Most scholars who study the second half of the 20th century in the United States would recognize the term “massive resistance.” The call from Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-Va.) in 1956 sparked 50 years of ongoing defiance of racial inclusion. The past 30 years of white nationalism in federal politics helped seed the rise of mass incarceration between 1994 and 2012, and the crippling of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The historic election of President Barack Obama in 2008 only intensified this movement. This resistance movement helped Republicans win 12 governor’s offices and 958 legislative seats between 2010 and 2016. Now those state legislatures are moving almost in lockstep to restrict access to the ballot for people of color.
The United States is a decade or two away from being majority non-White. The Republican Party has been quietly trying for years to delay that moment; now it isn’t even trying to hide its efforts.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proudly celebrated his leadership in this effort when he declared his determination to limit Obama to one term in early 2009. He considers the denial of a Supreme Court nomination in 2016 one of his greatest political achievements; he also knows the court is key to furthering the delay. He followed that effort by working overtime to confirm the appointment of more than 270 other federal judges between 2017 and 2021, while Donald Trump was president.
The events of Jan. 6 were predictable and foretold. The Unite the Right rally in August 2017, less than a year after Trump’s election, brought the movement into the open again — and revealed its core assumptions about citizenship and belonging in the United States.
In my state of New Jersey, these assumptions play out across many parts of daily life. Some social clubs and youth athletic teams build their identities around racial exclusion. A local school board member in Middlesex County attacked state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal with an anti-Sikh slur in 2018. A White referee forced a 16-year-old high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before a match near Atlantic City. Last year, the state government itself issued a report that assessed the risk of violent white supremacist extremism as “high.” We don’t need to see men marching with tiki torches to know the forces of white supremacy are alive and at work. As my colleague, polling expert Patrick Murray, recently noted, hatred runs deep in New Jersey.
Constant reminders that Muslims, Asians, Latinos and Black Americans are threats to national traditions filled the headlines and airwaves every moment for five years. The total exhaustion with this reckless, unchecked rhetoric drove the celebrations of a new administration in early November.
Yet the determination of the zealots to undermine the election, to sabotage the certification process and to distort election law continues unabated. The forces of authoritarianism aren’t going to lay down their weapons voluntarily. The only way to stop the movement is to prosecute the individuals who participate in events — and to condemn the ideology that encourages them.
In the wake of increasing violence against Asian Americans, Latino migrants, American Indians and African Americans, now is the time to break the traditions of white nationalism in the nation’s civic institutions. From the military and law enforcement to finance and philanthropy, the United States must rid itself of white supremacists.
The Biden administration has an opportunity to deliver justice for a nation still bound by segregation. If it misses the chance this year and next, it may be a generation before another opportunity arrives.