nazi website. What is perhaps less known, and equally important, is that the president of the United States derives some of his key ideas from the false claims of the radical right.
*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.