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Hate on the rise? Groups take to the internet and the streets

The hood of the white supremacy movement is lifting, rising from the shadowy meetings held in person decades ago and in dark corners of the internet more recently, and bursting into the streets — like in Charlottesville, Va. — when given a chance.

However, the beliefs are often more nuanced and varied than most think, according to two local educators. Jacob Ari Labendz, director of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies and assistant professor of Judaic and Holocaust studies at Youngstown State University, and Richard Lee Rogers, assistant professor in YSU’s department of criminal justice and forensic sciences, have both researched and immersed themselves in this arm of social movement studies.

Most people don’t understand the differences between hate groups and what they stand for, or recognize the varying degrees that hate and racism, even in unorganized ways, penetrate a society, Rogers said.

“Some of these ideas are more widespread than most realize. And there are degrees of it,” he said.

While there is no ambiguity with some groups — cloaked and hooded men marching through the streets holding torches and shouting “white power” — a culture of keeping minorities down to preserve the status quo, or blaming them for societal issues, can be a subtle form of racism that requires no movement to spread, Rogers said.

“In the South, it is not quite out there in the open in most places, but those feelings are much more ingrained in the culture than it is here in northeast Ohio. There, after the history of slavery and its defeat in the Civil War, there is an idea of Southern heritage, which applies to the white South, not everyone that lives there, and that idea has been preserved as a proud thing,” Rogers said.

There are even stores that sell the hoods and robes members of the Ku Klux Klan wear, he said.

All over the country, there are pockets of hate groups, but some of the worst racism needs no formal organization and can exist in the everyday decisions and actions of people running cities, communities, schools, churches and other institutions, Rogers said.

But as more and more Americans live their lives online, recruiters know the techniques to draw people in. One group keeps rock music and video games on the website to draw in young, isolated people. Others cloak their movements with misrepresented Bible verses, Rogers said.

“The popularity of these groups rise and fall, but it is not going away. Now, there is an effort to push it underground again, but that push will build more tension, not lessen it,” Rogers said.

FEELING BOLD

Labendz said hate groups are buoyed by what they perceive as endorsements for their beliefs and activities by the most powerful man in the country.

“This is something you can see with a basic Google search, all of these movements — homophobic, misogynist, anti-minority, white supremacist — these groupings with their angry, anonymous comments on Twitter and YouTube and in other platforms, they are coalescing. They are in conflict with progressive liberals, and conservatives too, who reject that type of speech. But these groups garner a base online. And they are gaining strength through the campaign and election of Donald Trump,” Labendz said.

Labendz said in the early days of the internet, people were hesitant to put their names on anti-Semitic, white supremacist content and anyone who did immediately gained notoriety for those views.

“But we saw with the election of Donald Trump, the risk is being lowered and the rewards for that kind of behavior is increased. So there are far larger groups putting their names to anti-black and anti-Semitic content,” Labendz said.

The willingness of people to shed their anonymous nature and move from the world of zeros and ones into the real world allows a much larger, much more vocal community to form, Labendz said.

“You get people that are starting to meet, starting to plan to take their words a step further and that’s when you get Charlottesville,” Labendz said.

Charlottesville revolved around the removal of a statue, which gave the groups a real world reason to come together, to organize and to become more threatening, leading to the murder of Heather Heyer, Labendz said.

However, one benefit of the tragedy in Charlottesville is that a lot more people are now aware of these hate groups that have been festering in the dark corners of the internet and looking to see their influence grow, Labendz said. Those who reject a whites-only, male dominated world can offer resistance and garner support from others who share in a vision for true equality and civil rights protections, Labendz said.

When the president does things like he did Friday — pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of being in contempt of a court order when he continued to unconstitutionally run immigration patrols targeting people who look Hispanic — he is sending a message to people, Labendz said.

“He is saying that it is OK to violate the rights of minority Americans, and it is OK for American police, arms of the government, to abuse their power,” Labendz said.

Some leaders in the white supremacy movement are only stirring things up to ensure they are a part of the conversation, so after the next stock market crash or major terrorist attack, they seem like a viable political option, not only to the people following them now, but for those who might lose trust in the system or party that was leading at the time of the incident, Labendz said.

“It’s a page right out of the Hitler playbook,” Labendz said. “They think all publicity is good publicity and if they concentrate on religion and the economy, and point out ways the liberal establishment has failed people, they have a chance when the next crisis hits.”

STANDING UP

There are a lot of people debating the best way to stand up to hate groups and Labendz recommends a multi-pronged approach.

First, interacting with them online by arguing with their points and criticizing their stances only fuels them, Labendz said.

“Yelling and shaming — that doesn’t work. They are trying to provoke a ludicrous, reactionary, oversensitive response to show how overboard the liberal world and the PC (political correctness) culture is — which is actually about using fair language that reflects a belief in social equality — by putting themselves on the side of free speech and portraying responses to their statements, often claimed to be jokes, as ridiculous,” Labendz said.

And, without people to argue with and call names, posts from hate groups don’t get the exposure and the chance to be provocative, Labendz said.

Other ways of combating hate groups are by taking away their funding sources by barring them from payment and donation sites, exposing members, and pressuring private companies to limit their access to online platforms, Labendz said.

Labendz said he and other educators hope to reach young people before they show their faces at a torch-lit march chanting Nazi slogans because many will come to regret the decisions they made as young people. However, it isn’t always possible to reach them in time.

And once that photograph is taken, it won’t go away like it would have 20 years ago because of the internet, Labendz said. Pressuring employers to fire participants at yesterday’s rally can act as a deterrent to some who might’ve joined the next day’s march, Labendz said.

In some cases, going to a counter-protest can be an important type of resistance, Labendz said.

“But be prepared if you are going to stand in the streets. Know what you are willing to do, and know how you plan to react to what they do. Ask yourselves, am I willing to be hit? am I willing to go to jail? But it is more dangerous and you should have a realistic understanding of what can happen. Many of these people are armed, and more and more of them are trained to fight,” Labendz said.

Others, who aren’t prepared to line the streets, can finds other ways to stand up for targeted groups, like report hate-filled YouTube channels and Twitter accounts, Labendz said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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