The concept of “race war” is gaining popularity among white supremacists.
In July, 2019, police officers responding to a racist graffiti incident in Baltimore County, Maryland, encountered swastikas, as well as a phrase new to them: “Race War Now.” In New York, the DMV canceled a Queens resident’s vanity license plate in November 2018; the plate read “GTKRWN,” an acronym for “Gas the Kikes, Race War Now.” In Washington state, local authorities used the state’s “red flag” laws in October 2019 to temporarily seize the weapons of Kaleb Cole, a member of the white supremacist group Atomwaffen, whom prosecutors claimed was “preparing for a race war.”
Some neo-Nazi groups, such as Atomwaffen and Feuerkrieg Division, claim their very purpose is to prepare for “race war.” Other white supremacists repeatedly reference it on podcasts or on white supremacist discussion forums such as Stormfront. The latter has featured a variety of race war-themed topics in recent years, including “They Want a Race War, Don’t They?,” “Blacks won’t win the race war,” and “When the Race War is Escalating, What Side Will You Be On?”
“I’m not the type of person to show up at rallies or brawls,” claimed one white supremacist on the white supremacist Iron March forum in 2017, “[but where] we have a RaHoWa or some shit, I’m going to be a n----r’s worst nightmare.” Another white supremacist, William Fears, exhorted other extremists at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 to “Shoot! Fire the first shot in the race war.”
One prominent white supremacist, Greg Johnson, observed on his website in April 2019 that a portion of the white supremacist movement “is rife with fantasies of race war, lone wolf attacks on non-whites, and heroic last stands that end in a hail of police bullets.”
Conceptualizing “Race War”
When white supremacists use the term “race war,” they typically don’t use it to describe racial violence in a narrow or specific sense but rather to signify a large-scale, almost apocalyptic clash between races, pitting whites against African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews and other minorities in an existential struggle.
Concepts of “race war” have a long history in the United States, originating in fears of mass “servile insurrection” or slave revolt in antebellum America. During and after the Civil War, many Americans, convinced or fearful that whites and emancipated blacks could not peacefully coexist, warned of the prospect of race war. Ohio Congressman Chilton White, for example, opposed the arming of black troops during the Civil War, claiming it would end “in a war between the white and the black races.” Late nineteenth-century author Henry Whitcomb Holley warned of the possibility of “race war, just so soon as the intelligence of the negro becomes sufficiently acute to grasp the situation.” Typically, 19th century figures warning of “race war” claimed such a conflict would result in the “extermination” of the black race, although some raised the prospect of a white defeat.
Today, discussions of “race war” are no longer mainstream and are largely constrained to white supremacist discourse. Not all large-scale conflicts envisioned by white supremacists are necessarily race wars, however. Some white supremacists focus on a white revolution to put people with white supremacist ideas in control of the government; they could then create a white-dominated nation or remove non-whites. Others have sought a white separatist conflict to carve a white bastion from part of the United States. But for many white supremacists, a large-scale war between the races is likely or even inevitable.
White supremacists discuss race war in several different ways:
1) Passive preparation. For some white supremacists, preparing for a future race war is action enough. Believing that Jews and non-whites will inevitably bring about a race war, they advocate preparedness, storing weapons and supplies and making plans to survive and win the inevitable conflict.
2) Closing window of opportunity. Some argue that if a race war were to break out today, whites would prevail, but that window of opportunity is closing rapidly as the country’s non-white population grows. Because of this, such advocates claim, whites should initiate a race war now, while the balance of power is still with the white race. Waiting until later, or until non-whites initiated a race war themselves, would mean whites would be unlikely to prevail.
3) Embracing “race war.” The most radical white supremacist approach to “race war” is to eagerly embrace the idea, believing whites would win and be able to remake society as they wish. In recent years, this attitude has become enmeshed with white supremacist accelerationism. Accelerationists see modern society and its institutions as irredeemable and argue that it must be destroyed in order to create a new white-dominated or whites-only community. Anything that hastens society’s collapse—from lone wolf terror attacks to a full-fledged race war—is desirable.
“Race War” and Criminal Activity
For many years, concepts of “race war” have spurred white supremacist criminal activity. Even in merely preparing for a future race war, some white supremacists have amassed arsenals of illegal weapons and explosives.
Some have gone much further than preparing. A perennial frustration for white supremacists seeking “race war” is that an actual race war does not actually seem imminent. This leads some white supremacists to conclude that white supremacists themselves need to generate or spark a race war.
Plots intended to spark “race war” typically involve attacking minority targets with the hope that such attacks would lead to retaliatory violence, creating a cycle of escalation that would ultimately lead to “race war.”
Such violent attempts seem more common during periods of white supremacist resurgence, when white supremacists may be so angry or so ideologically isolated that they believe they can successfully pull off the daunting task of sparking a large-scale “race war.” “Race war” served as motivation for many acts of white supremacist violence during the resurgence of right-wing extremism that occurred from 1993-1999, as well as during the current surge that began in 2015. Though attempts to use hate crimes or terrorism to spark “race war” are unlikely to ever incite an actual war, they often do succeed in bringing about death, destruction and misery.
The following list of selected criminal incidents from the 1970s to the present day illustrates how consistently “race war” appears in violent white supremacist plots and actions.
August 2019, Las Vegas, Nevada. Law enforcement arrested white supremacist Conor Climo on a weapons charge in connection with an alleged plot to attack a local synagogue. According to authorities, Climo also discussed designing a bomb to “assist in a race war” on behalf of Feuerkrieg Division, a white supremacist group he had joined.
June 2019, Fort Myers, Florida. Florida authorities arrested Joshua John Leff on charges of intimidation by sending written threats to kill and weapons charges after he allegedly made social media posts that threatened violence against Jews, African-Americans, and the LGBTQ community, and urged people to start a race war. Leff also allegedly praised white supremacist mass shooters such as Dylann Roof, John Earnest and Brenton Tarrant.
November 2018, Washington, D.C. Federal authorities arrested Jeffrey Raphiel Clark, Jr., on a weapons charge after being tipped off by family members. The family members claimed that Clark and his brother, Edward William Clark, believed in a “race revolution” and “wanted to expedite it.” Edward Clark killed himself in October 2018, shortly after Robert Bowers launched his shooting spree at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The Clark brothers had known Bowers on-line. Jeffrey Clark was sentenced to time served on weapons charges in September 2019.
March 2017, New York, New York. Maryland white supremacist James Harris Jackson allegedly traveled to New York City to attack and kill African-American men; he killed one man before he surrendered to police. After his arrest, Jackson allegedly told police that the murder he committed was a “declaration of global war on the Negro race” and that he hoped his act would provoke a race war. Jackson reportedly claimed his goal was a “global policy” for the “complete extermination of the Negro race.”
November 2015, Chesterfield, Virginia. FBI agents arrested three white supremacists on a variety of charges related to plans to incite a “race war” by bombing or otherwise attacking black churches and synagogues, and other violent acts, including committing armed robbery to finance their plans. Arrested were Robert Doyle, Ronald Chaney III and Charles Halderman; all three eventually pleaded guilty to various charges and received sentences ranging from seven to 17½ years in prison.
June 2015, Charleston, South Carolina. White supremacist Dylann Storm Roof launched a shooting spree at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, killing nine people and wounding another. Roof told police he had intended his act to create animosity between whites and blacks, saying, “it causes friction and then, you know, it could lead to a race war.” Roof also wrote about race war in a jailhouse journal he kept after his arrest.
April 2012, Minneapolis, Minnesota. White supremacists Samuel Johnson and Joseph Benjamin Thomas were indicted on weapons charges (Johnson) and drug charges (Thomas). Authorities claimed the two planned to attack the Mexican consulate in St. Paul and expressed a desire to attack minorities and the government. Thomas told an undercover agent that he expected a race war to start soon and that his group would take control of airports and an interstate highway when it happened.
October 2008, Jackson, Tennessee. Racist skinheads Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman were arrested on conspiracy and numerous other federal charges related to a plot to engage in a killing spree targeting African-Americans and an assassination attempt against presidential candidate Barack Obama. Cowart told Schlesselman at one point that, “I would love to be the one to start the race war.” Both eventually pleaded guilty; Cowart was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while Schlesselman received a 10-year sentence.
June 2001, Boston, Massachusetts. White supremacists Leo Felton and Eric Chase were indicted on federal charges of plotting to blow up various targets associated with African-Americans or Jews as part of a plot to incite a “racial holy war.” Felton eventually received a 27-year sentence following conviction on a variety of charges. Chase received a lesser sentence.
March 1999, Richmond, Virginia. Twin brothers Kevin and Kalvin Hill were indicted on numerous charges, including “conspiracy to incite one race to insurrection against the other race.” Allegedly adherents of Christian Identity, a white supremacist religious sect, the brothers possessed a document that “described and espoused” attacking blacks and Jews.
March 1998, East St. Louis, Illinois. Four members of the New Order, a white supremacist group, were arrested on weapons charges in connection with plots to rob banks and attack a variety of targets in order to start a race war.
May 1997, College Station, Texas. Longtime white supremacist Mark David Simmons was arrested after burying firearms and pipe bombs in a wooded area. Simmons told police that white people needed to start preparing for a race war and that was why he had the guns. Simmons received a sentence of 10 years’ probation. In 2012, Simmons would receive a life sentence for the 2010 murder of another extremist.
April 1997, Winter Park, Florida. Todd Vanbiber, a member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, was arrested on explosives charges in connection with a plot to target African-Americans by planting bombs at Fourth of July events involving federal employees, as part of a broader plan to start a race war. Vanbiber—who was injured when one of his own pipe bombs exploded—eventually was sentenced to 6½ years in prison.
October 1994, Lubbock, Texas. A racist skinhead, Roy Ray Martin, and two Hispanic men—brothers Ricky Rivera Mungia and Eli Trevino Mungia—embarked upon what prosecutors subsequently described as a “hunting trip to start a race war.” The men drove around Lubbock attempting to lure African-American men to get close to their vehicle so they could shoot them with a sawed-off shotgun; they killed one man and wounded two more. Prosecutors said that the men discussed starting a revolution or race war “that would involve killing and eliminating blacks.”
January 1994, Wallingford, Connecticut. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials arrested William Dodge, a Connecticut Ku Klux Klan leader, and other members and associates of his group in a sting operation after Dodge purchased a silencer and pipe bomb from an undercover informant. According to the ATF, the Klansmen were stockpiling weapons and bombs for a future “race war.” Dodge subsequently pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered destructive device and received a 63-month prison sentence..
1994-1996, various locations. Members of the Aryan Republican Army committed 22 bank robberies in states across the Midwest that netted $250,000. ARA members committed the robberies for funds to buy weapons and, according to authorities, foment a race war and overthrow the government. Five members received prison sentences; a sixth committed suicide after pleading guilty. One member turned state’s witness and did not serve any time.
July 1993, Los Angeles, California. Members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads, a racist skinhead group, firebombed a synagogue and conspired to bomb an African-American church and commit assassinations in the hopes of sparking a race war. Eight people were arrested in July 1993 on varying charges in connection with the plot.
February to August 1982, Cleveland, Ohio. White supremacist Frank Spisak launched a series of shootings targeting African-Americans at Cleveland State University, killing three people in “hunting missions” that were intended to spark a race war. Spisak claimed that the “Aryan people” were in a war for survival. Spisak was executed in 2011.
1977-1980, various locations. Hoping to spark a race war, white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin targeted blacks, Jews and interracial couples in a series of shooting incidents around the country. He was tied to numerous murders and attempted murders and may have committed others. Eventually caught and sentenced to death, Franklin was executed in Missouri in 2013.