Everything You Love Will Burn by Vegas Tenold (Nonfiction/Investigative Journalism, February 2018).
Originally from Norway, the author is an investigative journalist who graduated from Columbia University’s School of Journalism and has covered important stories all over the world. His focus for the last six years was on documenting and trying to understand America’s various White Nationalist/White Supremacy Movements. The result is this disturbing yet not hysterical or overwrought book, recounting his experiences.
Tenold’s account shows a movement whose slightly more thoughtful leaders sought the impossible–a toned-down, united and not as openly racist persona for a motley collection of destructively self-defeating, hate-filled and embittered characters who all too often enjoyed the mindless violence and constant in-fighting they practiced.
As such, the final conclusion Tenold points to is that they are dangerous to others (and in truth, to themselves), but that they can never, in themselves, rise to a serious threat to the country as a whole. Their very views and mindsets make them unable to become a truly mass political movement.
Tenold’s reporting also shows that not all of those who call themselves White Nationalists are uneducated fools or backwoods savages. The individuals he met, talked with and profiled in these pages are varied people–he doesn’t reduce them to mere cliches or stereotypes. This is a useful and honest approach, yet in some ways makes their fixation on scapegoating nonwhites and jews for all the nation’s very real problems all the more unsettling.
The people he was hanging out with knew he was a journalist and (correctly) assumed he wasn’t a supporter. Thus the title of the book, which was a half-hearted (even casual) threat aimed at him from one individual. Nonetheless, his consistent presence and sincere desire to understand what these people were all about won a kind of grudging respect and toleration from many of them. It got to the point that several of them seemed to consider him almost the token liberal. At times he was addressed amiably (indeed almost fondly) with such greetings as “Hi, commie–how’s it going?”
The sheer force of habit and familiarity worked both ways, it seems. Tenold found himself mostly liking Matthew Heimbach as a person (despite his race-based politics). Heimbach (beginning as a comparative moderate in the far right’s immoderate jumble of quarrelsome, divided and ultimately self-destructive fringe groups) apparently came to feel the same. Thus we have more than one positively surreal moment when the man the Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed “The new face of hate” and “the little Fuhrer” asking Tenold’s advice on political strategy, along with discussing history and cultural issues.
I think this is an important and valuable book, insightful and fair-minded without being either wishy-washy or dismissive.