Saturday, June 13, 2009

President Obama: Change They Can Hate: Google News OpEd Published Nov. 18, 2008

See Also KNBC Intvw: 11/08 (Note it was posted by a racist website, go approx. 5min. in)

Prof. Brian Levin, Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University

As much of the country heralded the election of Barack Obama as a national milestone of how far we have collectively progressed, a small number of whites- supremacists and racial nationalists- saw things differently. For these haters a catastrophe of religious proportions has occurred. Their dire warnings about change, namely the erosion of racial purity across several crucial fronts reached a pivotal tipping point where America finally fell from their grasp. As Former Klansman David Duke wrote recently:

“[O]bama is a signal flag that European Americans have lost control over the government of the nation they founded, a nation that when it was at its best was [sic] the a pinnacle of the dreams of Western man…. [Obama is] symbolic of that transfer of the control of America from White to anti-White.”

It was not just the broad multi-ethnic and interfaith coalition of Obama supporters or his policy stances that have these extremists so up in arms. Rather it is key aspects of his life itself, that they find both revolting and threatening. The son of an African student and a young white mother - left to raise a child, at times in distant lands, who eventually went on to Harvard Law School and urban community organizing is viewed under a distrustful and convoluted lens. The contorted hateful image that emerges reinforces a preexisting bigoted narrative. This includes prejudice about decadent predatory immigrant male fathers, xenophobia, race mixing, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and elitist left wing conspiracies directed toward whites to deprive them of their nation. In the past when hate groups were far more entrenched than they are now, it was the loss of white political and demographic influence that has heralded their most violent periods. While it may sound counter-intuitive, whatever risk from the response of hatemongers to changes today lay in their diminishing numbers, influence, and lack of leadership.

First, the good news: hardcore hate is no longer the large driving institutional or social force it once was. Gone are the days where the Klan could lynch with impunity, claim four and one half million members, and directly influence the nation’s politics. The Klan, the nation’s most durable terrorist collective, with only a bare 5-6,000 members left is a mere shadow of its former incarnations. Furthermore, much of the leadership of contemporary hate groups is dead, imprisoned, ailing or discredited by sex or money scandals.

To say however, that the influence of the splintered Klan, and other haters has been wholly excised from the American landscape would be inaccurate. In fact, historically, the Klan has been most threatening during times of hardship and change - it was founded in the aftermath of the Civil War,within weeks of the Thirteenth Amendment’s abolition of slavery in December 1865. Violence relating to the unprecedented election of blacks and their supporters was a hallmark of Reconstruction era Klan violence. In the post Civil War South Klan violence cut black voting by over 80% in many places. The worst racial massacre of the era involved an attack over a disputed election by an army of ex-Klansmen. The 1873 Colfax massacre left over 150 blacks dead, mostly state militia men and their compatriots, who had already surrendered. The Klan peak of the 1920s saw millions join in a nativist backlash against a seismic demographic shift. This shift was away from agrarian Protestant dominated small towns to an urban industrial centered population fueled by record immigration of European Catholics and Jews. The next resurgence of the Klan in the 1950s and 1960s was coextensive with desegregation of schools and the quest for voting rights.

While today’s semi-impotent Klan has little in common with its predecessors in terms of numbers or influence, its continuing existence can be seen as the tip of an iceberg of residual resentment that is spread across a small, but broader range of whites. And Barack Obama represents three things the Klan and its allies have hated the most—non wh ite immigration, race mixing and blacks. In recent weeks the Klan and its members have been the subject of court action in three Southern states involving attacks, including murders, dating from the 1960s to a 2008 killing of a female Klan recruit in Louisiana. Two members of a splinter white supremacist group led by the son of a lawsuit imperiled Kentucky Imperial Wizard were implicated in the latest fanciful plot against Barack Obama. A white supremacist website, with about 150,000 registered users, run by a former Klansman and federal felon had a server malfunction due to high traffic the morning after the election, while a packed conference room listened to white nationalists in Memphis earlier this month at a “Euro Conference” organized by David Duke. Right before and after the elections KKK literature was circulated in residential neighborhoods in New York and Ohio, while in Michigan the election drove a man to grab a gun and march down the sidewalk in full Klan regalia. The Anti-Defamation League’s Dr. Mark Pitcavage pointed out that change, both political and economic has led to a spike in militant groups like the Klan in recent decades, while the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that a sharp increase in hate groups earlier in the decade revolved around immigration.

However, the old organized marching version of the Klan is hardly the face of today’s hate movement. While rallies, leafleting and demonstrations still occur; the current shift is to a more decentralized assortment of people who prefer the anonymity of the Internet for their hate education, inspiration and social networking. It is in this decentralized group of loners and small cells that an additional stealth threat arguably resides. Unstable lone bigots or anonymous small cells, with varying degrees of competency, operate on the fringes of established organizations. They are motivated by a vast array of vitrol to act out violently against a litany of enemies demonized in the supremacist freelance doctrine of leaderless resistance. Less than ten percent of hate crimes are committed by hard-core hatemongers or members of hate groups-but when they do act they tend to be on the more violent end of the scale.

While hate groups may try to capitalize on it, they certainly do not have a monopoly on resentment. It appears much of the recent hate crime and threats relating to the election of Barack Obama, have no direct hate group involvement at all. Non Klan racist graffiti and vandalism directed at Obama supporters occurred across the country, while a black youth in Staten Island was bea ten with a baseball bat by two 18 year old whites chanting “Obama” on election night. Northeastern University Professors Jack McDevitt and Jack Levin have found that the second most common type of hate crime offender is a “defensive/reactive” one who responds to incursions on turf or dignity, but with no connection to organized hate.

The American experience has taught us that race and politics, especially during economic downturns, can be lightening rods for resentment, and not everyone embraces positive change. While the overall historic trajectory of groups like the Klan is toward near complete irrelevance that does not mean that they or their successors won’t exploit or export hatred along the way. Barack Obama will have the admiration of tens of millions of Americans on both sides of the aisle during his presidency. What remains to be seen is how potent and pervasive the combination of racial and political resentment operating on the fringes will be over the next several years and what forms it will take in the mainstream. (Italics added)

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