Tag Archives: white supremacy

A Moment Of Christian Truth?

David Brooks column a few days ago related an Evangelical pastor’s truly horrific–albeit edifying–experience.

A conservative preacher, Jeremiah Johnson, had reacted to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by issuing a public apology for having supported Trump. He concluded that God removed Trump from office in response to his pride and arrogance, and to humble his supporters, including Johnson.

Readers of this blog can probably guess what happened next. Johnson received multiple death threats and “thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things.” He was labeled a coward, sellout, a “traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times.”

As Brooks points out, this is a window into what is happening inside Evangelical Christianity and within conservatism right now. And he defines it accurately:

The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

As Carey Wallace pointed out in Time Magazine, the willingness of so many “Christians” to become divorced from reality has a long and shameful history. As she says,

In the past few days, I’ve seen all kinds of statements from Christian leaders trying to distance themselves from the violent mob at the Capitol. Christian writers known for their thoughtfulness lament that “somehow” white supremacy has crept into our churches, and the faculty of a major evangelical institution put out a manifesto saying that the events at the Capitol “bear absolutely no resemblance to” the Christianity they teach. That mob, they’re telling us, is a fringe element. They’ve radically misunderstood the real message of American Christianity.

This could not be further from the truth.

I believe the mob at the Capitol has radically misunderstood the teachings and life of Jesus. But it is an absolutely logical conclusion of white American Christianity.

Wallace proceeds to lay out the long history of Christian White Nationalism, from its approval of taking Indian land (it’s okay to steal from non-Whites and non-Christians) through slavery and Jim Crow.

For the vast majority of American history, Christian ministers have spoken with passion and vigor in favor of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. 

Wallace insists that there can be no healing without facing up to this past–as she writes, you can’t cure cancer by pretending it’s not there. The White American church can’t pretend that the mob at the Capitol is not part of it.

Scholars of religion agree.The John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities decried the 

persecution narrative of the Christian nationalist who sees Satanic power in feminism, anti-racist efforts, or religious pluralism. I want to think we reject the hubris of imagining ourselves to be God’s violent foot soldiers in the war against such so-called principalities and powers, that whether we are religious or secular, our everyday lives have meaning through caring for others, not fantasizing the bloody deaths of political foes. How to live among those who see life as a cosmic war between good and evil, self-righteously certain of just who is evil and who shall be victorious, is the great test of our time.

A number of others cited in the linked article agreed that what we saw on January 6th was “no random angry mob, but a group led and incited by elected officials, further evidenced by Trump’s affectionate words towards them.”

The next few years are going to be difficult, and not just for Evangelicals willing to confront their past, who will be attacked by those steeped in Christianity’s White Nationalism.  Trump’s success in re-making the Supreme Court is seen as a “full speed ahead” signal by  Republican Christian Nationalists who–thanks to gerrymandering–control Statehouses in states where their beliefs do not reflect those of a majority of their constituents.

The Guardian recently reported that we should expect a “blizzard” of bills rolling back LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedoms, and further eroding Separation of Church and State. These efforts have been supercharged by something called Project Blitz, an effort by rightwing Christian organizations to push through bills furthering their aims. It provides draft legislation to lawmakers across the country, where those drafts are basically copied, pasted and presented in state capitols. In 2018, state lawmakers introduced 74 such bills, ranging from measures restricting same-sex marriage to those allowing adoption agencies to use religious criteria to deny placements.

Have I mentioned that sane Americans have our work cut out for us? 

 

 

 

In A Way, It Really WAS Obama’s Fault…

Whether the current eruption of White Christian Nationalism is–as I profoundly hope– its “death rattle” and not a more permanent, dangerous fixture of our political reality, it may be useful to consider what has triggered its current malevolence.

The road from the Emancipation Proclamation has been a long one, for reasons a number of historians have documented. The resistance of White supremicists, abetted by racist politicians, consistently impeded progress and continues to do so. But little by little, as the boots of those supremicists lifted from Black and Brown necks and as people of color (and women) were able to access education and get hired to do non-menial jobs, the environment has– slowly– shifted.

It has become difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the fact that talent and diligence–just like ignorance and sloth– are pretty widely dispersed among all populations.

Over the years, women, Latinos and Black people who occupy positions of authority have become more prominent and plentiful. Faces in the media and academia, and among co-workers and bosses and neighbors, have become steadily more diverse. And then, for the bigots, the ultimate indignity: a brilliant, classy Black President and his equally accomplished wife were “in the face” of resentful Whites for eight long years.

One way they could diminish Obama was to elect a crude, ignorant, classless racist to succeed him, as if to say: “See. Even a dumb, mentally-ill buffoon can do that job. You aren’t so special.” Another was to oppose and mischaracterize efforts to remedy the still-potent remnants of official racism–to pretend that vote suppression was “prevention of voter fraud” or  to insist (falsely) that demonstrations by groups like Black Lives Matter were as violent as their own.

I don’t pretend to understand the attitudes or thought processes (if they can be dignified by describing them as “thought”) of people who believe that a mob of White vandals trashing offices and defecating on the floor of the nation’s Capitol are representatives of a “superior” population.

As the saying goes, I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV. I can only assume that what we are seeing is the inarticulate rage of people who are disappointed with their lives, who feel that the world is not according them the status and/or recognition to which they feel entitled, who have  comforted themselves with the notion that (as LBJ memorably put it) at least they were superior to Black people.

Take that comfort away, and they are truly bereft.

The question now is whether this most recent eruption will usher in any meaningful change. In the wake of the insurrection, there have been some encouraging signs that the determined “neutrality” of many people and businesses has been shaken. Donors are withdrawing support from several of the most culpable elected officials–those like Cruz and Hawley who clearly knew better but encouraged the uprising in hopes that indulging seditious fantasies would win them the support of Trump’s rabid base. The PGA will no longer authorize tournaments at Trump-owned golf courses. The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and even the rightwing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal are among those that have called for Trump’s resignation.

Will reaction to this shocking example of sedition go the way of the  “thoughts and prayers” responses to mass gun violence? Or will Americans finally, firmly reject racial and religious tribalism, and begin a final and vastly overdue commitment to civic equality?

I have hopes, but no crystal ball.

 

 

 

We Should See Clearly Now…

In the wake of the 2016 election, I was criticized by some very nice people for claiming that Trump’s win was all about racism. Those nice people–and they are nice people, I’m not being sarcastic here–were shocked that I would tar all Trump voters with such an accusation. But as my youngest son pointed out, Trump’s own racism was so obvious that the best thing you could say about his voters was that they didn’t find his bigotry disqualifying.

Conclusions of academic researchers following that election have been unambiguous. “Racial resentment” predicted support for Trump.

After the insurrection at the Capital, Americans simply cannot pretend that the profound divisions in this country are about anything but White Christian supremacy. We are finally seeing  recognition of that fact from previously circumspect sources.

Here’s what the staid numbers-crunchers at 538.com. wrote:

Much will be said about the fact that these actions threaten the core of our democracy and undermine the rule of law. Commentators and political observers will rightly note that these actions are the result of disinformationand heightened political polarization in the United States. And there will be no shortage of debate and discussion about the role Trump played in giving rise to this kind of extreme behavior. As we have these discussions, however, we must take care to appreciate that this is not just about folks being angry about the outcome of one election. Nor should we believe for one second that this is a simple manifestation of the president’s lies about the integrity of his defeat. This is, like so much of American politics, about race, racism and white Americans’ stubborn commitment to white dominance, no matter the cost or the consequence. (emphasis mine)

How about Darren Walker,  President of the Ford Foundation?

I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice—and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks—and all the more apparent yesterday—is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.

This explains the white backlash that has plagued American politics from its beginnings and throughout these last four years. It also casts a light on what we witnessed yesterday: A failed coup—an insurrection at the United States Capitol.

In his statement, Walker made a point that has been made repeatedly in the aftermath of that assault: If these had been protestors for racial justice–no matter how peaceful– rather than a violent and angry mob exhibiting “white pride” and grievance, the use of force by law enforcement would have been very different. 

Walker is correct: democracy–the equal voice of all citizens expressed through the ballot box–threatens White supremacy. That’s why, as demographic change accelerates, the GOP– aka the new Confederacy– has frantically worked to suppress minority votes, why it has opposed vote-by-mail and other efforts to facilitate participation in democratic decision-making.

Like almost everyone I know, I’ve been glued to reporting and commentary that has tried to make sense of what we saw. One of the most insightful was an article from Psychology Today that explained epistemic knowing.

After noting that “claims that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was illegitimate are widespread in Trump’s party,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the author   focused on why people who should know better nevertheless choose to believe those claims.

He noted that he’d recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. As he reminds us, the book is about a black man being tried for rape in a Southern town. It becomes obvious during the trial that the accused didn’t do it–in fact, the evidence of his innocence is overwhelming. Yet the jury convicts him.

 The jury convicts Robinson of rape because at the heart of the case is whose word is believed: that of a white woman or that of a black man. In Lee’s Maycomb, it is important to the population that the word of the white woman be upheld as a more respected source of knowledge, even when this goes against the facts. What was at stake was not just this one particular case, but a larger principle: whose claims need to be respected….

When interpretations differ, people need to understand who to trust. They may choose to only nominate certain people, or certain kinds of people, to be worthy of giving interpretations worth trusting.

This is an illustration of “epistemic entitlement”–the choice of who is entitled to occupy the role of “Knower.” Who gets to say what’s true and false, what’s real and fake? 

Far too many Americans choose to believe White people over facts, evidence, and their “lying eyes.” 

White Supremacists, Islamic Terrorists, Trumpers

I know that sane Americans are all holding our breath until January 20th, when most of us are anticipating being able to breathe a sigh of relief.  We foresee a return to normal concerns– policy debates based at least partially on logic and evidence, an actual national response to the COVID pandemic, and an end to waking up each day to news of the President’s latest lunacy and/or his administration’s latest, ever-more-blatant corruption.

Apparently, however, we won’t be clear of existential threats when Trump and his mobsters depart.

The Washington Post recently carried a column on the results of a study done by Jigsaw, the research arm of Google.The research looked into violent white-supremacist groups, and found that they had formed a connected global movement even before Trump’s presidency gave them oxygen here in the U.S., and that movement will almost certainly continue long after he leaves office.

These white-supremacist groups have used the Internet to recruit and train followers, much as Islamist extremists did a decade ago, argues a major new study by Jigsaw, a research arm of Google. The study, described here for the first time, is being published Tuesday by Jigsaw’s digital journal, the Current.

The study shatters the image that many analysts have of white supremacist attackers as “lone wolf” extremists. Jared Cohen, the chief executive of Jigsaw, argues that “this myth obscures the vast underlying infrastructure of white supremacist online communities around the world.”

These groups “move fluidly between mainstream and fringe platforms,” Cohen warns. They recruit followers on Facebook or YouTube, among other venues, and then direct them to protected “alt-tech” sites where they can privately share propaganda and boast about operations.

The report describes a movement that is much larger, much more violent and much better organized than most of us have realized. Information from the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database  suggest the existence of a global network that has been steadily growing since 2010.

A chilling factoid: that network has expanded “in tandem with Islamist extremism, its twin in using online media to spread hate.”

Consider these comparisons: In 2009, white supremacists were responsible for six deaths in 19 incidents, while Islamist extremists were responsible for 14 deaths in 12 incidents. Those numbers kept climbing steadily through the decade. By 2019, white supremacists were linked to 165 deaths in 336 incidents, while Islamist extremists were tied to 193 deaths in 82 incidents.

In three “hot spots” for white supremacists — Germany, Britain and the United States — the number of incidents seemed to spike because of special factors: in Germany, the influx of Syrian migrants in 2015; in Britain, the angry debate over Brexit in 2016; in the United States, Trump’s presidency in 2017.

When we look at the evidence all around us–it is hard not to conclude that we live at a time when huge numbers of people are simply crazy. Not just wrong about this or that, not just uninformed or unpleasant (although most also fall into those categories), but off the charts deranged.

It isn’t just the “soldiers” of these horrifying, radicalized terrorist threats.

It’s also the huge numbers of Republicans who believe that Donald Trump was mentally and emotionally fit to occupy the Oval Office. It’s the millions who insist that an election that delivered victories to their party’s down-ballot candidates, was supervised in many states by their own party, and was lost by over seven million votes, was somehow “stolen.” It’s the huge numbers who believe in “QAnon” and its conspiratorial allegations that Democrats are trafficking and  killing children and drinking their blood. It’s the inconceivable numbers who continue to dismiss the pandemic as a “hoax” while their friends and relatives die.

I know rational folks are supposed to “reach out” to those on “the other side”–but how do you reach out to people who are on the other side of sanity?

Data, Privacy And Propaganda

Every so often, I become convinced that we are entering a not-so-brave new world dominated by the wunderkind who are able to manipulate the internet and social media.

I’m old enough to remember–vividly!–when the internet was hailed as the great gift to democracy. Finally, people could express themselves free of the gatekeepers–the reporters, editors and other obstacles to unfettered communication. Instead, as one Brookings Institution scholar has noted, the business model of the internet—collecting and manipulating personal information to sell targeted services—has become a  tool for attacking democracy. Worse, as we learned in 2016, Russia and other foreign adversaries have proven especially talented in exploiting this capability.

Of course, the assaults on American electoral integrity don’t all come from other countries. In January–before media reporting became all Covid-19 all the time–the Independent Media Institute interviewed the producer of a film warning about the (mis)use of the Internet and social media by Republican operatives intent upon re-electing Trump.

The producer was Josh Fox, an Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker; his last documentary was “Gasland,” which has been credited with jump-starting the global anti-fracking movement. His new project, commissioned by HBO, is “The Truth Has Changed,” described in the article as “a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump’s reelection.”

The Fox interview began with a fairly chilling description of the multiple  sophisticated ways in which fossil fuel companies had tried to discredit him and “Gasland.”

They created hate emails specifically designed for my personality. There were tweets threats; there were death threats on Twitter. They highlighted my life in the theater, my hairline, the fact that my family’s Jewish; they found out that I had quit smoking several years ago, but they found a picture of me with a cigarette in my hand online from the past, and they ran that as a pro-fracking TV ad in Ohio saying, “This environmentalist is a smoker.” They followed me around the country for years. They booked shadow tours of our films. They tapped into ethnic and regional stereotyping. And then they tried to paint me as some kind of rich, intellectual, New York City liberal, which is not the case. They flung all of these stereotypes at me. They gathered all this information about me—my background, my ethnicity, my age, my race, where I live, where I went to school, how much money I made, what I had done in my previous life before the films.

One of the people heavily involved in the campaign to discredit Fox was Steve Bannon. It didn’t take long for Fox to recognize that the techniques Bannon had used against him were being deployed against Hillary Clinton and the entire American electorate in 2016.

In developing “The Truth Has Changed,” I made two startling realizations. One was that the people who ran those campaigns against me had a very strong hand in influencing the 2016 election: Steve Bannon, who was running Breitbart when all these attacks were happening against me, took over the Trump campaign and his team profiled the electorate in the exact same way.

 Fox explained how the  techniques that allow advertisers to selectively segment audiences are used to influence voters. Political operatives have access to the personal data of tens of millions of people, and they use that information to create highly personalized ads that appeal to different personality types–and play to different prejudices.

The same folks are currently rallying white supremacists all across the world and are making a bid to get Trump reelected in 2020. Their digital campaign created 5.9 million different ad variations in 2016, versus just 66,000 ads created by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was so key to Trump’s victory that Trump’s digital campaign manager Brad Parscale is now his campaign manager.

Fox says that we have entered the “age of misinformation,” and the subsequent explosion of conspiracy theories about the  Coronavirus would seem to support that thesis. Perhaps his most chilling observation, however, was this:

If you put out a racist ad and only racists can see it, it causes absolutely no controversy, but it’s deeply effective in rallying people.

This is why privacy matters.

In our not-so-brave new world, if We the People don’t own and control our own data, it will be used by the corrupt and power-hungry in massive disinformation campaigns–campaigns of which we are totally  unaware–with truly terrifying consequences.