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Alabama Senator Condemned for Claiming White Nationalism Isn’t a Racist Ideology

The statement comes at a time when white supremacist violence in the U.S. is on the rise.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 8, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) has faced widespread criticism this week for refusing to condemn white nationalism as racist and for downplaying the ideology’s growing influence in right-wing politics.

In a CNN appearance on Monday night, host Kaitlan Collins asked Tuberville to clarify a comment he made on a Birmingham radio station in May, when he suggested that white nationalism and the presence of white nationalists in the U.S. military didn’t warrant concern. When asked about white nationalists in the military in May, Tuberville responded by saying, “I call them Americans.”

Discussing those comments on Monday, Tuberville derided the term “white nationalist” as being “just another word” that Democrats use to attack Republicans, even though the term has been in the American lexicon since at least the early 1950s.

“The thing about being a white nationalist, it’s just a cover word for the Democrats now where they can use it to try to make people mad across the country, identity politics. I’m totally against that,” Tuberville said, refusing to acknowledge the growing presence of white nationalism that has been fomenting within his own party, as well as the increase of white supremacist violence in the U.S. in recent years.

Collins objected to Tuberville’s conclusions, stating that a white nationalist is “someone who believes that the white race is superior to other races.”

“Well, that’s some people’s opinion,” Tuberville retorted, reiterating his statement from two months ago about white nationalists in the military being Americans.

Tuberville went on to insist that white nationalism isn’t inherently racist.

“Now, if that white nationalist is a racist, I’m totally against anything that they want to do because I am 110 percent against racism,” Tuberville claimed. He then offered a bizarre defense against possible claims of racism, suggesting that his being a college football coach provided him “the opportunity to be around more minorities than anybody” in Congress.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) blasted Tuberville for refusing to call out white nationalism and for claiming that the ideology isn’t racist.

“For the past few months, the senior senator from Alabama has embarked on a one-man mission to excuse and even defend the meaning of white nationalism,” Schumer said, adding that, during his interview on Monday, Tuberville wrongly “suggested that, no, white nationalists aren’t inherently racist, that yes, white nationalism is American, and that the definition of white nationalism is a matter of opinion.”

Schumer continued:

The senator from Alabama is wrong, wrong, wrong. The definition of white nationalism is not a matter of opinion. White nationalism, the ideology that one race is inherently superior to others, that people of color should be segregated, subjected and relegated to second-class citizenship is racist, down to its rotten core.

“For the senator from Alabama to obscure the racist nature of White Nationalism is indeed very, very dangerous,” Schumer said.

Steven Gardiner, Research Director at Political Research Associates and author of a study entitled “White Nationalism Revisited,” similarly criticized Tuberville for downplaying the ideology.

“Far from being ‘some people’s opinion,’ white nationalism has a very specific definition,” Gardiner said in an email to Truthout. “It refers to the idea that the United States is, was, and always should be a country for and dominated by white people.”

White nationalism is “a social movement that seeks to capture institutions and determine policies in order to increase the white majority and expand its political power,” Gardiner went on. “At base, white nationalists believe that the U.S. as it exists today, in the post-Civil Rights era, is not racist enough.”

Though the number of white nationalists in the U.S. is small in terms of percentage of the population, “the movement has had an outsized influence on the MAGA coalition,” Gardiner said, referring to the political movement led by former President Donald Trump, which Tuberville has proudly claimed he’s a part of.

Update: Since the publication of this article, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) briefly told reporters he now believes that “white nationalists are racists.” When asked if he should apologize for his previous comments suggesting otherwise, Tuberville said he had no need to do so, and that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) should apologize instead, although according to reports, he didn’t elaborate for what reason Schumer should be apologetic.

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