Understanding the troubling origins, beliefs and language of white nationalism

An array of specific words, codes and phrases are used by American white nationalists.

At the very core of white nationalism and white supremacy lies ethnocentrism that advocates for a white nation through the exclusion of people of color. That objective is carried along on revolutionary, anti-government themes.

“Eugenics is at the heart of white nationalism because you have to believe that white people are genetically superior to justify these beliefs, and that Black people or brown people are genetically inferior,” said Heidi Beirich, an expert on right-wing extremism and the co-editor and co-author of “Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction.”

Stemming from this belief is the “replacement theory,” or the fear that white people will be replaced by a non-white majority. That theory argues that there is a plot, often blamed on Jews, to purposefully replace white people with Black and brown immigrants.

One of the main tenets of white nationalism and all of its intertwined ideologies: “That we’re under the control of hidden, mysterious powers that exercise real control over the system,” says Russ Bellant, a researcher and author based in Detroit.

By espousing conspiracy theories that play to the fears of white people, white nationalists aim to harness resentment and anger into a broader movement of right-wing extremism.

There are a number of shared themes fundamental to their message.


Hostility, prejudice and/or discrimination toward Jewish people, known as anti-Semitism, is common. A pervasive trope is that Jews are secretly pulling the strings in government, mainstream media and more.

“It’s amazing how people in white nationalist circles can find things to blame the Jews for,” Beirich said.

In Michigan and elsewhere, that extends to rhetoric distastefully referencing the Holocaust in relation to COVID-19 health measures.

For example, state Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) compared COVID-19 vaccination cards to the yellow Star of David, which Jews had to wear during the Holocaust.

Nazi imagery like swastikas on flags have also been spotted at many right-wing rallies protesting COVID lockdowns.

Pro-Confederacy, anti-LGBTQ+, xenophobia

Also prevalent in white nationalist rhetoric are themes that glorify the Confederacy, take anti-LGBTQ+ stances and promote misogyny.

“People who have those extreme conspiracist views often have other extreme views,” said Melissa Ryan, who runs the “Ctrl Alt-Right Delete” newsletter detailing the rise of far-right extremism.

Many of the subcultures of far-right hate groups emerged in the 1980s, while groups of similar aims largely became part of a common network. A variety exists in Michigan.

“You have misogyny, you have racism, you often have antisemitism, other forms of bigotry against immigrants, Muslims, whatever the case may be, Beirich said. “All those things are there in white nationalist thinking.”

Coded language

While white nationalism is associated with overt displays of racism like burning crosses, white hoods and other epithets, not all signals are as easy to spot.

“There are an untold number of memes online associated with white nationalism that are kind of a ‘wink wink, nod nod.’ If you know about it, you know what somebody’s talking about,” Beirich said.

Examples include numerical figures, symbols and other images:

  • “Fourteen Words,” “14 Words” or just the number “14” is a reference for “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
  • 88 is the code for “Heil Hitler,” with H being the eighth letter of the alphabet.
  • “Blut und Ehre” translates into “Blood and Honor” and was popularized by the Nazi Party.
  • The Celtic cross is often used as a white supremacist symbol.
  • The mathematical sign “?” (not equal or not equal to) is used to imply that the white “race” is superior.

Coded white nationalist language can be found easily in social media forums like Facebook groups, Telegram and more.

“With the rise of social media and the internet, you don’t have to be some card carrying member of a group to ascribe to extremist ideas about race. You can just be involved in online networks,” Beirich said.

Laina G. Stebbins is a reporter at the Michigan Advance, which first published this report.

CDC study: Getting vaxxed while pregnant protects baby from COVID-19

Photo: Getty Images

New research has found that pregnant people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are sharing those antibodies with their unborn child, potentially protecting the baby from contracting the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Since COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved for children under the age of 5, the study suggests that receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine while pregnant may be the only currently available way to protect young children against the virus.

The Johnson&Johnson vaccine was not included in the study, nor were booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.

People who are pregnant or recently pregnant are also more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine or any other vaccine hinders fertility.

A previous study concluded that, for babies born from a vaccinated parent, 57% of those infants retained detectable antibody levels six months after birth.

The new CDC study now shows that those antibodies can actively fight against the virus.

“MDHHS [Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] urges all Michiganders ages 5 and older to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and to be boosted if they are eligible, including pregnant women. The vaccine is our best defense against the virus,” MDHHS Lynn Sutfin said in an email Tuesday.

[Editor’s note: North Carolina health officials have repeatedly issued similar statements. The department’s COVID-19 website also includes the following statement:

If you’re pregnant, you should get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccination (including boosters) is strongly recommended for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. People who are pregnant or recently pregnant are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared to people who are not pregnant. Additionally, people who have COVID-19 during pregnancy are at increased risk of preterm birth and stillbirth and might be at increased risk of other pregnancy complications.

Growing evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is safe and effective, and the benefits of getting a vaccine far outweigh the risks. For instance, a recent study of 40,000 pregnant people showed that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy did not increase risk of preterm birth or low birth weight.]

Receiving a vaccine after 21 weeks of pregnancy translated to the strongest level of protection for a baby, the study found, meaning that the transfer of antibodies from pregnant parent to child peaks during the second and third trimesters.

The antibodies are thought to be transferred from the placenta to the baby.

“Dating back to when the COVID-19 vaccines were first released, physicians like me have been encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated as a means to protect themselves and their babies,” said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and the Michigan lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care.

“This new data confirms what we’ve been saying all along and is exceptionally good news for pregnant women who want to protect themselves and their babies from COVID-19. This is particularly important as we continue to wait for vaccines for kids under the age of 5 to be approved,” Bhatti continued.

Bhatti noted that “contrary to some narratives, children and babies can get seriously ill from COVID-19.

“I personally have taken care of children in the hospital who were sick due to COVID-19, including newborns whose moms were sick with COVID-19 at the time of delivery,” he said. “As a physician and a soon-to-be father myself, I wholeheartedly encourage pregnant women to take the safe, effective vaccine to protect themselves and their babies alike.”

Laina Tebbins is a reporter for the Michigan Advance, which first published this report.

Trump supporters file yet another error-filled, conspiracy-laden election lawsuit in Michigan

President Donald Trump (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The post-election drama in Michigan isn’t over yet.

Right-wing attorney Sidney Powell, previously a lawyer for the President Donald Trump campaign, is continuing on her crusade (dubbed “the Kraken”) to halt ballot certification in six key states, including Michigan.

Michigan’s election results showing President-elect Joe Biden as the winner were already certified on Nov. 23. Nonetheless, Powell, a proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory,  continues to submit filings to her lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers.

The 75-page lawsuit is littered with spelling errors, erroneous claims and lengthy arguments hinged on baseless conspiracy theories. It wrongly contends that Biden only won in Michigan because of widespread fraud in the vote tabulating process that occurred “at the direction of Michigan state election officials.”

Biden won Michigan over Trump by about 150,000 votes. Despite numerous state and national GOP leaders stoking the flames of conspiracists by casting doubt on the election process’s integrity, no such instances of fraud have been provided.

Benson and other election officials have also repeatedly stated that Michigan’s election went safely and smoothly.

Powell had previously been on Trump’s legal team, but was distanced from his campaign on Nov. 22 after the attorney made a series of unfounded allegations about widespread voter fraud.

In King et al v. Whitmer et al, the plaintiffs rely on eyewitness accounts to allege, among other claims, that Republican challengers were blocked out of the process in Wayne County and that many Trump votes were illegally “transferred” to Biden.

The initial filing spells “district” wrong on the first page. Many more typographical and formatting errors abound — including whole paragraphs missing spaces between words.

Exhibit A, a statement from an individual in Texas whose name was redacted, details testimony from a person “of sound mine” [sic] who claims to have been a former national security guard detail for former Venezuela President Hugo Chávez. They allege that America has been infiltrated by a widespread election conspiracy which “began more than a decade ago in Venezuela” to subvert the will of the American people.

That conspiracy apparently involves the use of Dominion vote tabulators, the most-used brand of tabulators in Michigan by clerks. No evidence has been presented to corroborate such claims.

On Thursday, Dominion released a statement responding to parallel allegations Powell made in her Georgia lawsuit. The company denied the charges and called the claims “bizarre” and “physically impossible” before setting the facts straight on numerous falsehoods about Dominion contained in the lawsuits.

“… Sidney Powell’s wild and reckless allegations are not only demonstrably false, they have led to stalking, harassment, and death threats to Dominion employees,” the statement reads. “This criminal activity has been duly reported to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and we intend to hold Ms. Powell, and those aiding and abetting her fraudulent actions, accountable for any harm that may occur as a result.”

Powell’s lawsuit in Michigan concludes by asking the court to order Benson, Whitmer, the Board of State Canvassers and Wayne County to de-certify the election results, then certify election results showing Trump as the winner. It also requests that all voting machines in Michigan be immediately impounded for “expert inspection” by the plaintiffs, and for security camera footage from Detroit’s TCF Center to be handed over within 48 hours, among other requests.

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice for the Michigan Advance, which first published this report.