This time of year should be all about kindness, generosity, and, of course, love. But there’s precious little love in the air these days. Whether watching the news, looking at Face Book, or checking out Twitter, what we see is the glorification of snark. Insults, meanness, threats, and derogatory language permeate every thread of our society’s fabric. We are at war with each other and love is hard to come by. So I resorted to love expressed in a different era, in a different war.
I opened the box of love letters that my parents wrote each other during and towards the end of World War II. Dad was a US military officer assigned to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war in Germany. Mom had gone back to her parents in Bermuda to have her baby. Dad didn’t get to see my older brother Joe until he was about one year old. In his seventies, Dad called his letters “just so much love-sick whining”.But I take heart that in one of the ugliest times in history, love prevailed as did faith in a better future.
FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told Congress the following about hate groups: “A majority of the racially motivated violent extremist domestic terrorism is at the hands of white supremacists.”
Hate crimes increased by nearly 20% in 2017, according to the latest FBI data. The actual numbers are likely larger because many hate crimes go unreported or are misclassified for various reasons.
Another study on hate crimes among 30 big cities nationwide, by The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, states the following: “Hate crimes rose 9 percent in major U.S. cities in 2018, for a fifth consecutive increase, to decade highs, as cities with increases outnumbered those with declines two to one. In contrast, crime overall in major cities has declined in both of the last two years.”
“… You can call it fate or call it destiny. Sometimes it seems like a mystery. Timing is everything!” ~ Garrett Hedlund
Fate? …Destiny? … I cannot explain it.
You see, someone recently sent me a quick read on courageous acts by courageous people. “So, are you trying to tell me something?” I thought to myself while putting the piece aside. Now by coincidence – or destiny? – I remembered that Deborah Levine and Marc Brennan are about to release their long-awaited book, “When Hate Groups March Down Main Street.”
All that said, days later I received the following story from “Mariah,” that provided an opportunity for me to pull all these pieces together:
As a favorite target of online hate groups, I sat spellbound with various movers and shakers of Chattanooga’s Jewish community as we listened to Jonathan Vick, Assistant Director of the Cyber Safety Center of the Anti-Defamation League. Founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” ADL’s tag line is “Imagine a World Without Hate®.” ADL began reporting on digital hate groups in 1985, exposing and monitoring groups such as StormFront created by KKK leader, Don Black. StormFront was popular with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, bigots, and anti-Semites. In recent years, StormFront has moderated its language somewhat to appear more mainstream. It’s membership has grown to almost 300,000 despite reports documenting one hundred homicides committed by StormFront members (Southern Poverty Law Center). Not surprisingly, I see very little difference between hate groups and terrorists.
This essay is written to address how we have devolved into a form of idolatry through the proliferation and use of symbols. Symbols are used to evoke a set of behavioral expectations to which we are beholden to subscribe if we are to be deemed acceptable by others. Symbols are all too often the proxies used to substitute for meaningful interaction and relationship. They are designed to reduce fear and risk, but they often mitigate against the courage necessary to relate meaningfully to each other.
For thousands of years, we have lived our lives largely in response to symbols- religious, political, social, natural- to the point today that we substitute symbols for relationship substance. We think because someone wears a cross he must be a Christian or a hijab she must be a Muslim, or emblazon their clothing with the American flag they must be a patriot. Symbols govern our expectations of what to anticipate in the behavior of others but this can be confusing, and often misleading.
On a balmy recent Sunday afternoon, the KKK visited Douglasville, Georgia. Throngs of us decided to pay a visit to our visitors. Many gathered along the road, some with their families and lounge chairs as if they were about to watch a Christmas parade. Some brought Bibles, others protest placards bearing words unprintable in this space. As expected the police turnout was large as was the media.
You see, the KKK came to protest the sentences of a local man and woman who received long prison terms for yelling racial slurs and pointing guns at participants at a 10 year-old’s black kid’s birthday party.
Deborah: Sadly, I’m watching yet another evacuation of a Jewish center on TV. I know what it’s like to oversee an evacuation during a bomb threat. I was in charge of security at a Jewish agency in Chicago, was trained by the FBI in security after the Oklahoma City bombing, and oversaw the design for a secure Jewish Community Center in Chattanooga.
As I write this, the United States has very recently elected a President who has been accused of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ablism and anti-Semitism. These qualities have been likened to fascism. A number of the groups and individuals who supported the candidate were openly white Suprematist and/or neo-Nazi. Since the election, there has been an outbreak of hate crimes, hate incidents, hate speech, and harassment against those in traditionally discriminated against groups. These range from violent crimes to simple gloating and misapprehension of what supporters voted for. The Southern Poverty Law Center has recorded over 700 hate incidents as of November 18, 2016.