For many people, especially white people, the hateful white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville this weekend was so hard to believe that we found ourselves casting around for ways to dismiss it.
We discount this group as fringe. We assume that this is a scourge specific to the South, or to certain states we deem more backward than others.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it denies the very real existence of white supremacy in every corner of our country. I know. Several months ago, I had a gun pulled on me by a white supremacist less than a mile from my house in upscale Orange County, Calif.
In a suburban neighborhood, I drove past a house flying a white power flag. Incredulous, I pulled out a camera to take a photograph — a knee-jerk reaction to capture what I couldn’t believe I was seeing.
Unbeknown to me, the owner was in front of his house working on his car. When he saw me, he came toward me, pointed a gun at my car and told me, in colorful words, that it was my day to die. I sped off and called the police, who came and got me, drove me to identify him and arrested him. He was wearing full army fatigues and combat boots. He was yelling and cursing at me even as they arrested him. His Facebook page shows him with various rifles and in Nazi gear. And he lives in my community in the liberal state of California.
This was not my first brush with an angry white supremacist. Almost two years ago, I caught the ire of a group of white supremacists online for posting a video of my white daughters receiving black American Girl dolls at Christmas. This, coupled with the fact that I had adopted two black sons, made me an enemy. For more than a month, they targeted me and harassed me online. Someone posted a photo of my house. Another found my address. They altered photos of my children with disgusting images and phrases. Their hate toward me was palpable, and their energy was intense.
The Internet has provided a breeding ground for this kind of ideology, helping it spread deeper than local get-togethers. Internet forums provide a convenient and shielded place for white supremacists to work each other into a paranoid frenzy.
I don’t have answers for how we deal with citizens like this, but when I look to scripture and the way Jesus conducted himself, it’s clear that he was not afraid to tangle when it came to injustice. He distanced himself from those who he felt were misrepresenting God’s word, and he called them out sharply. He was on the front lines. He buried himself in the inconvenience. He was about justice and put himself in the way of justice. He never defended himself, but he always defended the weak. He dedicated much of his message to critiquing those who oppressed others.
This is in sharp contrast to the behavior of President Trump. Despite last weekend’s events, our president has failed to distance himself from white supremacists. It took him two days to denounce them specifically, in a news conference in which he read from a teleprompter. And soon after, he doubled down, speaking of hate “on all sides,” dismissing the alt-right as a threat while pointing to the “alt-left” as bearing responsibility as well. He made false equivalencies about Robert E. Lee and our Founding Fathers.
His failure to take a hard stand against neo-Nazis fuels their delusions that their time has come and that their president approves of their views. Whether Trump is in agreement with the ideology of white supremacists or he’s merely pandering to what he perceives to be a necessary voting base, the fact remains that a movement of hate operates under an assumption of his approval. From David Duke to the writers at the Daily Stormer, the alt-right viewed in Charlottesville, and Trump’s reaction to it, to be a victory.
White supremacists are everywhere, and they are organizing online, convinced that our president represents their interests. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that these interests never again represent our country.
Kristen Howerton writes the blog Rage Against the Minivan.