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In January 2015, a man drove his car into a group of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman and injuring others.
A month later, a car rammed into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
These incidents brought the country into a period of intense political and cultural tension, which culminated in the violent, anti-police protests that have been a feature of the Trump presidency.
The man driving the car that killed Heather Heyer was identified as James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old student at Ohio University who had been expelled from the university’s student government for disrupting the rally in June.
Fields was subsequently arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
But the events in Charlottesville and Heyer’s death have taken on more than just an ideological hue.
Fields’ actions triggered what many have called “white supremacist” rhetoric that has become a defining feature of white nationalism in America.
“White supremacy is a movement that was born in a time of racial unrest, but also in a period in which racism and white supremacy were normalized and normalized into our culture,” said Matthew Lyons, a lecturer in the sociology department at the University of Southern California and a former associate dean of the School of Communication and Journalism at the university.
Lyons’ research focuses on how white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideologies have influenced the development of various ideologies in the United States.
While many people associate the movement with racism, Lyons said it is actually a “political ideology that is rooted in the social-economic conditions of whiteness and privilege, particularly white male supremacy.”
In addition to the violent and racist aspects of white supremacist ideology, Lyons noted that the group also espouses an “economic nationalist” ideology, one that promotes the idea that economic inequality is a result of a white supremacy.
“The white supremacist ideologies that they’ve espoused are often quite similar to those of the Republican Party,” Lyons said.
“In some ways, they’re even more in sync with the economic nationalist agenda that is very much in the mainstream of American politics right now.”
According to Lyons, “the economic nationalist ideology is one of the most powerful forms of white supremacy that is gaining momentum in the U.S.”
The economic nationalist is an ideology that “believes that the white race has been systematically oppressed by the white majority,” and that the “white working class is the true enemy of the ‘social justice’ agenda.”
White supremacy and neo “white nationalism” are ideologies that have a direct relationship, Lyons explained.
“They’re also very similar to the ideology of nationalism in general,” he added.
Lyons said that while white nationalism has existed for a long time in the American South, it “became more prominent in the last few years.”
“It’s really only in the ’70s and ’80s that white nationalism was being used in this way,” Lyons explained, referring to the 1970s and 1980s.
“Today, it’s very much on the rise, and it’s becoming increasingly popular in the Trump era.”
The white nationalist ideology has become “more powerful and more pervasive” in the past two decades, Lyons added.
“I think it’s pretty clear that [white nationalism] is a political ideology that’s very popular in a lot of places in the South.”
White nationalism is an “oppressive ideology,” Lyons added, but the ideology “is not necessarily racist, because it doesn’t actually believe that all whites are racists.”
Lyons explained that, while the economic nationalism and white supremacist movements share some similarities, the ideology is fundamentally different.
“You’re not looking at white people as an oppressed race, you’re looking at a privileged group of people,” Lyons pointed out.
“And that’s really the difference between white supremacy and white nationalism.”
White nationalist ideology also differs from white nationalism generally, according to Lyons.
“A lot of people tend to see white nationalism as just a white man’s issue, or a white problem,” Lyons continued.
And it’s not even about white people.”
“The economic nationalist and white nationalist ideologies are different because they’re not really about whites,” Lyons concluded.
“If you look at the economic, or white, issues of white people, white people have been systematically denied wealth, denied power, denied economic opportunities, and denied the basic civil rights that white people already enjoy.”
Lyons noted there are some similarities between white nationalist movements and white power movements.
White nationalism “is very much an economic nationalist, and that’s a very similar thing to what you might call the white nationalist idea of a strong white man.”
But the economic aspects of the white supremacist movement “are very different,” Lyons noted.
“We’re talking about economic inequality, not white supremacy.”
According the University College London, a think tank, white supremacy is “a form of white racism that is much more explicitly about white supremacy than it is about white nationalism.
In fact, white nationalism is often more directly linked to economic inequality and white racism.” The