Making sense of nonwhite white supremacists

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

What’s happening

The gunman who killed eight people in a mass shooting at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas, earlier this month presented an identity that, to some, seemed like a contradiction. He had all of the markings of a white supremacist: Nazi tattoos, a “Right Wing Death Squad” patch on his tactical vest and a trove of online posts detailing his extremist beliefs. But Mauricio Garcia was also Hispanic.

Some conservatives have zeroed in on these facts to question the narrative that arose in the wake of the attack, or as the Fox News host Mark Levin put it on his radio show: “How can you be a nonwhite and be a white supremacist?” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted that only “dumb white people” would believe the official story. Elon Musk, owner of Twitter, repeated the conspiracy theory that the attack was some sort of “psyop” designed to mislead the public.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, however, experts on extremism have long understood that white supremacy does not exclusively attract Caucasians. There are many examples of people of color, often Latinos, aligning with racist movements designed to promote white dominance over all other groups.

For example, Nick Fuentes — a popular extreme-right commentator who argues for the superiority of “white identity” and whom Garcia mentioned in his writings onlne — has Mexican heritage. Enrique Tarrio, who was once leader of the far-right group Proud Boys and was found guilty earlier this month of seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, is Cuban American. The neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer has been publishing a Spanish edition since 2017.

Why there’s debate

While being white might seem like a prerequisite for supporting white supremacy, experts who study racial identity and extremism say there are a variety of reasons why nonwhite people might be drawn to the movement.

Many say that one of the main appeals of racist groups is that they can offer some people of color an opportunity to distance themselves from their own backgrounds — which they may view as inferior — and to gain some of the perceived power that comes from being aligned with whiteness. Others say that race is far more complicated and individualized than the broad categories we tend to lump people into. This is especially true of American Latinos, an incredibly diverse group representing a broad spectrum of backgrounds, political views and attitudes toward race.

Researchers also say race can sometimes be something of an afterthought for troubled people attracted by other ideologies espoused by extremist groups, including antisemitism, sexism, mistrust of government and glorification of violence. In other cases, individuals may be willing to latch onto any movement that provides them an outlet for their anger, gives them a sense of power or makes them feel less alone.


The concept of whiteness isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as many believe it to be

“There are MANY people who would count themselves as white in one community who would not count as white in another. It has been this way for whiteness for a long time, because whiteness is a *socially constructed category*, by which I mean it is invented and enforced by people in a social formation. … We made it up.” — Kathleen Belew, historian

Extremism can seem like a means of acquiring some of the privileges of being white

“White people are often considered more employable, are more likely to receive promotions, dominate the most prestigious industries, have a larger share of wealth, are often more sought after in the dating pool, and so on and so on. Most minorities don’t want to be white, but they do want a larger share of the privileges the mainstream white world enjoys. A lot of people from minority communities engage in this striving, famously on the far right.” — Ali Breland, Mother Jones

Violence, not ideology, can be the primary draw for some people

“People — including people who are non-white — can develop an interest or obsession in Nazis or white supremacist killers because they themselves have become obsessed with murder and death and mass killings in general. … It's not that they're necessarily sympathetic to white supremacy, what fascinates them is the killing aspect.” — Mark Pitcavage, extremism researcher, to USA Today

White supremacy takes many forms and is always evolving

​​“It’s important to keep in mind that white supremacy has always been composed of multiple strands. Some of it is literally about white domination over Black people, but some of it is also about deep anti-Semitism. Some of it in the past has been anti-Catholic and that speaks to how the boundaries of whiteness have changed over time.” — Omar Wasow, race and politics researcher, to Vanity Fair

The anger and resentment at the core of white supremacist ideology can be appealing to members of all groups

“When I hear them talk, it’s often with this grievance-driven narrative: That liberalism is attempting to destroy their masculinity, and they must protect their children from the same fate. That can encompass rejecting vaccines, requiring women to carry unwanted pregnancies or stopping gender nonconformity. That righteous warrior bit is nothing new, but it’s powerful bait for luring others into extremism, and it crosses a lot of demographic and geographic lines.” — Anita Chabria, Los Angeles Times

Aligning with white supremacy can be a way for people to distance themselves from their own background

“What’s the best way to distance yourself from feeling like you’re part of an oppressed group? It’s to align yourself with those who are part of the oppressors. … People who today we think of as white people with Italian American or Irish American ancestry were, at the turn of last century, viewed as non-white. Whiteness sort of expanded to include them.” — Tanya Katerí Hernández, race and racism researcher, to the Boston Globe

Extremist groups provide an outlet for all kinds of prejudices that aren’t strictly about race

“You can check enough boxes, like to be Latino and be anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-drag or neo-Nazi. And now there’s a subculture available for you in a way that hasn’t before. … Forget about ethnicity. If you check enough of those checkboxes, there will be a space for you in the umbrella of the fragmented, syncretic set of hatreds, a la carte.” — Brian Levin, extremism researcher, to Dallas Morning News

People are often drawn to extremism for personal reasons that have little to do with ideology

“White supremacy is often rooted in personal insecurity. People can be forgiven for finding the idea of a non-White white supremacist confusing. This confusion, though, stems from overly rigid understandings of both ‘White’ and ‘white supremacist.’ … It is not at all impossible for someone with a Hispanic name to embrace white-supremacist rhetoric.” — Philip Bump, Washington Post

A long history of racism among elements of America’s Latino population is often ignored

“Latino participation in extremist political projects has a long history in the United States, going back to the John Birch Society. And with the rise of digital organizing in recent years, Latino involvement in the far-right movement is in fact growing. We must understand the alleged shooter in Allen within this context, or else we risk seeing him as a lone wolf rather than as a member of a growing and dangerous movement that will require focused attention to defeat.” — Cecilia Márquez, New York Times

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