Systemic Racism and Oppression: The Larger Historical Framework of White Supremacy in the U.S.

Russ Bellant

The United States is experiencing an acute challenge to its system of racism both in terms of police behavior and in its separate and unequal public health systems. This represents what is an ogoing challenge to the larger framework of systemic racism that has existed in the U.S. in various stages of intensity for 401 years.

Case in point: I live in a city that has the largest percentage of black residents of any city in the United States. Detroit was once an industrial center that drew new citizens from Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and the American South, and ultimately, Black citizens from the South.

The old-line white population of Detroit, and the nation at large, were angry at the growth and potential power of these new residents and restricted their immigration and their mobility. They employed intimidation, organized terror and occasionally mass murder to suppress the African-American population. In Detroit they created little-known police units for continuous containment of the black presence in the city. They recruited burly white men in the South who patrolled in groups of four men per car through black neighborhoods, conducting random beatings and killings without consequences.

Image Left: The Council of Concerned Citizens statement of principles read: “Oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind.”  Source: Council of Concerned Citizens Newsletter

In the 1960s, rebellions against white terror exploded in Detroit and other U.S. cities, causing a recalculation of how black citizens were to exist under white majority rule. Consequently, white citizens migrated out of cities such as Detroit.

As blacks gained real power in Detroit, white power began a long, targeted dismantling of the city’s institutions to contain their power.

The school system  was decimated, massive housing foreclosures took thousands of houses from owners each year and a major loss of industry occurred. Water and sewage services were taken from tens of thousands of residents. City assets were taken by the state and were put under the control of the white population outside the city!
A dark shadow falls on a home in Detroit. [Source: Brittany Greeson]

Today, African-Americans, and some white supporters, are again nonviolently demanding an end to their unequal status and a system that leads to police murders, massive incarceration, employment barriers and second-class public health policies, as proven with the spread of Covid-19.
Black and white demonstrators support Black Lives Matter movement. Source:

When black social justice work surged in the 1960s, it grew alongside a mostly white anti-war movement challenging the U.S. invasion of Vietnam. These movements represented an unprecedented challenge to U.S. military and intelligence agencies and to American imperialism.

These challenges to domestic oppression and U.S. imperialism were keenly felt on Wall Street, the heartbeat of American capitalism and the owners of U.S. strategic foreign policy. The most reactionary factions of American capital began funding new formations that would ensure that their system would exist in perpetuity. They became known as the New Right.

Thus began a rightist counter-movement that used new approaches to regain dominance over U.S. politics and social policy, while still married to objective white supremacy.

The first phase of the New Right focused on a takeover of the Republican Party, which was a conventionally conservative party. But New Rightists wanted a combative rightist party that would dismantle the programs and base of the Democratic Party including trade unions, modest wealth redistribution programs, ending anti-racist laws that ensured some level of civil rights and ending urban support policies. If their goals could be achieved, the U.S. would become a one-party state, controlled by a business/Wall Street coalescence, and a Republican Party with a New Rightist foundation that would resemble a fascist party without uniforms.

The distinctive element of this thrust was that new organizations emerged to recruit and use religious commitment to create political cadre to take positions in local to national Republican organizations while being controlled by phony ministries. Over the decades, this method has effectively removed almost all independent Republicans from office.  It has created a machinery that no Republican dares to stand up to.

This power has, at its core, a concept called Christian Reconstructionism, which calls for replacing constitutional forms of governance with Old Testament law. Their historical inspiration is England’s Oliver Cromwell.

This influence on a governing party encourages a marriage of private property with an end to democratic systems and a harnessing of American theocratic power to erase non-Christian or Socialist systems from the earth.

Even though Donald Trump is a serial sexual abuser and a profane and corrupt man, the core of the religious right embraces him because of his judicial appointments. Their goal is to end the separation of church and state, to return to prayers in schools, and to gain federal policies that empower right-wing religion in social policy. A recent example of one of their victories was a court-backed Trump regulation that allows denial of health insurance for reproductive health coverage if the private employer has religious beliefs against contraception. Hence, a private employer can impose his religious belief on hundreds of employees.

Also married to the Republican Party was a component called the Republican Heritage Groups Council, which was composed of elements that were the affiliates of the German S.S. before and during World War II. Thus the Hungarian Arrow Cross, the Croation Ustashi, the Romanian Iron Guard, the Bulgarian National Front and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists were merged with U.S. domestic and foreign policy goals after they were massively resettled in the U.S. after the war. In the meetings of these groups that I attended, they continued to justify their war-time alliance with Hitler.

Until Donald Trump became a presidential candidate, no national Republican candidate had embraced organized white supremacy. During the 2016 election, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi leaders were organizing support for Trump and he in turn embraced their support.

For those who reviewed Trump’s background, this was no surprise. His father Fred, also a real estate tycoon, was famously rebuked by folk-singer Woody Guthrie for discriminating against blacks in his buildings. His first ex-wife told a court and said in a national interview that Donald Trump’s only bedside book was Hitler’s Collected Speeches, which Hitler himself called his second Mein Kampf.

It is the Trump presidency that has also politically elevated the gun-toting self-appointed “militias.” These groups carry loaded machine guns to political rallies and use slogans threatening to kill politicians that they oppose. There are many of these groups across the U.S.
Armed Militias / Trump supporters protest Covid-19 lockdown at Michigan Capitol.  Source:

The so-called militia groups grew out of fascist groups that encouraged members to fear social progress. They formed military training camps to improve their skills to engage in combat. They conducted target practice that simulated assassinations of politicians and read books that glorified an armed takeover of the federal government. Whether they were motivated by racist appeals, anti-progressivism, or religious end-time fantasies, they embraced the mass killing of 168 people by a truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995, as well as other armed confrontations across the U.S.

For students of history, they can be compared to the rise in Germany of the Freikorps in the 1919-1922 period.

Convinced that Germany lost WWI because politicians betrayed the military, the Freikorps units, secretly armed by the Generals, created a movement that would become the backbone of Brownshirts as they fought in the streets to help Hitler take power.

As Trump’s COVID-19 policy failures added to the American death toll and a Michigan Governor challenged Trump, an armed militia was part of the organized fight against the Governor as Trump forces rallied in Michigan.  Senior Republicans who are also leaders of the Michigan Trump campaign invited armed militia members to help occupy the state capitol in May to oppose measures that would protect the public health from COVID-19.

It is well-established that Trump has not taken aggressive steps to fight the pandemic because he fears the public will blame him for the disease, so he downplays its presence. The militia groups further Trump’s campaign by trying to undo protective measures against COVID-19.

As much as the racist right, the religious right and the militias are his core constituencies, Trump values most his ties to reactionary Wall Street powers.

His Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, is a clear example.  Mnuchin once led a group of billionaires that took over a bank and evicted 36,000 homeowners from their homes, using shady and unlawful methods. One elderly widow had her home taken by Mnuchin’s bank because she owed 27 cents to the bank.

Mnuchin became known as the King of Foreclosures on Wall Street and his reputation as a top predator qualified him for appointment by Trump.

Mnuchin immediately began pushing more deregulation of big banks and investment houses, as well as extreme tax cuts only to the investor class. To show his solidarity with Trump’s racism, Mnuchin attacked football players who were taking a knee to protest national racism, backing Trump’s attack on those players.

While utilizing racist and religious appeals to voters, Trump has continued to feed the practitioners of unfettered capitalism with steps to undermine the Social Security system that covers retirement for millions of Americans. He and Wall Street want that 83-year-old program put in the hands of private exploiters.

Trump is also trying to end the U.S. Postal Service and turn mail delivery over to private companies. Such privatization would allow private capital to take over more resources and exercise power in more domains of societal life. These extreme measures show that Trump represents the most reactionary sectors of capitalism and is uniting them politically with the racism and street fascism of the militias, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

Capitalists are openly exercising more and more power over the United States and the concentration of wealth at the top .01% is higher than ever. The multi-racial revolt against racist policing and social injustice cannot grow and succeed unless it comprehends the system of class exploitation that has used racism to keep Americans divided and vulnerable to the point where an unvarnished racist and fascist holds the most powerful political office in the world.

Russ Bellant is a journalist, political activist, and author. He has written for CovertAction Magazine in the past and was one of the founders of Public Eye Magazine and Political Research Associates.