When the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, learned of the massacre of 50 worshipers by an anti-Muslim extremist, many reacted the way a lot of Americans do when the reality of hate strikes their communities: with shock and denial that this is anything more than aberrant behavior by a kook in their midst.
But the killer this time reminds us that hate in its most toxic forms is deeply rooted, rampant and transglobal. The mass murderer in New Zealand is an Australian who sings the praises of President Donald Trump (“a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”) and Dylann Roof, the American racist who slaughtered nine black worshipers at a prayer service in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
For sure, he named a plethora of European killers he admired and European politicians he disdained, but in this space I am more interested in the homegrown connections.
Mr. Trump, who has been on a Twitter rampage lately, complains that “The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand.”
My grandmothers would say, “A scalded dog will holler.” I’ll say it this way: No matter how much the president or his mouthpieces deny it, “Made in America” has cachet among foreign haters, and our president is the brand’s great marketing tool.
When Trump’s acting chief of staff feels the need to reassure the American public that “the president is not a white supremacist,” then you know there is indeed a problem.
Think of it as the trickle down theory of animus against targeted minorities. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) tracks what it calls “hate in the White House,” pointing out the open door policy the president has with organizations tied to racist, homophobic and xenophobic groups — even naming some of their members to top administrative posts. What President Woodrow Wilson was to the KKK, President Trump is to the modern iterations of bigotry.
While the president might be a brand ambassador, white supremacy and xenophobia have been features of the land from its earliest days. These are among the first lessons some children learn. It becomes so natural that a 21-year-old Dylan Roof, fresh from killing blacks, can be treated to a hamburger from a fast food joint by local police trying to calm him down, while blacks his age or younger are gunned down by police for doing little more than being black. Yet they are perceived as the threats.
You have to diagnose the ailment before you can even search for a cure. The SPLC’s new Intelligence Report details an alarming array of warning signs as it which chronicles everything from internet-based hate groups in the U.S. to their growing network of international allies.
While recent events have white supremacy once again front and center, extremism comes in an assortment of colors and creeds. So we must all be alert to dog whistles in public discourse and rebuke politicians who send barely-coded messages of “us” against “them” because “we” are are the chosen ones. At the risk of being a party pooper, we must call out members of our circle who flaunt the “isms,” often for laughs. Make the use of certain words in our midst as unacceptable as the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary does. No points given.
We must be aware, too, of our own role, even unwittingly, in spreading the messages the haters have dropped like seeds in need of watering. The killer in New Zealand posted a 74-page manifesto and streamed his actions live on social media, assured that followers and news media would pick up both and distribute them to a wider audience. Anticipating the interest, he wrote: “I am just a regular White man, from a regular family. Who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.” He chose New Zealand, he wrote, to show that “the invaders were in all of our lands, even in the remotest areas of the world and that there was no where left to go that was safe and free from mass immigration.” By reposting his full manifesto — and, in the case of some cable networks, displaying it on air — we become the bees spreading his pollen.
If the president wants to be useful, he could become a Johnny Appleseed of tolerance, using his much-ballyhooed salesmanship to market that to the world of haters who so admire him.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication.