February 4, 2019

Streetwear for white supremacists is on the rise and rallying groups

Streetwear white supremacy

Streetwear is helping right-wing nationalists communicate and drum up support by mobilizing youth supporters. Clothing and streetwear have always embodied a sense of tribalism, but this radicalized fashion angle hasn’t been seen for some time.

Why this is alarming but not surprising

It’s hard to gain support for a movement when it’s easy to single you out as an extremist. Right-wing nationalists or white supremacists traded in the white robe and pointed hat for business suits in the mid-’70s and similarly, the skinhead look has made that style marked due to its associations with the Neo-Nazi movement.

The open platform nature of streetwear has made it easier for groups to hide their ideologies and messages behind the veil of street culture, making it easier for them to communicate, identify and move around out in the open.

Clothing as “secret handshake”

Aside from acting as a secret ticket to get into events such as concerts, clothing helps targeted youth or other members rally around a cause while acting as a “secret handshake” to identify allies within that cause. Clothing meant for nationalist or white supremacist causes tends to rotate around a few themes regardless of where the movement is located in the word.

Key themes within nationalist streetwear

Re-interpreted cultural iconography: Because the Nazi swastika and similar overt icons have been summarily banned in many parts of the world, the modern movement draws its visual identity from re-interpreted cultural iconography. This could include Viking and Celtic symbols that allude to the supposed Aryan origins of those tribes, hint at warrior culture and a time when people were “harder.” This helps the messaging blend in with the guise of embracing European cultural heritage over the more alarming racial supremacy angle.

Violence: The movement positions followers in an “us versus them” struggle where they’re locked in a war to the end to defend racial purity or national identity against an invasion of foreign peoples or ideas. As such, symbols that suggest combat, violence or warfare can feature heavily too.

Historical or political references: References to myths and historical events, like the Crusades or Reconquista (a Spanish pogrom against Muslims in the Middle Ages), are sometimes paired with mentions of contemporary regional tensions. The phrase “Reconquista Crimea” hints at a violent expulsion of Muslims from Crimea.

Grey area messaging: The highly layered and codified nature of internet slang and meme culture allows racists and nationalists to hide their message in grey zones to elude association. For instance, 2YT4U (“too white for you”) is easy to pass off as something else to law enforcement, teachers parents and the general public. Similarly, “MY FAVORITE COLOR IS WHITE” on a purple shirt can be played off as a reference to the color of the shirt.

In addition to the expansion of fashion-led causes, there’s been a notable uptick in logo and graphic design permeating the white supremacist community.

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