“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 the disappearance of most of a shipment of containers of the radioactive substance cesium-137, used in treating cancer. The concern of the FBI is that this substance may be incorporated into a dirty bomb with devastating consequences over a wide area. The disappearance is publicized by highly conservative talk radio host Dallas Wolf, and FBI agent Nate Foster is sent to work undercover with a small local white-supremacist militia group headed by Vince Sargent in order to gain access to Wolf. The FBI creates a fictitious medical supply company which is concerned with the handling and storage of radioactive material, for Foster’s possible use.
The militia members are highly violent, and Foster narrowly stops an attack by them on an interracial couple. However, through Sargent he does manage 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, and 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 just so that white supremacists can get together socially, and he actually despises them as being on alcohol and drugs and using coarse language. Condon and his family are highly refined, and even though antisemitic he much appreciates the conductor Leonard Bernstein. He wonders what kind of world children will grow up in, and he mainly is interested in having a whites-only society (rather than in attacking nonwhites), since in his view it was white men who created civilization.
So Foster finally brings $7500 to Wolf, purportedly from an investor who would like to contribute more if Wolf demonstrates his seriousness in promoting a race war. Foster tells Wolf about the Aryan Alliance’s possession of the map of the D.C. 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 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 to Conway some white-supremacist books he has borrowed, and gains the complete confidence of Conway in his dedication to the white-supremacist cause. Conway finally recruits Foster to his own project, for through his medical supply “company” Foster has the ability to obtain powerful explosives. 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 such as our current Proud Boys and Three Percenters, but rather the Gerry Conways: highly cultured, highly rational, leading an exemplary family and social life, but dedicated to creating a whites-only society. Timothy McVeigh, following the 1978 novel The Turner Diaries in carrying out the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people, was highly rational in his quest to institute chaos leading to race war.
This is why it is so important to combat Trumpism, to keep it from growing even in 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 really 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.