The best books for understanding white supremacy

Daniel Byman Author Of Spreading Hate: The Global Rise of White Supremacist Terrorism
By Daniel Byman

Who am I?

I first became interested in extremism and terrorism when I was young, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. As a student and then as an intelligence analyst, I became deeply immersed in terrorism emanating from the Middle East and later served with the 9/11 Commission. In the last decade, I focused on the white supremacist threat, motivated both by its growing lethality and its political impact during the Trump era and today. In this book, I share my insights on the movement’s modern history, global dimensions, presence on social media, and numerous vulnerabilities.

I wrote...

Spreading Hate: The Global Rise of White Supremacist Terrorism

By Daniel Byman,

Book cover of Spreading Hate: The Global Rise of White Supremacist Terrorism

What is my book about?

The modern white power movement is a global, transnational phenomenon. I trace the key moments in the movement's evolution in the United States and around the world, examining shocking episodes of violence from New Zealand to Norway to South Carolina. They are not a hide-bound movement seeking to turn back the clock, but are dynamic, exploiting the most cutting-edge technologies, especially social media. Because white power terrorists' grievances echo mainstream debates, their political impact can be inordinately high even if the body count is low. White power terrorists, however, are divided, with poor leadership, and often attract the incompetent and the criminal as well as the dangerous and deluded. I explain how governments can exploit these weaknesses and better protect their citizens from this deadly threat.

The books I picked & why

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One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath

By Åsne Seierstad, Sarah Death (translator),

Book cover of One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath

Why this book?

The prologue brought me to tears. In her brilliant book, reporter Åsne Seierstad chronicles the life and bloody attack of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 Norwegians in 2011 when he set off a bomb outside the prime minister’s office in Oslo and then went to a youth camp on the idyllic island of Utøya, where he systematically slaughtered 69 people, mostly teenage members of Norway’s Labor Party. Seierstad writes like a novelist, but each detail comes from police records, interviews with victims, and other authoritative sources. Seierstad provides an intense, yet comprehensive, look at one of the world’s bloodiest white supremacists–a man who like-minded haters today see as a hero and role model.  

Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

By Eric Foner,

Book cover of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

Why this book?

If most Americans are like me, Reconstruction is vaguely remembered from high school history classes as a time when corrupt and incompetent Carpetbaggers and Scalawags reigned while the South struggled to recover from the devastation of the Civil War. Historians have rescued Reconstruction from this neglect and misunderstanding, revealing it as a second American revolution – but one that failed. It was a time of stunning progress in the rights of Black Americans, a reconceptualization of the role of government in society, and staggering violence to preserve white supremacy. Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Eric Foner’s book is the Bible for this era–lucidly written, carefully researched, and painful in its assessment of this lost moment in American history.

Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

By David Cunningham,

Book cover of Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

Why this book?

To understand white supremacy today, it’s vital to understand how it changed from a set of ideas embedded in law as well as society to a fringe belief scorned by right-thinking people. Klansville, USA is set in the Civil Rights era deep inside the Klan in North Carolina, probably the most important state for the Klan at the time. Sociologist David Cunningham explains why the Klan was so strong in North Carolina and why it was weaker in many states where racism was also deeply entrenched. Cunningham shows how ordinary and embedded the Klan was in many parts of North Carolina and also reveals the tough, and incredibly effective, FBI campaign to crush the Klan, which included an array of dirty tricks against various Klan chapters that ultimately devastated many white supremacist organizations.

Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

By Kathleen Belew,

Book cover of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

Why this book?

The white supremacist movement today has echoes in the past, but it is also dramatically transformed. Historian Kathleen Belew offers a gripping account of this shift, tracing how embittered Vietnam veterans and others disillusioned with a changing America merged with a burgeoning militia movement to take on the U.S. government. Her book is filled with fascinating anecdotes but never loses sight of how the movement after Vietnam came to embrace terrorist attacks like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Many of the themes we see in the white supremacist movement today– hostility toward the U.S. government, an embrace of paramilitarism, and a sense that a wide range of foes are conspiring to supplant whites–emerge in this time period.

Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right

By Cynthia Miller-Idriss,

Book cover of Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right

Why this book?

Sociologist Cynthia Miller-Idriss offers an intimate look at recruitment and radicalization, discussing dress codes, food, mixed martial arts clubs, and online spaces in her sweeping look at the spaces where white supremacists and other far-right activists think and act. She also explores how radicals exploit common concerns of teenagers, such as a need to belong and find their identities. Miller-Idriss examines not only the hard core of radicals but also the more peripheral communities of “alt-right” and ordinary racists whose ideas and actions feed the extremes. Much of her work is about everyday hate, and that is often more disturbing and illuminating than books that focus only on the most extreme acts of violence. Because of Miller-Idriss’ focus on spaces and processes of radicalization, her findings have many implications for those who seek to prevent violence and move people off the path of hatred.

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