I trust that any shock from events of the weekend of 8/12/17 –wherein white supremacist groups terrorized protestors gathered in a church on Friday night, then wrought mayhem all over Charlottesville, VA, culminating in the death of Heather Hyer, a female protestor– is starting to wear off. I can confess to not being particularly shocked as I’m old enough to have a father who went to a segregated seminary farther south in VA — Petersburg — in a time where he was still expected to ride at the back of the bus. He also travelled to Mississippi during the summer of 1965, months before my birth, to do voter registration under circumstances that caused him to fear for his life while there. When those events take place in your lifetime, or those of your immediate ancestors, it gives you a certain weariness, but certainly not surprise when it happens again, or when 45 doubles down on his original sympathizer remarks as he did on Tuesday. Some have aptly likened this to a second period of post-reconstruction.
During and immediately after the period where the US Congress passed the 13th – 15th Amendments (roughly 1865-1877) –freeing slaves, making them citizens, and giving male former slaves the right to vote, respectively– genuine attempts were made to transform the south, including the attempt to set up a free labor economy, but these efforts ended abruptly in 1877 with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. Thereafter, Army troops were removed from the South, Democrats returned to power, and with them came the reinstituting of their dominance over former slaves by violence, discrimination and intimidation.
In a somewhat similar pattern, 8 years of a Black man in the White House was marked by his being denounced as illegitimate (under the long debunked theory that President Obama was not a citizen and/or had been born in Kenya), a Republican Congress making every effort to thwart him legislatively, including the slowing of the pace of his judicial nominations, culminating in the refusal to act on his Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, following the death of Antonin Scalia in the spring of 2016. It was also marked by a dramatic rise in the number of white supremacist groups and increased activity by them, with the single highest jump in this century being documented in 2016 and linked to the pledges of then presidential candidate, Donald Trump to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and bar Muslims from entering the country.
Thus, noon on January 20, 2017 signaled the end of 8 years of progressive polices –from the signing of climate change agreements, to the LGBT community achieving marriage equality, to the President signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (focused on closing the gender pay gap), to executive orders barring pay secrecy by federal contractors, to the White House establishing a Policing Commission to focus on vitally needed reforms (in the wake of several highly publicized deaths of Black men and boys at the hands of law enforcement), and significantly ramping up its efforts to combat campus sexual assault and to support efforts by transgender students to be treated in ways consistent with their gender identity (including being able to use public school restrooms consistent with that identity)– including some that were swiftly reversed following the swearing in of the 45th president. Additionally, that President installed as aides in the White House several individuals closely identified with the “alt right,” (or better identified as white supremacists).
Then, there are those pesky monuments that were the excuse the supremacists used for having a rally in Charlottesville. What of them? While they are indeed monuments to the losers in the civil war and an homage to the Confederacy, relatively few of them were built in the immediate wake of the war. Rather,
Decades after the war, advocates of the Lost Cause erected these monuments all over the country to vindicate the Confederacy at the bar of history, erase the central issues of slavery and emancipation from our understanding of the war, and reaffirm a system of state-sanctioned white supremacy.
Put simply, the erection of these Confederate memorials and enforcement of Jim Crow went hand-in-hand. They were intended as a celebration of white supremacy when they were constructed. As recent rallies in Charlottesville and elsewhere illustrate, they are still being used as symbols and rallying points for such hate today. — President, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Thus, that brings us to the events of last weekend and the rising tide of questions both about James Alex Fields, the white supremacist who man who drove his car into a second car, causing it to plow into a crowd of counter protestors, and about how and where the roiling crop of domestic terrorists were radicalized. I bring to this issue a perspective, that may help shed light: a long time advocate on the issues connected to domestic and sexual violence.
While the last several days’ news has been focused on white supremacists as one type of hate group, domestic violence advocates are familiar with a different type of domestic terrorism: that perpetrated by intimate partners. In fact just last month, an article looking at new data from the Centers for Disease Control announced, “Nearly Half of All Women Are Killed By Romantic Partners.”
One trait shared by perpetrators of both hate crimes and intimate partner violence is toxic masculinity. Thus, crimes of both types play out similarly, espousing ideas that men (or in the instance of one ideology, white men) are superior, and should be in control, and the kind of victim blaming that has surfaced in wake of Heyer’s death. This ideology is backed up by a willingness on the part of the “believer,” to enforce his (perpetrators are disproportionately, though not exclusively male, as statistics bear out that roughly 85% of survivors of domestic violence are female) beliefs with resort to violence, if he is not “heeded.” Thus and not surprisingly, domestic violence often turns up in the backgrounds of white supremacists like Fields who have carried their beliefs to violent extremes.
Additonally, the Southern Poverty Law Center has written that the so-called alt-right, has been energized by Trump’s misogyny and sexism. The terror that both supremacists and domestic violence perpetrators are willing to wreak on “impacted groups,” also bears much similarity to the violent tactics that southerners used to reinstate themselves atop the racial hierarchy during the post-Reconstruction period: discrimination, intimidation and violence were rampant and continued into the mid-20th century when fire hoses were turned on peaceful marchers in Birmingham and civil rights workers, Cheney, Schwerner and Goodman were kidnapped and murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi.
The alt-right, then, is connected to the domestic violence movement, not merely because they have in common some misogynistic members who have committed acts of domestic violence, but rather because many men who ultimately find themselves at the alt right/white supremacist end of the spectrum, arrive there via the men’s rights movement (or manosphere), which is a veritable haven for perpetrators of domestic violence, and anti-feminists. The movements have a number of things in common, including the notion that their adherents are the true victims of oppression. “[I]f you can convince yourself that men are the primary victims of sexism, it’s not hard to convince yourself that whites are the primary victims of racism.” And in this, “behind the looking glass,” existence, intersectionality stands for the inverted/perverted proposition that white men are the most victimized of all.
It was this misguided sense of victimization by women who denied his date requests that culminated in 22-year-old college student, Elliot Rodger, killing 6 people, then himself on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in May, 2014. According to one of several on-line manifestos he left, Rodgers was enraged by his inability to attract/connect with with women, and consequently, targeted “good looking people,” who he viewed as sexually fulfilled in contrast with himself. Described as feeling ostracized once puberty arrived, Rodger sought “pick up artist,” advice from on-line men’s rights sites, and lashed out violently when he was not successful. Rodger’s troubles started before college however, and not only with his inability to connect with the girls he was attracted to, but more generally. As described by the father of his best friend, he only ever had one friend. He was known as the “weird kid,” at school.
I dwell on Rodger’s disconnectedness not out of idle fascination, but for two reasons: 1) that men’s rights activists attempted to distance themselves from Rodger’s actions, was an implicit acknowledgement of their complicity, and 2) because it’s clear that it happened pretty young, and likely that the internet became his refuge. As the mom of a rising 4th grader, I already see how this disconnect can happen. My kid’s fellow travelers have warned him that if he keeps eating multiple snacks — on a day when they all had swim lessons, mind you — that he could get fat like another kid. Peer pressure is all too real, and the Obama Administration was rightly focused on tools to help schools help kids in that respect.
I’ve had occasion to tell my son’s school that I simultaneously get that the teaching of social skills is not their job, or primary aim at the same time I urge them to to take it on, nevertheless. To the extent that we –as parents, schools or communities — can better equip kids to communicate with us and with eachother with compassion and empathy, perhaps we can lose less kids to the Wild West of the internet and some of the dark places that are readily accessible there, including the Manosphere. This challenge looms that much larger when you acknowledge that the current occupant of the White House is himself a bully, and will, thus, not be providing the kind of leadership, moral and otherwise that we desperately need on this and other issues.
And finally, we need to figure out ways — tried and true, untried and unknown — to talk to each other: in schools, churches, communities and any other fora we can devise, to begin bridging the gap that loomed so very large in Charlotsville last weekend. I commend to your the experience (try googling the TedTalk of Theo E.J. Wilson, if you’re not on FB) of one man, and what he learned when he decided to lurk on some alt-right sites, and what he did with that information.
Also, try this faith based racial unity discussion guide, if that suits you.
Got more ideas, or materials? Send them my way and I’ll include them here.