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The White Nationalist Behind Bill O'Reilly's War on Christmas

How a racist created the conservative movement's favorite holiday season outrage -- and has O'Reilly dreaming of a pure, white Christmas.
 
 
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What would Christmas be without warnings of the secular crusade to destroy it? Thanks to the fulminations of cable news cranks and evangelical moralists, the War on Christmas has become an annual outrage. The story typically goes as follows: secular elements have intimidated stores into replacing the phrase “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays;” nativity scenes have been removed from public spaces under threat of ACLU lawsuits; a decadent culture is moving ever closer to eradicating Christian morality; and America slouches towards Gomorrah.

Judging from the panicked tone of movement conservatives, this year’s War on Christmas campaign threatens the country’s moral fiber more than ever. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger, the secular Grinch has claimed the economy as its latest casualty. “A nation whose people can't say 'Merry Christmas' is a nation capable of ruining its own economy,” he fumed on November 20. Having laid off 20 percent of its staff the day after Election Day, Christian right mega-ministry Focus on the Family declared “ Merry Tossmas” imploring its supporters to toss out holiday season product catalogs that wish shoppers “Happy Holidays.” (The 201 freshly unemployed staffers might have more practical reasons to trash their catalogs.)

“If you can get religion out,” Bill O’Reilly warned, “then you can pass secular progressive programs, like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage.”

On December 2, Utah Republican state senator Chris Buttars sponsored an urgent resolution demanding that stores greet shoppers with the phrase, “Merry Christmas.” “I'm sick of the Christmas wars,” Buttars proclaimed. “We're a Christian nation and ought to use the word.”

The Christmas kulturkampf is a growth industry in a shrinking economy, providing an effective boost for conservative fundraising and a ratings bonanza for right-wing media. So who was the genius that created it? To find the answer, a visit with the ghost of conservatism’s past is in order.

Back during the culture wars of the 1990s, Peter Brimelow, then a Fortune magazine editor, grew incensed with the increasing use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” by retailers like Amazon.com. “I just got real interested in the issue,” Brimelow told The Daily Beast, “because I noticed over the years there was this social shift taking place where people no longer said ‘Merry Christmas.’”

In his 1995 book, Alien Nation, Brimelow argued that the influx of “weird aliens with dubious habits” from developing nations was eroding America’s white Christian “ethnic core,” and in turn, sullying its cultural underpinnings. The War on Christmas was, in his view, a particularly pernicious iteration of the multicultural “struggle to abolish America.”

Brimelow went to his fellow Briton and Tory, John O’Sullivan, then editor of the conservative movement’s flagship publication, National Review, with a big idea. National Review should host “an annual competition for the most egregious attempt to suppress Christmas.” Though O’Sullivan liked Brimelow’s idea, he was replaced as editor on Christmas Eve 1997 by Rich Lowry.

With the exception of a 2001 column in which O’Sullivan blamed “religious minorities” for the War on Christmas, the issue disappeared from the pages of National Review. At the same time, the magazine jettisoned O’Sullivan’s anti-immigration politics in favor of the Big Tent conservatism preferred by younger writers like Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponurru.

The shift at National Review forced Brimelow even further into the political wilderness. Shunned by conservatives there rankled by his unabashed racial resentment -- Goldberg belittled him in a 2002 column as a “once respected conservative voice” -- Brimelow founded what would become the internet’s leading anti-immigration web journal, VDare.com, named for the first British child born in the Americas. Brimelow’s new venture provided a forum to allies like Jared Taylor, a white supremacist publisher, and Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychology professor who has argued that Jews are genetically equipped to out-compete Gentiles for resources and power. In 2003, four years after VDare’s founding, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified the journal as a “hate group.”