The white-on-white crime events of January 6th, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol was an eye-soaring squint into the internal class contradictions of white supremacy. More specifically, it was a historical snapshot capturing a long-running legal dispute over preemption or what I refer to as white squatters rights: the unabashed freedom of white Europeans to illegitimately occupy stolen land and property.
Contemporarily, squatting is when a person (think invader) moves into an uninhabited home (think land), refuses to leave, and also claims it as their own (sound familiar?). Originally, Senator Henry Clay designed The Pre-Emption Act of 1841 as a compromise for white squatters to purchase unoccupied land they had allegedly “improved.” Stolen land is far from unoccupied and does not require improvement from white squatters. Yet, these myths persist due to the imperialist foundation of America — settler-colonialism.
American settler-colonialism is the conquest of indigenous land that enforces white squatters rights via genocide, ethnic cleansing, and chattel slavery (free labor). These self-anointed rights are euphemistically referred to in white folklore as “the pursuit of happiness” and “the land of opportunity.” American colonial history is a slippery trail of tears — littered with acts of dispossession (laws) securing white squatters’ rights such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Homestead Act of 1862. To this day America convenes an annual commemorative dinner giving thanks to these spoils every third Thursday of November.
As historian Gerald Horne explained during an interview discussing the development of American settler-colonialism, “It was basically a class collaboration between and amongst poor and rich Europeans for their mutual benefit (emphasis added).” White class collaboration in part was (and still is) a capitalistic agreement among all classes of whites to dominate and exploit racially colonized people for the mutual benefit of owning land and property — i.e. white squatters rights. Author, activist, and intellectual J. Sakai documents this patriarchal pursuit in his book Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat from Mayflower to Modern –
“It was this alone that drew so many Europeans to colonial North Amerika: the dream in the settler mind of each man becoming a petty lord of his own land. Thus, the tradition of individualism and egalitarianism in Amerika was rooted in the poisoned concept of equal privileges for a new nation of European conquerors.”J. Sakai in Settlers
Of course, due to the parasitic nature of this violent conquest, settler-colonialism is reliably unstable. Since the class collaborative agreement, white settlers have brutally challenged how unabashed their squatters rights really are. In 1676, burgeoning planter Nathaniel Bacon led a diverse rebellion of 300-500 men against Governor William Berkeley of the Virginia colony. Bacon leveled several grievances towards Berkeley including “passing his word for the peaceable demeanor of the said Indians” or in layman’s terms — Berkeley was not sufficiently cleansing the land of native people. Bacon wanted to “ruin and extirpate all Indians in General” but Governor Berkley saw a strategic advantage in having some of them on his side. Yet, both shared a mutual disdain for natives. Bacon eventually dies from a sudden disease but his rebellion leads to further racialization thereby entrenching white class collaboration — extending squatters rights exclusively to Europeans via the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.
Similar challenges to the method and scope of white squatters rights have occurred throughout American history. As Gerald Horne convincingly argues — the Revolutionary War was not fought solely for “independence” but for the independent freedom of America to maintain slavery as a form of commerce on stolen land. Conversely, the Civil War was not a moral dispute over the ethics of slavery but a consequential failure of white class collaboration.
Today, as the American empire incongruously wrestles with these contradictions, the white ruling class is evicting the squatter-in-chief (Trump) for violating the class collaborative agreement. His greatest sin was inciting dissension among the white ranks. ‘Make (Settler) America Great Again’ was a Jacksonian type rallying cry for white squatters rights. The Jan. 6th race riot was a failed attempt to manifest that destiny; an internal class dispute over what it means to occupy a colony. Those of us most historically abused by the plunder for these rights — the racially colonized, the poor, the dispossessed — should be resistant towards cosmetic efforts to diversify the squatters. Instead, we must organize for a world liberated from the capture of settler-colonialism in its totality. Otherwise, this ain’t our fight.