Everything You Love Will Burn chronicles the events, rituals, and leaders of the white nationalist movement and its various factions. Its author, Vegas Tenold, provides an insider’s glimpse into the forgotten movement most of America assumed no longer existed. Instead of softening the reality of these people’s lives and beliefs, he forces the reader to look at them as they are and how the sins of the past and present created them.
The book is told in a narrative style that transports the reader directly into the moment. Tenold’s voice fades into the background and acts as an objective narrator that guides the reader. We’re reminded of his presence as he gently reminds the audience of the validity to white nationalist claims (such as the belief that Jews are trying to replace American white men). Because of this style choice, there is a sense of credibility to both the author and the events he documents.
As Tenold’s presence disappears, the voices of his subjects shine through unabashedly. In conjunction with the pervasive ideologies of the Ku Klux Klan in American society, one member, Karl Viddig, said, “We’re called the Invisible Empire for a reason. All [non-members] see is the people we want them to see.” Their delusions of grandeur don’t stop there but extend to their self-described divine purpose to create change and preserve the white race. Though most of their reasoning doesn’t quite follow a line of logic, Tenold does a fantastic job in allowing each person to speak for themselves.
Because the subject matter is so alarming, it’s difficult to make it palatable for a mainstream audience to digest. Yet, in spite of this hurdle, Tenold presents the humanity of the leaders and their factions.
What each group has in common — whether it be the KKK, the National Socialist Movement, or the Hammerskin Nation — is that they all have the same idea of themselves: they are good people who aren’t racist.
Tenold corroborates this by attending their celebrations and family-styled events where there’s a huge sense of community and camaraderie. As they embrace and commune with one another, one is almost lulled into thinking that maybe they truly are good people? But then Tenold reminds the reader that what really brings these people together in the first place is their hate.
This is where the demystifying occurs. Not only does Tenold show the audience the warts of the alt-right, he also documents how Antifa, the left-wing militant anti-fascist group, advances their cause. “Everything changed when Antifa punched [Richard] Spencer. When they punched Spencer, they punched all of us. Now we have a common enemy.” He then reveals more of these tricks and how white nationalists alike have adapted their narrative to suit the mainstream. Throughout his time following the evolution of white supremacist ideals, Tenold pulls back the collection of euphemisms and calls them out for what they are: thinly veiled dog whistles.
Anyone who thirsts for the truth, no matter how ugly it is, will enjoy this book. Anyone interested in discovering and learning from the opposing side of society — whether they agree with it or not — will find value in what Tenold has to show the world. To read the entire piece without stopping is a feat for the brave. Squeamish or sensitive readers will most likely not enjoy this book, but if they are able to overcome its more disturbing elements, it’s a horribly insightful read. Though the book is set in 2016/2017, its contents will remain relevant for many years to come. A person living in today’s world — or a world 50 years from now — can and will glean a wealth of knowledge from it.
As a woman of color myself, it was difficult to get through the ideologies of the men and women presented; however I was entranced by the honesty of everyone interviewed. Though they would much prefer I be relegated to a “homeland” of my own, I could, unsettlingly, relate to their visceral feelings of abandonment and fear. The subject matter felt real as I read it, and not only because it was real, but because of how well Tenold told the story. It may have read like a book, but it was in no way a work of fiction. Despite this, Tenold gave me hope for a better future and fate for those who hate.
Johanie Martinez-Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author.