What Happens When These Hateful White Men Actually Lose Power?

Far-right terrorism is increasing at the apex of right-wing power. What happens when they lose?

A shooting by a racist misogynist at a yoga studio. A massacre at a synagogue by a man who believed in right-wing conspiracy theories about wealthy Jews funding immigrants. A far-right bigot who tried to break into a black church to kill congregants, then settled for murdering two people of color at a supermarket before lowering his gun, saying “whites don’t kill whites.” Fifteen pipe bombs sent to the president’s favorite liberal attack targets by a Trump-obsessed middle aged man dubbed the MAGABomber. A gang of white supremacists assaulting peaceful protestors on the public streets of New York.

All of these political terror attacks in just the past few weeks are a part of a wave of increasing hate crimes and violence by members of the far right groups over the last few years. Law enforcement has been ill-equipped to identify and deal with the threat: in part because white male anger in defense of traditional power structures is considered normative in America, in part because law enforcement has long been infiltrated by white supremacists who defend their own, and in part because of a considered and explicit effort by the conservative political movement to prevent federal law enforcement from doing so–including by scuttling a landmark government report on the problem. Indeed, the Trump administration is shutting down an Obama-era program to counter threats of domestic terrorism even as it wields xenophobia to focus on the far less dangerous threat of attacks by foreign agents.

Perhaps the most concerning element of all this is that this violence born of bigotry and misogyny and fueled by an endless barrage of conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric blared by Republican-aligned media organs, is occurring at a time when conservative white men should be feeling ascendant in institutional power. The most openly far-right defender of the privileges of white men since the early 20th century sits in the Oval Office; conservatives just cemented a majority lock on the Supreme Court through the confirmation of a hot-tempered hardcore conservative credibly accused of sexual assault; and a Republican party farther to the right than it has been in decades is in total control of the federal government and dominates a clear majority of governor’s offices and state legislature.

It’s a truism of politics that non-state individual political violence is undertaken primarily by those who feel disempowered in society. So how is it that these conservative white men are still so angry as to commit increasingly horrific violence despite the continued social advantages accruing to white men in America, as well as near total political power?

The answer lies in part in the fact that their know this ascendancy is short-lived. Donald Trump was not expected to win the presidency, and in fact lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Republicans maintain control of Congress largely through the anti-majoritarian nature of the Senate and through voter suppression and gerrymandering in the House and many state legislatures. With each passing year the nation’s electorate is increasingly urban, better educated, more liberal, more secular and more diverse. Despite its temporary political dominance, social conservatism is ever more broadly mocked and disrespected in larger society, and conservative economic orthodoxy has long since lost credibility even among Trump’s voting base. The #MeToo movement is, at long last, holding abusive men to account for their predation on women since the courts have proven incapable of doing so. Every day the country looks, thinks and behaves far more like California than like Idaho, regardless of the reactionary temperament of its elected officials.

But all of this raises a terrifying question: if this horrific wave of right-wing terror is rising when these deplorable men are at the height of their political power, what happens when even that power is wrested from their control? What happens when several more years of natural demographic changes replace conservative boomers with progressive millennials and rural whites with urban and suburban diverse communities? When Democrats regain the White House, Congress and many state governments in a census year, eliminating many of the “structural advantages” conservatives have put in place to gerrymander districts and implement restrictive voting laws?

What happens when these hateful men discover that even politically, the country is finally irrevocably lost to them? What kind of asymmetric violence and terrorist insurgencies will we see from them when they don’t just feel disempowered despite all their power and privilege, but actually do find themselves truly out of power?

And what will we be prepared to do about it as a society to hold to account those who radicalize these extremists?

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.