As we approach the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, our nation is coming apart at the seams. The hate that drove terrorists to fly jet aircraft into New York’s World Trade Center twin towers, the Pentagon and down a jet in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, has unleashed a venomous wrath in America that, if not contained, will ultimately destroy this nation. Hate is nothing new in the United States. It has its roots in the genocide of American Indians and the enslavement of Africans. For much of our nation’s history, there has been an ongoing surge against hate, often from the efforts of a vocal and determined minority unwilling to cede to the will of an intolerant majority. Now, in the 234th year of our existence, America is facing the ultimate challenge to its claim of moral superiority, democratic principles and global leadership.
At a time when we should be celebrating the racial, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that is unfolding in our country, we find ourselves engulfed in hate mongering the likes we have not seen since the era of Jim Crow in southern states. Instead of building the great nation that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution describes, certain factions among us are intent on creating divisions that are contrary to the spirit and supposed intent of our founding documents. We have made September 11, 2001 a date of national martyrdom rather than a date that inspires us to reinforce our national identity. We are doing far more damage to ourselves than what the terrorists inflicted nine years ago.
We now have the spectacle of a supposed Christian minister preparing to burn copies of the Quaran to denigrate Islam. In New York City, we are witnessing fear mongering over the proposed construction of an Islamic Cultural Center four blocks away from the site of the old World Trade Center towers. Across the country, some communities are opposing the construction of mosques and Mulsim has become the equivalent of a four-letter word. However, the hate does not stop at the doorstep of a mosque. The immigration debate is fueled by racism as Mexicans, and to a different degree Haitains, cast as miscreants despite the overwhelmingly positive contributions these groups make to our nation. The recent earthquake in Haiti has helped restore some degree of humanity toward Haitians but such empathy is generally fleeting. The election of the nation’s first Black president helped spur gun sales, a spike that guns’ rights advocates offer no plausible explanations and for which the correlation between race and fear is clear. A decennial Census will only confirm what some Americans now fear: we are a nation dominated by non-white hues and a varied religious pallette. It is a cause for celebration but the fearful among us are determined to hold onto the past.
While some people have invested in a hateful narrative of the faith of the September 11, 2001 terrorists, they have conveniently forgotten the Americans who killed their own on April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City. The ringleaders, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, had both served in the Army. They also shared a belief in the tenets of the militia movement, a network of white extremists who justify their hate of the government and Blacks, and Jews on a perverted interpretation of Christianity. On that date fifteen years ago, McVeigh, Nichols and their co-conspirators murdered 168 civilains, including 19 children under the age of six. McVeigh carried with him a copy of The Turner Diaries, a fictional account of white supremacist violence that stokes the anger of movement members.
The seeds of this latest bumper crop of hate were planted in the 1980’s when President Ronald Reagan defined government as the enemy and cast the poor as welfare cheats. Reagan literally spat upon the graves of slain civil rights martyrs, Black and white, when he embraced “states’ rights” at a campaign appearance in Neshoba County, Mississippi and failed to acknowledge the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in 1964 in the town of Phladelphia in the county. Since that time, there has been a constant tilling of hate under the guise of patriotism. Hatred of our government, the poor, Blacks, Latinos, Mexican immigrants and Muslims is wrapped in the American flag and spun with a thinly veiled white supremacist narrative of a mythic, “pure,” pre-civil rights America its proponents espouse. Economic anxieties certainly excerbate these sentiments but are not the cause of it. Hatred is an acquired taste. Sadly, even some members of oppressed groups have been cajoled into participating in their own emasculation.
As the nation pauses to remember lives lost on September 11, 2001, I hope we also take time to remember that President Franklin Roosevelt was right – the only thing to fear is fear itself. Right now, America is afraid and we are a lesser nation because of that fear.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.