Voices of hate still echo
It’s been one year since Charlottesville.
“Jews will not replace us.”
“White lives matter.”
“One people, one nation, end immigration.”
The voices of hate reverberated across America that weekend, creating shock waves as hordes of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of other so-called “alt-right” groups descended upon Charlottesville, Va.
This “Unite the Right” rally, turning violent, resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, one of the anti-racist, counter-protesters.
The horrifying images are now woven into our historical fabric: tiki torches carried by marchers engaged in hate-filled chants; swastika flags alongside Confederate ones; Nazi paraphernalia; t-shirts with Hitler quotations.
American history is already replete with horrific racist images: Africans shackled in slave markets; runaway slaves branded; racist whippings, mutilations, and torture; slave women raped; post-slavery lynch mobs; burnings at stake; people of color barred from segregated facilities; Ku Klux Klan racist terrorism; violent attacks and murders during the civil rights struggle.
Indeed, systemic racism and violence against people of color continues to this day with racial profiling, police killings of unarmed blacks, and pervasive racial inequality in the criminal justice system.
Charlottesville’s first anniversary should give pause for national reflection. Where are we now, one year later?
The Anti-Defamation League is one important resource. Founded in 1913 in response to escalating anti-Semitism and bigotry, the ADL has been fighting all forms of hate for over a century.
On Thursday, in anticipation of the Charlottesville anniversary, the ADL launched its interactive HEAT map with more than 4,500 data points that provide the details and geographic locations of incidents of hate, extremism, anti-Semitism, and terrorism (HEAT), covering up to 10 and 15 years.
The map is accompanied by a report that evaluates changes in the white supremacist movement since Charlottesville and provides an overview of its current state.
“It soon became clear to the white supremacists that most Americans were far from happy about what they’d witnessed,” the ADL report notes. “It wasn’t the ‘Right’ that united so much as it was the bulk of the American people, coming together to condemn the violence and hate at Charlottesville.”
According to the report, the nation’s horrified reaction sparked a backlash that caused the racists to retreat “into the relatively safe confines of online activism,” but even there, some have been dropped from social media platforms. The national backlash has engendered disunity in the movement.
Over the past year, it has become clear that these hate messages repel most Americans. This was evident during a community conversation on race relations, hosted by Congressman Jim Himes, who represents Connecticut’s 4th District.
A diverse, standing-room-only crowd in the community room of Norwalk’s SoNo Branch Library engaged in discussion with panelists from a wide variety of racial, religious, socio-economic, and professional backgrounds, including Steve Ginsburg, ADL’s Connecticut regional director.
The conversation focused on ways to encourage constructive dialogue, respond to purveyors of hate, and comfort the targets of bigotry. This unifying energy was an antidote to hate, bringing people together through an understanding of their differences, or as one participant said, “honoring and celebrating” these differences.
Himes picked up on one young man’s question — is racism individual or institutional — and suggested that the word “or” is a stumbling block. NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem is not an either-or question of patriotism.
During an interview, Himes noted that kneeling is a dramatic and shocking form of protest, yet not unpatriotic:
“I get enormously frustrated by the fact that we’ve let the president frame the ‘take a knee’ issue using the word ‘or’... (kneeling) says ‘I’m celebrating the rights that this country gives me ... by urging the country to be better’... you can be patriotic ... and proud of your country and say ... we’ve got a long way to go ... an upside-down flag on the mast of a ship means that the ship is in distress ... kneeling to me is ... people saying something’s not right.”
Charlottesville challenges us to heed the distress signals, including kneeling during the anthem, and strengthen the patriotic resolve to rescue our country from racism.
Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 25 years. Her blog is at blog.ctnews.com/rutgers/