--Elie Weisel, 1992
Before the angry debate last week about the President’s response; before the violent clashes in Charlottesville a week ago last Saturday and the tragic deaths of an innocent young woman and two police officers; before the inspiring and overwhelmingly peaceful march in Boston, 40,000 strong, and other counter protests around the country, there was this, the one spark of hatred that started it all.
Friday night, August 11th, on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Dozens of white men and women, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, many carrying firearms, march in a torch lit procession. They chant: “blood and soil”, a Nazi era slogan meaning one race (white) and one place (the United States) reserved for them alone. They chant: “Jews will not replace us” and “You will not replace us.” At evening’s end, “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler, who helped organize the rally, wrote on Twitter, "Incredible moment for white people who've had it up to here & aren't going to take it anymore."
Hard to quote Kessler, to remember the chilling and seemingly otherworldly images of those protestors. It seems an image more akin to 1930’s Berlin than 2017 America and yet there it is. Here it is, still. White supremacists hatefully, violently, virulently, unashamedly declaring that they are superior to all others. One religious faith above all others too. One warped and racist ideology right and true; all others wrong and false.
White supremacy. Religious supremacy. Human supremacy.
It haunts me to even write these words, to face into the truth of such ugly, deadly beliefs and yet as humans we must not turn away from or imagine we can ignore or wish away this side of humanity, humankind’s stubborn and unyielding original sin. Supremacy: the declaration that one group alone stands above and over another. That one tribe has the right, even a self-proclaimed God-given right, to supplant another, oppress another, hurt another, hate another, even kill another.
And so what happened in Charlottesville and the whirlwind that ensued: it needs to be remembered and not just swept away in our voracious hyper-fast news cycle or by our collective horror and shame at such human sinfulness. That’s the temptation now. To turn away: because it is all too awful to contemplate. Because it indicts us as a nation and world, reminds us that human hatred is still alive and well despite our hope that such beliefs are the stuff of our parents’ and grandparents’ world, certainly not our own. We want to look away because we imagine ourselves standing in this 21st century, awash in unprecedented technology and global interconnection and interdependency, all so post-modern. How could such things still happen?
This is how it happens. This is how it always happens.
A mob gathers in the cover of night, their faces lit by the flames of hatred. They are bullies and braggarts, skinheads and cowards, racists and terrorists, united by fear and paranoia and bloodlust. They carry clubs and guns and knives and seek to do harm. They march. They have always marched, led by the Hitlers of this world. Their power comes, not just from the terror they seek to inspire but also from the unwillingness of the good folks in this world, the ones on the edge of the mob, to confront them. To name them and their beliefs as evil.
With no equivocation. No moral equivalency. No hesitation.
Charlottesville reminds us that for all the great aspirations of humankind—to live in peace, to honor every living soul, to name as good all peoples and faiths and races—we’ve still got a lot of work to do as a species. The enemies of the common good may hide in the shadows but the allies for justice and mercy must speak up and out from the light and in the light. Folks of faith too must declare that God abhors racism, and any and all –isms that seek to dehumanize and hate any child of God.
So that’s what happened on August 11th. The mob. Remember? For our, for God’s sake, I for one, hope that we won’t soon forget.