A 76 year-old Black man was attacked and beaten by a 28 year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist who goes by the nickname “Hitler,” and in a Detroit suburb a burned cross is left on a Black homeowner’s lawn. Meanwhile, gun-toting protesters, who couch themselves as “patriots,” show up at events where President Obama is speaking on universal health care; with not so much as a challenge by local law enforcement or federal agencies responsible for the President’s protection. It appears that race hatred, one of the nation’s most resilient products, is thriving in the age of Obama. As an industry, the only stimulus is appears to have needed was the election of a Black President.
A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center warns that white extremist, militia groups that surfaced in the 1990’s has morphed into a 21st century “patriots” movement that is riled up over the election of Barack Obama and has found allies in the fringe anti-immigration and “birthers” loyalists. It is dangerous mix and one that is now fueled by so-called “mainstream” journalists such as CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Fox News’ Glenn Beck, both men fanning the flames of hatred on-air. Dobbs has contributed to the misinformation campaign around President Obama’s citizenship and Beck having the audacity to label the President a “racist.” The present climate is made that much worse by a recession in which Blacks, Latinos, the poor and immigrants are constant prey for those looking for scapegoats for the nation’s economic downturn.
It is a disheartening turn of events. Over the last forty years, at every interval where there appeared to be progress in race relations, it seems we take a step backward. While we can point to some improvements such as the growth of the Black middle class, it is a slippery slope as even Blacks in higher income categories face their own incidents of racial intolerance. Though there was great celebration upon the election and inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black President, I was among those who cautioned that the history making election should not be misconstrued as a permanent shift in race relations. There can be no doubt that a large number of whites supported Obama’s campaign and have expressed a more enlightened view towards Black Americans, and a willingness to engage in building a more inclusive society. Still, there is a hard core faction of whites, many lower and middle income and rural based, who adhere to old racial stereotypes and who, in this present recession, seek to lay blame for their lack of economic advancement on nonwhites, including Blacks, Latinos and immigrants.
What makes current conditions alarming is the interplay between white extremists’ anger and readily available firearms. We have conveniently forgotten that the worst act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was rooted in race hatred. Tim McVeigh, convicted for the act that killed 168 people, was invested in the rhetoric of the white supremacist militia movement, even when he was wearing the uniform of the United States Army. We have allowed these zealots to hide behind the American flag and couch their hatred in Constitutional terms, while the nation’s gun lobby floods the country with an arsenal of deadly firearms that pose a threat to all of us. It is no coincidence that gun sales rocketed after the election of Barack Obama. For many whites who subscribe to the ignorance spewed by these groups, the election represents a threat to what they perceive as their natural entitlement to dictate conditions in our nation.
Rather than wait for the next hate crime, or worse, mass killing, we need to aggressively counter the gun lobby and smoke out the white supremacist network. Federal law enforcement needs to use every tool at its disposal; including force and federal racketeering charges, to put these hate groups out of business. For our part, we need to encourage civil rights organizations and other national advocacy groups to make gun control a priority issue. While we are at it, we also need to make our voices heard against those in the media who cowardly use the airwaves to attack us and give encouragement to others who engage in violence. Until we defang these groups, they will always be one crackpot away from inciting bloodshed.