But out of these ashes, a different political vision for the far right would coalesce—one that would reject white supremacy as an ideology and seek out the more generative ground of American nationalism as an alternative.
Nationalism always operates, as historian Benedict Anderson put it, as an “imagined community,” connecting strangers in a settled sense of common identity through shared myths, memorials, and other cultural artifacts. But just as national identity can stabilize and cohere, it can also be used to disrupt and make new demands. This is perhaps particularly true in the case of the U.S., where the Revolution and its sacred justifying text, the Declaration of Independence, has been used regularly by various movements—from suffrage to civil rights to ecology—to authorize political and social change.
Yet democratic myths of the founding have lost currency with the left over the last half-century as activists and intellectuals have grappled with U.S. legacies of colonialism and slavery, capitalism and empire. Meanwhile, their potential value on the right has grown as their partisans have come to imagine themselves as victims of illegitimate state power and as small-r republican patriots whose policy preferences, from health care to taxation, from affirmative action to gun rights, can be imagined through a revolutionary frame of disruptive resistance.
After 2017, various factions on the right began to gather under the banner of nationalism. The Proud Boys, once mocked as being soft on the race question by white nationalist groups in their milieu, began to replace white supremacists as the dominant force in this movement, presenting themselves not just as urban “Western chauvinists” in Fred Perry polo shirts who opposed Islam, immigration, and international communism, but as defenders of the American nation and its president, Donald Trump. The white hipster Canadian founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McGinnes, would finally come to be replaced by a U.S. citizen of Afro-Cuban parentage, Enrique Tarrio, who in turn became a major proponent of the Stop the Steal campaign in the weeks before January 6.
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