The Contemporary Face of White Supremacy: “Ownership of the Earth Forever and Ever, Amen!”

Jishnu Guha-Majumdar is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Philosophy at Queen’s University, Ontario. He is currently working on a book using the ethics of vulnerability as a lens to consider the relationship between anthropocentrism and anti-black white supremacy. His work has been published in Political Theory, Palimpsest, Capitalism Nature Socialism, and Qui Parle.  

When white supremacists stormed the US Capitol on January 6th, photographs of Jake Angeli, the so-called “Q Shaman,” magnetized media attention. Donning tattoos laden with white supremacist symbolism and a coyote fur hat with bison horns, Angeli cut a striking image. Farce followed tragedy in the coming days as media outlets reported that Angeli was refusing to eat jail food because it was not organic.[1] His presence on social media and at other protests reveals an ideological hodgepodge of new age spirituality, environmentalism, conspiratorial thinking, and white supremacy.[2]

The face of US white supremacy in popular imagination is often the hooded KKK rider. What then to make of this other image, almost comical while representing forces no less terrifying? The ubiquity of Angeli’s image is certainly symptomatic of media fixation on white supremacy’s spectacles, but it is an instructive spectacle. In particular, Angeli offers a window into the deeper structure of white supremacy’s spiritual intertwinement with dominion, as represented in W.E.B. Du Bois’s declaration that “whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!”[3] This existential-material disposition inflects even those institutions, habits, and practices that seem neutral, or at least less clownish than Angeli himself.

Despite the Trump presidency’s disastrous environmental policies, Angeli professes environmentalist views. He has been photographed (with his costume) at a rally on climate change.[4] He has railed against Monsanto and in favor of “cleansed” ecosystems.[5] In a video posted on Rumble, a far right-favored video platform, he advocates a new urban planning that brings cities “in tune with the energy of the cosmos,” the socio-economic in accord with the natural. Angeli’s urban centers would match the “fractal patterns” mathematically built into nature.[6]

Although we usually associate the cause with the contemporary left, Angeli slots well into a long history of far right environmentalism. The classic example is Nazism’s obsession with nature’s purity, which exalted the wholeness of rural, peasant life in opposition to that of the deracinated, cosmopolitan Jew. Neo-Nazis at Charlottesville in 2017 would revive the slogan that most succinctly expressed this connection between racial and natural purity: “Blood and Soil.” The early conservation movement in the United States expressed clear sympathies with scientific racism, and even the contemporary Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has included environmentalist elements in their platform.[7] Other white supremacist mass murders, namely the Christchurch and El Paso shooters, have echoed these themes in their manifestos.[8]

What to make of this anti-modernist, environmentalist white supremacism, one surely bound to intensify as climate change does? One response would write it off as insincere. It is indeed true, as I will soon suggest, that this reactionary environmentalism does not truly respect the earth or nonhuman others. But dismissal brings its own dangers. It not only misses an opportunity to understand white supremacy’s functioning but also downplays how nonhumans and “nature,” presented as innocent or immutable principles of the “outside,” can be powerful vectors for legitimizing marginalization. On the other end from dismissal, others, like the philosopher Luc Ferry, argue that the threat of eco-fascism ought to throw cold water on contemporary movements for animal liberation and other anti-anthropocentric environmentalist sentiments.[9] Instead, they warn against straying off the path of secular, cosmopolitan humanism. Before pressing that button, though, it’s worth considering the actual extent to which right-wing environmentalism is anti-humanist. 

Consider the hat: Angeli’s fur and horns compellingly symbolize the particular character of right-wing environmentalism. Angeli consistently wore the garment at protests, he says, to draw attention to the QAnon conspiracy and “other truths.”[10] It is striking that both animals he claims to wear—coyote and bison—are not only popularly associated with North American indigenous peoples but have also been subject to campaigns of extermination.[11] Before storming the capital, Angeli told a reporter that he wears the coyote because it is a trickster figure, one that he (incorrectly) says the Navajo people consider a purely malevolent force.[12] He wears coyote skin, he implies, as a sign of his domination over the forces of evil, symbolically repeating settlers’ historical genocide of the animals. The costume, he claims, represents his status as a “light occultic force of the side of God.”[13]

Angeli’s carnivalesque performance has precedent among white supremacist groups in the US.[14] Historian Elaine Parsons describes the significance of the KKK’s costumes, beyond their famous white robes, as a performative surplus that not only drew attention to themselves (as Angeli also aimed to do) but also built community through constructing a more resilient southern white male identity.[15] Moreover, even when the spectacular violence explicitly attributed to the Klan faded, these cultural rituals lingered. Klansmen dressed in stereotypically feminine or, like Angeli, Native American attire, incorporated animal characteristics in their costumes (especially, as with Angeli, the phallic animal horn), and wore blackface (in a photo from an earlier climate change protest in Arizona, Angeli’s face seems to be painted black).[16]These figures represented different aspects of a supposedly savage barbarity at once threatening and alluring for white masculinity. But, as Parsons writes, this “motley assortment of apes, apelike blacks, clowns, and wild men nevertheless always basically conformed to their route and marching order.”[17] The Klan’s carnivalesque appropriation enabled contact with savagery without succumbing to it, demonstrating how white men could safely capture and wield it in the space of the performance.

This movement of proximity and capture, a seemingly transgressive contact that falls back into marching order, characterizes white supremacist environmentalism as a form of dominion. Whiteness as dominion means that proper humans deserve ownership of the earth (which includes improper humans), and simultaneously, to even be a proper human requires (materially or epistemically) owning the earth. Dominionism often portrays itself as concerned for nonhumans, as their stewards, but this formulation relies on the proper human’s own superior status. Hence, whiteness as earthly dominion professes concern for nonhuman beings and systems, but only insofar as these systems are knowable and controllable. Hence right-wing environmentalisms emphasis on the wholeness and purity of the environment, attributing to it an “innocence” not unlike what is projects onto white children and women.[18]

It’s not, then, just that Angeli’s costumed performance draws attention to himself, as he alleges.  It’s that the content of the spectacle—the desire to inhabit the skin of nonhumans and improper humans—draws from dominion’s wider symbolic economy. In this light, his environmentalism holds humans (or at least a particular image of them) at its center as the unique beings destined to uncover the nature’s “fractal patterns.” Just as the KKK’s transgressive spectacle emerged as an attempt to domesticate threats to white identity, Angeli’s spectacle arises at the confluence of two threats to white humanist dominion: that posed by movements for social justice that threaten the identification of whiteness with the proper human, on one side, and on the other the unfolding planetary ecological catastrophe that challenges proper humanity’s identification over and above nonhumans. 

Sometimes a hat is just a hat: one could dismiss Angeli’s statements as just the fringe ravings of a conspiracy theorist. But that risks overlooking the dominionist cosmology that is their condition of possibility. Angeli’s individual psychology is not at stake. Rather, it’s that his performance is a synecdoche of a style of thought and being shared with more respectable manifestations of white western modernity. 

Consider one of the most vaunted theorists for the liberal political philosophical tradition: John Locke. The First of hisTwo Treatises of Government, though less read than the Second, explicitly claims that the source of legitimate political rule begins with dominion over other animals. As I have written elsewhere, this drive for dominion both structures his account of political equality and is inseparable from justifications for settler colonialism and slavery in his work.[19]Indeed, Angeli’s call to base urban planning on nature’s fractal patterns is only a stone’s throw from the Baconian tradition, from which Locke drew, that sought to order society by interpreting “the great book of nature.”[20] Or, moving from philosophical to institutional dominion, we could turn to the zoo, that imperial institution that prostrates wild animals, and historically displayed African people, within the impoverished and exposed frame of their enclosures. As the late critic John Berger has written, zoos’ capture and display of wild animals symbolically represented “the conquest of all distant and exotic lands.”[21] Now, zoos remain vestiges of an impulse for dominion that offers visitors a view of “wildness,” but one which only offers a glimpse of beings “that [have]been rendered absolutely marginal.[22]

Neither Locke nor zoos are clean analogues for Angeli and the KKK. But for all their differences, the former, less obviously odious examples present ubiquitous features of social life that move within the same dominionist frame as the latter. This racialized dominion professes care and stewardship for nonhumans on the condition that the threat they pose to humanist supremacy not be allowed to move beyond their cages—both conceptual and literal. 


[1] Lauren Edmonds, “People are mocking Capitol riot detainee ‘Q Shaman’ for refusing to eat non-organic jail food because he ‘gets very sick,’ and a dietitian agreed it doesn’t add up,” https://www.insider.com/capitol-riot-detainee-q-shaman-mocked-for-demanding-organic-food-2021-1

[2] Jules Evans, “A Closer Look at the ‘QAnon Shaman’ Leading the Mob,” January 7, 2021, https://gen.medium.com/the-q-shaman-conspirituality-goes-rioting-on-capitol-hill-24bac5fc50e6

[3] W. E. B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil, Dover Thrift Editions (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 1999), p. 18.

[4] AZ Central, “Hundreds March in Arizona in Solidarity with Climate Strikes around the World,” September 20, 2020, https://www.azcentral.com/picture-gallery/news/local/arizona-environment/2019/09/20/hundreds-march-arizona-solidarity-climate-strikes-around-world/2391592001/

[5] Evans, “A Closer Look.”  

[6] Jacob Angeli, “The New Heaven on Earth,” https://rumble.com/vcc263-the-new-heaven-on-earth.html

[7] Steven Gimbel, “The Greening of White Pride,” Philo”  sophy & Geography 7, no. 1 (February 1, 2004): 123–40.

[8] Aside from information on the Knights of the KKK, all other information from Sam Adler-Bell, “Why White Supremacists Are Hooked on Green Living,” The New Republic, September 24, 2019, https://newrepublic.com/article/154971/rise-ecofascism-history-white-nationalism-environmental-preservation-immigration.

[9] Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order (University of Chicago Press, 1995).

[10] Richard Ruelas, “Longtime Arizona QAnon supporter in horned helmet joins storming of U.S. Capitol,” Jan 6, 2021, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/arizona/2021/01/06/arizona-qanon-supporter-jake-angeli-joins-storming-u-s-capitol/6568513002/

[11] Dan Flores, interviewed by Simon Worrall, August 7 2016, “How the Most Hated Animal in America Outwitted Us All,” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/08/coyote-america-dan-flores-history-science/

[12] “’The coyote is like the trickster’: Jake Angeli | U.S. Capitol Insurrection,” indianz, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HER29R2Tio

[13] Kenneth Ladenburg, “Strange costumes of Capitol rioters echo the early days of the Ku Klux Klan – before the white sheets,” https://theconversation.com/strange-costumes-of-capitol-rioters-echo-the-early-days-of-the-ku-klux-klan-before-the-white-sheets-153376

[14] Ladenburg, “Strange Costumes.” 

[15] Elaine Frantz Parsons, “Midnight Rangers: Costume and Performance in the Reconstruction-Era Ku Klux Klan,” Journal of American History92, no. 3 (December 1, 2005): 811.

[16] AZ Central, “Hundreds March in Arizona in Solidarity with Climate Strikes around the World,” accessed February 9, 2021, https://www.azcentral.com/picture-gallery/news/local/arizona-environment/2019/09/20/hundreds-march-arizona-solidarity-climate-strikes-around-world/2391592001/; Parsons, “Midnight Rangers,”821, 829. 

[17] Parsons, “Midnight Rangers,” 832.

[18] Forthcoming work by Stephanie Erev offers an important corollary to these arguments. She shows the spiritual formations of white supremacy and its continual desire to control nature, from Columbus to Trump.

[19] Jishnu Guha-Majumdar, “Lyons and Tygers and Wolves, Oh My! Human Equality and John Locke’s Dominion Covenant”, Political Theory, OnlineFirst Sep 2020.

[20] Douglas Casson, Liberating Judgment: Fanatics, Skeptics, and John Locke’s Politics of Probability (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 94–124

[21] John Berger, “Why Look at Animals?,” in About Looking, p. 21. 

[22] Ibid. 24

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