To educate yourself about the contemporary iterations of white supremacist groups in the United States, below is a cheat sheet of some basics about the terms “white supremacy,” “white nationalism,” and “neo-nazism.”

White supremacy is the belief that (Christian) people descended from Europe are inherently superior to the rest of the world’s people and are thus uniquely fit to rule over them. The ideology has existed at least as far back as the 15th century, though traces of it can be found in earlier texts as well.

Although European belief in the “civilizing mission” of Christianity was the ideology that underpinned the global systems of slavery and colonialism that spanned the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, white supremacy as an ideology took on a different register beginning in the late 19th century with the advent of something called scientific racism.

Scientific racism used “science” (which has now been debunked as pseudoscience) to provide “physical evidence” for the superiority of the white race. Scientific racism capitalized on the emerging findings of evolutionary theory to posit the existence of a hierarchy among different human races, with the “lower races” (Indigenous, African, and Asian people) being less evolved/developed (i.e. closer in kind to the animal kingdom and therefore less “human”), and white Europeans being the most highly evolved/developed/most “human” race. They used pseudoscientific methods like phrenology—the belief that the physical shape and size of someone’s skull had a direct correlation with their intelligence—to reinforce claims about the superiority of the white race.


Of course, around the same time as the development of scientific racism, the slave trade in the African continent was gradually being abolished, first in the British Empire, and then in the Americas. However, the abolition of slavery by no means led to the end of white supremacy. Violence against non-white people, most significantly formerly enslaved people of African descent in North America, bared the brunt of this violence in the form of loosely affiliated white terrorist organizations that would later come to be known as the Ku Klux Klan. Though not a state-sponsored organization in theory, the Ku Klux Klan did in practice enjoy state support in the form of frequent cooperation from the police, as well as a general reluctance on the part of the judiciary branch to legally punish acts of horrific violence against formerly enslaved people.

One liberal myth that enjoys widespread circulation is that white supremacy as an ideology disappeared after the victories of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960’s, and that racism as such was eliminated from American hearts and minds because Black Americans no longer had to endure legal segregation. For people who subscribe to this myth, then, it must be surprising to see the sudden emergence of violent, organized, overtly white supremacist groups emerging the wake of the election of Donald Trump. For those who hadn’t been paying attention, the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia just several weeks ago came as a shock.

The truth of the matter is that white supremacy as an ideology did not disappear even after the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. White supremacy has been embedded in every corner of the fabric of American life since this country’s inception, and it did not emerge in full force with the election of Donald Trump. One confusing aspect of the emergence of contemporary white supremacist groups post-45, however, is the plethora of different terms that these groups use to refer to themselves. Don’t be fooled: at the end of the day, white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-nazis, the “alt-right,” “free speech” activists, and “America First” activists all basically want the same thing: the creation of a white ethno-state in which non-white, non-Christian people are either eliminated through genocide or deportation, or else made to live in segregated enclaves so as to preserve the power and purity of the “white race.”


To educate yourself about the contemporary iterations of white supremacist groups in the United States, below is a cheat sheet of some basics about the terms “white supremacy,” “white nationalism,” and “neo-nazism.”

White Supremacy

White supremacy is a broad umbrella term that refers to belief in the superiority of the white race over other groups (see above). Some common terms that contemporary white supremacist groups use to refer to themselves without specifically using the terms “white supremacy” are: Confederate Pride, Good Old Boys, White Homeland, White Pride, and White Separatists. See the complete list here:

It should be noted that white supremacy, because it is a broad ideology that is tightly woven into every aspect of American life, from its legal system, to its judiciary system, to its police force, to its education system, is not limited to the exercise of violence by white supremacist groups such as the Alt-Right. Instead, these groups should be understood as a more overt form of an ideology that is already institutionally supported in every aspect of American life.

White Nationalism

White nationalism is a variant of white supremacy insofar as it is a pan-nationalist ideology that advocates for the political, cultural, and economic hegemony of white people in majority-white countries. Specific to the ideology of white nationalism is a false sense of victimhood, seemingly stemming from the idea that the white race is “under attack” by phenomena such as miscegenation (intermarriage between people of different races—in this case, specifically intermarriage between white people and people of color), immigration (specifically from non-white nations), and declining birth rates among white people globally. Thus, white nationalism as an ideology is closely tied to xenophobia, as well as the belief that different racial groups should be kept separate and should not intermarry.

Some common terms that white nationalists may use to refer to themselves without specifically using the term “white nationalism” are: America First, Aryan Nation, Defending Western Civilization, Heritage Destiny, Preserving Europe, etc. See the complete list here:


Neo-Nazism is a strain of militant social and political movements that seek to revive the ideology of Nazism as it was practiced in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s. Nazi doctrine was an amalgamation of many things, including extreme xenophobia, ultra nationalism, extreme racism, extreme ableism (advocating for the complete elimination of disabled people) homophobia (advocating for the complete elimination of people designated as homosexual), and the genocide of the Jewish people as a whole.

There are several practicing neo-Nazi groups in the United States, including the National Socialist Movement, which has about 400 members across 32 states. Part of the reason these groups have been allowed to continue to practice is because of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees absolute freedom of speech, even in the case that such speech advocates for or incites extreme forms of violence against marginalized groups of people.

People of color, especially Black and Indigenous people, as well as disabled people, queer and trans people, and undocumented immigrants—please take good care of yourselves when organizing against these groups, as it can be highly emotionally triggering to encounter or even just read or learn about their ideologies. We have a duty to love and protect one another against these forces, and the best way to do that is to strengthen our bonds of support and solidarity amongst each other.



Featured Image by Evan Nesterak