Memory and the rhetoric of white supremacy

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Rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke has asserted the significance of paying equal, if not more attention to, propagandist rhetoric, arguing that "there are other ways of burning books on the pyre-and

Rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke has asserted the significance of paying equal, if not more attention to, propagandist rhetoric, arguing that "there are other ways of burning books on the pyre-and the favorite method of the hasty reviewer is to deprive himself and his readers by inattention." Despite Burke's exhortation, attention to white supremacist discourse has been relatively meager. Historians Clive Webb and Charles Eagles have called for further research on white supremacy arguing that attention to white supremacist discourse is important both to fully understand and appreciate pro-civil rights rhetoric in context and to develop a more complex understanding of white supremacist rhetoric. This thesis provides a close examination of the literature and rhetoric of two white supremacist organizations: the Citizens' Council, an organization that sprang up in response to the 1954 landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education and Stromfront.org, a global online forum community that hosts space for supporters of white supremacy. Memory scholars Barbie Zelizer, John Bodnar, and Stephen Brown note the usability of memory to shape social, political, and cultural aspects of society and the potential implications of such shaping. Drawing from this scholarship, the analysis of these texts focuses specifically on the rhetorical shaping of memory as a vehicle to promote white supremacy. Through an analysis of the Citizens' Council's use of historical events, national figures and cultural stereotypes, Chapter 1 explicates the organization's attempt to form a memorial narrative that worked to promote political goals, create a sense of solidarity through resistance, and indoctrinate the youth in the ideology of white supremacy. Chapter 2 examines the rhetorical use of memory on Stormfront and explains how the website capitalizes upon the wide reaching global impact of World War II to construct a memorial narrative that can be accessed by a global audience of white supremacists. Ultimately, this thesis offers a focused review of the rhetorical signatures of two white supremacist groups with the aim of combating contemporary instantiations of racist discourse.