If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably interested enough in politics, or at least the 2016 election, to know that some of Donald Trump’s biggest fans were White Nationalists/White Supremacists (rebranded with the friendlier sounding name the “alt-right”). These groups have enjoyed a resurgence inspired by Trump’s candidacy, and they have been even more emboldened by his election win. (Just to be very clear, I’m not saying that this describes all or even most of Trump’s supporters, by any stretch. But this is a particularly vocal & energized subset)
So I am very torn when I read a story like this one, “Jewish leaders in Richard Spencer’s home town targeted in posting on neo-Nazi website”, which features one of the movement’s most visible leaders, avid Trump fan Richard Spencer.
In the post published Friday, which called the Jewish people a “vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths,” [neo-Nazo website] Daily Stormer shared the names of the Whitefish activists, who are all women, and their photos, which were accompanied by sexist commentary and digitally altered with overlays of the Star of David. The post included the women’s phone numbers, Twitter handles and email addresses, plus the names and contact information for their husbands. The post also shared the name, photo and Twitter account of one woman’s young son . . . All weekend, the human rights organizations and about a half-dozen people, including all three women, have been receiving death threats.
I’m not sure of the best way to handle it when I read an article or hear a story like this. (And there are many others, and the targets can be other minority groups as well, of course: most typically African Americans, Latinos (generally in the form of anti-immigrant sentiment), Muslims in addition to Jews.) I don’t know if I should post it here, tell as many people as I can about about it, spread the word so that the evil of these people is exposed, so that we are very clear about who they are and what their goals are. Or is that just giving them free publicity, another platform from which to spread their hateful message? Ignoring them isn’t going to make them go away, but by publicizing every vile thing they do, are we building them up? I’m genuinely torn and am curious to hear what other think.
Then we have something like this. A&E is about to air a new show called Generation KKK, which is basically a reality show (they call it a docu-series) about high-ranking Klan members and their families. A&E’s general manager told the NY Times that, “We certainly didn’t want the show to be seen as a platform for the views of the KKK. The only political agenda is that we really do stand against hate.” We’ll have to see how these KKK members are portrayed once the show starts airing, but it’s hard to see how this isn’t an enormous opportunity for them to get their message out to those who are open to hearing it.
One possible note of redemption, the producers stressed in their interview with the NY Times that they are hoping this series might help free the children of these Klan members from the “destructive” environment, and they involved anti-hate activists in the filming in order to try to influence the views the participants.
The filmmakers also incorporated the anti-hate activists Daryle Lamont Jenkins, Arno Michaelis and Bryon Widner as they tried to persuade members to leave the Klan — or at least to leave their children out of it.
The point about the children was powerful to me, because there was one thing I read during the very long election season that always stuck with me: a Washington Post article about a now-27 year old who was raised by white supremacists, surrounded his whole childhood by the world of white supremacists, and never had any exposure to anything different. That article, “The White Flight of Derek Black” tells the story of how he finally escaped that world when he went away to college. (I’ve wondered ever since why his parents permitted him to go to a “regular” college). The best, most fascinating part – especially in light of where this post started – is that his “awakening” began when a college acquaintance invited him to a weekly Shabbat dinner, and Derek accepted. If you find that story interesting, you can also read Derek’s own words about why he left white nationalism, here in this NY Times Opinion piece he authored.
So what do you think – what’s the best way to handle these people? Expose them, or deprive them of all oxygen??
12/23 update: In response to powerful backlash, A&E has made some changes to its KKK “docu-series,” including changing the title
12/24 further update: A&E has now cancelled the docu-series upon discovering that some of the show’s participants were paid by producers, which is against network policy. But you have to wonder if A&E wasn’t relieved to find a way out after the intense backlash the show had caused this past week. As I mentioned above, I was somewhat torn on the idea of this show: would it help expose these groups and possibly help us understand how to fight them? Or was it just helping them get their message out?? But I lean toward thinking it’s a good thing that we won’t be seeing a reality show featuring the KKK, as reality shows almost always seem to make stars out of their participants, no matter how unlikely they may be.