By Robert A. Vella
Trump allies understand what I detailed in an editorial earlier this month – that the president will be defeated in next year’s election if the public sees him as an overt racist. The historical evidence for this dynamic is unmistakable:
Yes, white supremacy has always existed in America; but, America has not always been a country of white supremacists. What I mean is that bigoted and racist sentiment has always been present in the population, as it is in all populations, but it has only periodically gained enough political power to project its vile image for the nation. The Antebellum South was one of those periods as was the Jim Crow era; however, in each case Americans rejected the overt empowerment of white supremacy and much blood was spilled as a result (i.e. the Civil War, and the Civil Rights era of the 1960s). The racists were defeated not because of emotional appeals to their better angels, but by raising the public’s awareness – most notably by violent abolitionist John Brown and legendary activist Martin Luther King Jr. – as a means to motivate the stubborn weight of government and other social institutions.
That is why Trump allies’ fear of their white supremacist image is driving them to threaten journalists in the news media who are exposing the president’s racist behavior and actions. And, unwittingly or not, other people are aiding this attack and enabling racism by trying to suppress the media coverage. Shooting the messenger is no solution, and it will only escalate the violence. As noted above, white supremacy has always been a problem in America. Copycat killers inspired by thorough reports of mass shootings are just a symptom. The underlying causes are first and foremost social grievances felt by many individuals which are exploited and focused towards ideologies based on cultural animus.
Before moving on to the main story, here are some insider observations by reformed white nationalist Christian Picciolini whom I originally cited in my earlier editorial:
“I’m as horrified as everyone else is. And frustrated, because this is something I’ve been banging the drum about for 20 years—that the escalation of violence would get worse. The [white-supremacist] ideology is spreading more into the mainstream than it ever has before. There aren’t checks and balances to counter it. There aren’t programs being funded to help people disengage from extremism. Some of the rhetoric coming from the very top is emboldening extremists.”
“Unfortunately, I think that the underpinnings of the ideology have always been there. The extremists were on the fringe, and very visible, but other people weren’t willing to voice those beliefs. Thirty years ago, when I was in the movement, we were turning off the average American white racists who didn’t want to be so open and visible about those beliefs. So there was this effort to make it more mainstream, to grow the hair out, turn in the ‘boots for suits.’ I never thought we would have a social and political climate that really kind of brought it to the foreground. Because it’s starting to seem less like a fringe ideology and more like a mainstream ideology.”
“There was always a connection overseas; these far-right movements shared the same names, the same leadership structure. Certainly the manifestos suggest that they’re playing off of each other; the El Paso shooter referenced support for the New Zealand shooter. It’s no longer a lone-wolf-type situation, which is something we were pushing in the ’80s and ’90s. The ideology then was that there were no leaders, there was no centralized movement, individuals were empowered to act on their own. But the internet has really solidified this movement globally through all these forums online; they’re connected in the virtual world in ways that we often can’t be in the real world. I would say that the threat of a transnational, global white-supremacist terrorist movement is spreading.”
“It’s a whole lot of listening. I listen for what I call potholes: things that happen to us in our journey of life that detour us, things like trauma, abuse, mental illness, poverty, joblessness. Even privilege can be a pothole that detours us. As I listen to those—rather than debate or confront them about their ideology, but creating a rapport with them—I start to fill in those potholes. I will find resources in their community to help them deal with the trauma, with whatever it is that was the motivation for them to go in that direction. Nobody’s born racist; we all found it. Then I leverage the community around them to try to engage them and support them, and try to find ways for them to crawl out of that hole. Typically what I found is, people hate other people because they hate something very specifically about themselves, or are very angry about a situation within their own environment, and that is then projected onto other people. So I’m really trying to build resilience with people.”
The coordinated attacks on journalists involve some familiar and unfamiliar figures and groups – conservative consultant Arthur Schwartz who is a friend of Donald Trump Jr., U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, Breitbart News, the Zionist Organization of America, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg, right-wing media personalities Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, and senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Bannon described the effort as a “culture war,” and that as such “casualties” would naturally occur.
WASHINGTON — A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.
It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.
The group has already released information about journalists at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times — three outlets that have aggressively investigated Mr. Trump — in response to reporting or commentary that the White House’s allies consider unfair to Mr. Trump and his team or harmful to his re-election prospects.
“If it’s clearly retaliatory, it’s clearly an attack, it’s clearly not journalism,” said Leonard Downie Jr., who was the executive editor of The Post from 1991 to 2008. Tension between a president and the news media that covers him is nothing new, Mr. Downie added. But an organized, wide-scale political effort to intentionally humiliate journalists and others who work for media outlets is.
“It’s one thing for Spiro Agnew to call everyone in the press ‘nattering nabobs of negativism,’” he said, referring to the former vice president’s famous critique of how journalists covered President Richard M. Nixon. “And another thing to investigate individuals in order to embarrass them publicly and jeopardize their employment.”
G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The Times, said in a statement that such tactics were taking the president’s campaign against a free press to a new level.
“They are seeking to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with the leading news organizations that are asking tough questions and bringing uncomfortable truths to light,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “The goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job, which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs. The Times will not be intimidated or silenced.”
In a statement, a CNN spokesman said that when government officials, “and those working on their behalf, threaten and retaliate against reporters as a means of suppression, it’s a clear abandonment of democracy for something very dangerous.”
This is what dictators do, dear readers. It’s no different than what Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and countless other tyrants did and still do. Despite intentions you might have to diffuse America’s worsening racial tensions by stifling public discussion about it, you are in reality making the situation more explosive by enabling the very people who are inciting it. Under the cover of darkness, the worst of our sins are committed. It happened during slavery. It happened during Jim Crow. It happened in the Soviet Union during The Great Purge. It happened during The Holocaust. Do you want it to happen again?