Updated Jul 11, 2023, 3:43pm EDT

‘White nationalists are racists,’ Alabama senator says after long day of questions

REUTERS/Kevin Wurm

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The News

“White nationalists are racists,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. said on Tuesday afternoon after a months-long saga in which he pointedly refused to say just that.

Tuberville became the center of a spectacle on Capitol Hill that morning as the former football coach continued to dispute whether white nationalists were racist, drawing rebukes from members of both parties.

The story began with a May public radio interview in which he said the Pentagon was playing politics with the military by preventing white nationalists from joining the American armed forces. “Well, they call them that,” he said. “I call them Americans.”

In a CNN interview on Monday night, Tuberville was asked to clarify the remarks and said he rejected racism. But he later suggested that white nationalists weren’t by definition racists, despite many repeated attempts by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins to explain the meaning of the term. “Well, that’s your opinion,” he said.

A day later, he only dug in. “I’m totally against racism,” he told reporters. “If the Democrats want to say that white nationalists are racists, I’m totally against that, too.”


Senators on both sides of the aisle denounced the comments, including Tuberville’s fellow senator from Alabama. “White supremacy and racism have absolutely no place in our country, period,” Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., told reporters. “The end.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., called on Tuberville to apologize. “White nationalism is racism, by definition,” he told reporters. “It’s not a matter of opinion. For the senator to play games with this is dangerous stuff. He should apologize and change course.”

Both Senate leaders addressed his remarks: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer denounced them in a floor speech while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected Tuberville’s position at his weekly presser.

“White supremacy is simply unacceptable in our military and in our entire country,” McConnell said.

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Joseph’s view

White nationalists are racist. It’s pretty simple. You can read more about the kinds of cases the military is concerned about in a 2020 report drafted under the Trump administration, which highlighted servicemembers with direct affiliations to neo-Nazi groups or who participated in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville march.


Tuberville’s comments on the topic have been confusing as well as shocking, and at points raised questions about whether he actually understood that the term “white nationalist” is a phrase specifically used to describe individuals who believe in domination by the white race, rather than patriotic white people in general.

“If you’re gonna do away with most white people in this country out of the military we’re going to have huge problems,” he told Collins at one point in their interview.

Few Republicans were eager to defend Tuberville, and those who did attached copious caveats.

“If you’re asking me do I think white nationalism is a good thing? No. Do I think that we ought to be encouraging white nationalists in the military? No,” GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri told Semafor, who said that Tuberville has discussed the issue in Senate GOP lunches. “Now what I think Tommy is saying — Okay, you have to ask him — but here’s what he said to me is that he thinks that what the military bureaucracy is doing is they’re labeling people in the military who are good, patriotic, probably Trump supporters, they’re labeling them as white nationalists and he disagrees with that. That to me, that’s a whole different deal.”

Tuberville’s concession Tuesday came as an apparent relief to some members of his party. “I think Senator Tuberville has indicated that he meant no white supremacy element to his comment or anything of a racial nature,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told Semafor. “And I’m sure that’s the case for the rest of us. So a miscommunication.”


Tuberville has been accused of racism in the past. Last fall, he made remarks at a rally criticizing Democratic policies on crime that appeared to equate descendants of enslaved Black Americans to criminals.

“They want crime,” he said. “They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparation because they think that people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit! They are not owed that.”

Tuberville said later he was not referring to “reparations” as in proposals to compensate Black Americans for past slavery and discrimination. “To me, reparation means that people think they deserve something,” he told Insider. “It has nothing to do with slavery or anything like that.”

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Know More

This is only the latest in a handful of recent controversies involving Republican members of Congress and white nationalism.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. defended speaking at a white nationalist conference in 2022 organized by Nick Fuentes, a Nazi sympathizer who also dined with Donald Trump last year. “I’m not inviting anybody into my home or my personal life or befriending them,” she told Semafor. “I want to spread the right message to anyone that’s willing to listen to me.” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. attended the event in 2021 and recorded a video message in 2022, the second time saying he was not aware of the footage’s intended use.

In 2019, Speaker Kevin McCarthy effectively kicked former Rep. Steve King out of the GOP conference after he asked: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”