In the 80s my father, an expert on terrorism, spent a number of years tracking American white supremacist groups for the US Government. Even 30 years ago the heavily armed extremists militia white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations in Idaho and Montana were viewed as a significant internal threat to many of our national interests.
I was too young to know the details of his work, but I remember how I felt when I came home from school in our Washington D.C. neighborhood, thousands of miles away from those people, and found an axe at our front door. Even then, these people were scary and their networks and tactics of fear extended far and wide.
Extremist white supremacist groups have persisted in the US certainly for most of the 20th century. It's a short leap from the terrorist KKK groups responsible for lynching and other unspeakable crimes, to white supremacist groups proliferating and organizing today. It's easy to forget the Oklahoma City bomber was a radicalized white supremacist who viewed government as the enemy. And of course, nearly every mass shooting in recent years has been a white male with ties to white nationalist groups. The roots of violent white nationalism are deep and wide. After the horrific terrorist act in New Zealand, it's certainly the right time to be looking more closely here at home. Could a New Zealand like attack happen here? Of course, it has over and over again.
When I wrote my book, Crossing the Thinnest Line two years ago, my thesis was that white Americans have never been asked to seriously confront our racism and the deep-seated biases that have been part of our identity as a nation since its founding. We reinforce a constant narrative that institutional racism is a thing of our past. That the Civil Right movement won. That we have moved on. WE have failed to come to terms with the fact that America remains deeply segregated. Since the 1990s, progress on school integration nationwide has reversed. Most Americans live in totally homogenous communities, cut off from real connections with or the opportunity to learn from people different from ourselves. Too few Americans have the tools or the experience to recognize their own biases. White Americans largely deny we even have them.
This denial and unwillingness to seriously face our demons, our lack of commitment to fostering serious dialogue and understanding is exactly the vacuum in which white supremacy has been able to persist and now fester. Aided and amplified by social media and the internet age, abetted and mainstreamed by the Trump doctrine of us versus them, legitimized by him and by Laura Ingram, Tucker Carlson and others who peddle the idea that difference is the enemy. It's easy to see New Zealand, or Pittsburgh or Charleston as far away. But those places are now everywhere. There is nowhere that this hate needs not be confronted.
This denial and unwillingness to seriously face our demons, our lack of commitment to fostering serious dialogue and understanding is exactly the vacuum in which white supremacy has been able to persist and now fester.
There is a real and imminent danger to all of us if we cannot have a serious national discussion about the cause of hate which is isolation, persistent segregation in schools, universities, businesses and faith-based organizations who run from rather than engage in the real work of building deeper understanding across lines of difference. All of our institutions need to seriously confront this existential threat. As we move toward becoming a minority majority nation how will we prepare to capitalize on this diversity to be the great social and economic asset it truly is? Are we doomed to divide into entrenched camps of us and them? No. It is possible to show more Americans a path away from hate but it takes a willingness to be honest about how serious the problem is and commitment to fostering understanding and confronting the cancer of hate eating away at so many.
WRITTEN BYLauren Leader