On December 24, 1865 the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Tennessee as an extremist, hateful reaction to what many in the news now willingly and ignorantly report as “economic anxiety.” This was a period of southern reconstruction following the Civil War that had slaves free and their labor no longer a guarantee, and the former plantation owners were steaming mad that the now had to pay for the same labor that was free for hundreds of years.
So they implemented as many fear-based methods of keeping African Americans “in line” as possible. These methods are still seen in our police force, our prisons, and in structural racism. It was this same “economic anxiety” that formed the Nazi party in February of 1920. This economic anxiety encouraged German pride, white pride, encouraged the “purification of the species.” It resulted in millions dead.
The thing about these people, if you were to risk a conversation with them and the inevitable migraine that followed, is that they truly believe their race is being threatened. They look upon the differences of the world and see threats on all side. They are ruled by fear above all else. Scared men with weapons and no sense of responsibility. Paranoia and hate are easier than looking upon themselves with honesty and acknowledging they have some work to do with themselves and with their self-worth.
They are told that their lack of work, lack of education, lack of wealth is because a person of color took it away rather than their own shortcomings. They believe it because they want to believe they are victims, martyrs – it makes killing people of color easier to them if they look at it like they’re at war. It eases their burden, but inevitably gets innocent people killed.
With incidents like Ruby Ridge, Waco, TX, Sandy Hook, Oklahoma City, Charleston, Minneapolis, MN, and so on, you have to wonder where these people were radicalized. The answer is not one we want to consider, but one that is true all the same…
They were, and are, radicalized in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our cities, and in our heartlands. They are an American product, brought up in the hate we allow to continue.
We are part of the problem. They are born out of systems and communities we have put in place. They are there because we allow them to be.
The media perpetuates the myth that these terrorists are lone figures, working off the basis of mental illness (which is a different discussion about mental health portrayals in media we need to have later), and never liken their white supremacy as the reason that got them there. The media, and our neighbors, tell us that they’re products of lone events, reasoning wrapped up in a frustrated man just looking to be heard, while simultaneously telling us that anyone who practices Islam is part of a larger conspiracy to erode the democracy of the United States. It’s easier to paint a narrative of an enemy when that enemy doesn’t look back at you in the mirror.
We refuse to admit that we have a racism problem in this country. People freak out about using the word racist, rather than people actually being racist. While these Neo-Nazis seek to scare us over how immigrants and people of color are taking our jobs, stealing, and pillaging, and raping, these white men remain the highest paid group in the United States. They make a dollar, and we all make significantly less. They have systemic power. They just do. Every time someone challenges them, they pull out a Constitution they haven’t read and claim how we’re threatening their first and second amendments because we want them to stop hurting others. They divert and distract, and they are born out of families like mine and yours every single day. They view themselves at war, are willing to kill, and there are over 500 white supremacist groups in the United States alone. It is a very real problem we need to address, now more than ever.
They don’t care about economics. They care about hate. They care about hurting others, in creating a world order where power remains in their hands (hands that have proven incapable of managing the burden).
They are selfish, and small-minded, and armed, and are willing to kill babies, kill neighbors, kill innocents for the idea that whiteness is a sign of divine approval.
So where were they radicalized? Where did they learn this hate? From here. From next door. Maybe from you. None of us are innocent in this. We all have a burden of the blame because when we say nothing, when we allow family to be racist at Thanksgiving or friends to make that joke that trivializes the pain of POC, when we keep our mouths shut, and buy into the rhetoric, we feed their message. We have helped grow this by normalizing it. We have helped them feel safe in our education systems, in our churches, in our government, and in our neighborhoods, because the reality is that they have systemic power and are willing to wield it to further their subjugation of others.
These homegrown terrorists should not be normalized or given the benefit of the doubt. They do not deserve our time or our willingness to listen. Their message is one of hate and violence. They want to rule the world with an iron fist, where only the people who look and think like them are “free”. And if we do nothing to counter it, we become part of the message. We enable them. We can allow for freedom of speech, as many other countries do, without lifting up racists, bigots, and ignorant jackasses who feel their privilege challenged as others ask for equality and want to kill others for it.
You need look no further than the march in Charlottesville, VA. that occurred on August 11. Neo-Nazis in Polo shirts and carrying Tiki torches (circa Polynesia, by the way), marched onto the campus of UVA and went unchallenged by police. They were only challenged by a small group of protesters, barely adults, who stood up and said that they’re hate would not be tolerated. This isn’t Trump’s America, as some would claim – a way to ease the burden of the past. No, this is the America that has been here for centuries, formed and structured around these ideologues that have been here since the inception of a new country. These are radicalized men and women who look like you and me so you dismiss them and their hate. (Or else their hate doesn’t affect you so you stay silent). They may feel emboldened by a police force that increasingly agrees with them, and a government who supports this mission, but they’ve been here all along. People like this will continue to be here unless we do something about it.
“So,” you ask, “what can be done?”
The answer is complex, and not one that can be provided fully in an editorial, but I think a good start would be to speak up, to say no, as the students at UVA have done, to let the world know we will not stand for this bigotry and terrorism. There are good people, solid people, who fight this hatred, who believe that the world is better when diverse and when formed around the idea that differences can create a peace centered in the idea of tolerance and acceptance. Support them. Research them. Give those people your time and money. If you have a public voice, keep talking, keep talking, keep talking. Speak out against these white supremacists in no uncertain terms. Don’t equivocate. Stop staying that they need the benefit of the doubt and that we should hear their side. There is no hearing their side. They want you to hate. Don’t let them think they can get away with it. Do not let the dominator culture that wants you to fear them have the last word.
Yell from every fucking rooftop: Love not Pride.
But most of all, you have to listen. You have to stop dismissing these people as lone wolves, as a minority out to disturb the peace, as poor, unfortunate souls who randomly found guns and anger. It is anger that is stoked by the hate of these people you saw in Charlottesville, fed by bigotry that is spoken daily. You have to listen to the people in this country who are trying to tell you about real pain, real hardship, real discrimination. Listen, listen, listen.
We have to take responsibility for this. We have to start doing something different. Because if we lose our diversity and our love, then, frankly, freedom will have been lost with it. It will have died in ignorance and hate, and will have been our fault.
These bigoted, jerkface Neo-Nazi douchebags have been here for centuries. They are not new. But in this world of 24-hour news, endless opinions, and community that circles the globe, we can decide as one to stop letting them have power over us. We just have to act, and commit.
So, what will your legacy be? Silence or love?