Imperium is a 2016 movie based on the real experiences of undercover FBI agent Mike German who infiltrated white supremacist organizations, as related in his book Thinking Like a Terrorist published in 2008. Unfortunately, the lessons found in the movie are all the more relevant today, as white-supremacist Trumpism increasingly gains strength in our country.
In the movie, after an automobile accident, there is a disappearance of most of a shipment of containers of radioactive cesium-137, used in treating cancer. The FBI is concerned that this substance may be incorporated into a dirty bomb with devastating consequences. After conservative talk radio host Dallas Wolf publicizes the disappearance, FBI agent Nate Foster is sent to gain access to Wolf. The FBI creates a fictitious medical supply company that handles and stores radioactive material, for Foster’s possible use. He goes undercover, working with a small local white-supremacist militia group headed by Vince Sargent.
Foster narrowly stops an attack by the highly violent militia group on an interracial couple. Through Sargent he manages to get into contact with Wolf by offering him money to support his radio program on the White America Network. In the meantime, Foster gains the confidence of Andrew Blackwell, the head of the Aryan Alliance, a national explicitly Nazi organization, by rescuing him from an attack at a white-supremacy march. Blackwell wants to recruit Foster to his organization. To show that he’s serious about promoting a race war, he shows Foster the map of the whole water-supply system in the District of Columbia.
Members of Sargent’s and Blackwell’s organizations, and various other white supremacists, attend a party at the home of Gerry Condon, an engineer. Foster spends some time talking with Condon, and learns that he is fully a white supremacist but not a politically active one (“I avoid political stuff—not my thing”). His young daughter even refers to their tree-house as a place of refuge when the “mud people” come.
However, Condon holds these parties so that white supremacists can get together socially, but he actually despises them for using alcohol, drugs and coarse language. Condon and his family are highly “refined,” and though antisemitic, his character appreciates the conductor Leonard Bernstein. Condon wonders what kind of world children will grow up in—his interest lies in having a whites-only society (more than in attacking nonwhites), since in his view it was white men who created civilization.
Foster finally brings $7500 to Wolf, purportedly from an investor who would like to make more contributions if Wolf demonstrates his seriousness in promoting a race war. Foster tells Wolf about the Aryan Alliance’s possession of the map of the DC water-supply system, and indicates that the investor wants information about Wolf’s similar practical intentions.
It is here that Wolf would presumably describe use of the stolen radioactive material, but instead Wolf returns the $7500 and kicks Foster out of his house. Wolf goes to the FBI, reporting what Foster has tried to do, and explains that he is just a public entertainer telling people what they want to hear —he couldn’t care less about what he is saying. The FBI’s project has collapsed and they shut it down, pointing out that the map of the water-supply system is only what Blackwell shows in order to recruit members, with no practical use.
Foster returns some white-supremacist books he has borrowed from Conway, and gains the complete confidence of Conway in his dedication to the white-supremacist cause. Conway finally recruits Foster to his own project, because Foster has the ability to obtain powerful explosives through his medical supply “company.” Foster works with Conway and two associates, both totally clean-cut, to build a dirty bomb, and the FBI raids their operation and recovers the missing cesium-137.
What is to be learned from this story, which was inspired by real events? First, it doesn’t end as might have been expected: the true villains were not the obvious, rabble-rousing hooligans like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters, but rather the Gerry Conways. Men considered highly cultured and rational, leading an exemplary family and social life, but dedicated to creating a whites-only society. Timothy McVeigh, followed the 1978 novel The Turner Diaries in carrying out the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people. McVeigh was highly rational in his quest to institute chaos that would lead to race war.
This is why it is so important to combat Trumpism, to keep it from growing even after the dethronement of its progenitor. (But unfortunately, it seems that Trump is going to be around for a long time, actively building the cause of white supremacy). Trump’s hard-core supporters, numbering perhaps 30% of the electorate, have no qualms about his constant lying, his denigration of the mass media, his attacks on science and rational thinking, his misogyny, his blatant rejection of democratic process, his disregard of the rule of law.
They don’t care about anything other than maintaining white supremacy in our country. Many of them will constitute the storm troopers when widespread chaos is spread by the Timothy McVeighs and Gerry Conways. To avoid this fate, it will be vital to build an anti-right front as described in the previous column, and socialists must eschew their previous refusal to have anything to do with the Democratic Party.
Dave Jette writes this bi-monthly column and has been involved with Works in Progress since its beginnings. He has written three books, all available at www.lulu.com: A Reformulation of Dialectical Materialism, which incorporates feminist theory into a traditional Marxist framework; Beyond Classical Marxism, about socialism and how to bring it about in the US; and Looking Forward, mainly offering the columns that appear here over time.