The white power movement in America wants a revolution. It has declared all-out war against the federal government and its agents, and has carried out—with military precision—an escalating campaign of terror against the American public. Its soldiers are not lone wolves but are highly organized cadres motivated by a coherent and deeply troubling worldview of white supremacy, anticommunism, and apocalypse. In Bring the War Home, Kathleen Belew gives us the first full history of the movement that consolidated in the 1970s and 1980s around a potent sense of betrayal in the Vietnam War and made tragic headlines in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
Returning to an America ripped apart by a war that, in their view, they were not allowed to win, a small but driven group of veterans, active-duty personnel, and civilian supporters concluded that waging war on their own country was justified. They unified people from a variety of militant groups, including Klansmen, neo-Nazis, skinheads, radical tax protestors, and white separatists. The white power movement operated with discipline and clarity, undertaking assassinations, mercenary soldiering, armed robbery, counterfeiting, and weapons trafficking. Its command structure gave women a prominent place in brokering intergroup alliances and giving birth to future recruits.
Belew’s disturbing history reveals how war cannot be contained in time and space. In its wake, grievances intensify and violence becomes a logical course of action for some. Bring the War Home argues for awareness of the heightened potential for paramilitarism in a present defined by ongoing war.
Belew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago, delivers an engrossing and comprehensive history of the white power movement in America, highlighting its racism, antigovernment hostility, and terrorist tactics. This impressively researched work looks into, first, the Vietnam War's influence on the movement's earliest leaders, such as Vietnam veteran Louis Beam, who equated the Vietnam War with American decline and wanted to reclaim a time before civil rights, legal abortion, birth control, immigration of nonwhites, and interracial marriage. Then, Belew investigates the movement's evolution: its call for "leaderless resistance" and war against the government in the 1980s; the growth of its militia phase that led to the Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho, the Branch Davidians in Waco, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; and its shift to online platforms in the late 1990s. She also studies the movement's paramilitary training camps, the role of women in the movement, its push to respond in kind to the militarization of police departments, and the difficulties of prosecuting its leaders due, in part, to its strategy of decentralization and the groundswell of support for militias in the mid-1990s. Belew presents a convincing case that white power rhetoric and activism continue to influence mainstream U.S. politics.