A Race War Evident Long Before The Capitol Siege

Fri, February 5, 2021, 10:14 AMA war rages on in America, and it didn’t begin with Donald Trump or the assault on the Capitol.

It start­ed with slav­ery and nev­er end­ed, through lynch­ings and vot­er sup­pres­sion, the snarling attack dogs of Bull Connor and the insid­i­ous account­ing of redlining.

Today’s bat­tles in the race war are waged by legions of white peo­ple in the thrall of stereo­types, lies and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries that don’t just exist for reclus­es on some dark cor­ner of the internet.

People like the mur­der­er who fatal­ly shot nine Black parish­ioners at a church in South Carolina, telling detec­tives that Black peo­ple were tak­ing over the coun­try and rap­ing white women. And the shoot­er who killed 23 and wound­ed 23 oth­ers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas — tar­get­ing Mexicans, author­i­ties say, because he believed they were invad­ing the coun­try to vote for Democrats.

And the riotous mob, rife with white suprema­cists, that bought in when Trump and oth­ers insist­ed false­ly that the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was stolen, most­ly in areas where peo­ple of col­or live and vote.

For a very long time, civ­il rights lead­ers, his­to­ri­ans and experts on extrem­ism say, many white Americans and elect­ed lead­ers have failed to acknowl­edge that this war of white aggres­sion was real, even as the bod­ies of inno­cent peo­ple piled up.

Racist notions about peo­ple of col­or, immi­grants and politi­cians have been giv­en main­stream media plat­forms, are rep­re­sent­ed in stat­ues and sym­bols to slave­hold­ers and seg­re­ga­tion­ists, and helped dem­a­gogues win elec­tions to high office.

The result? A crit­i­cal mass of white peo­ple fears that mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and the equi­table dis­tri­b­u­tion of pow­er spell their obso­les­cence, era­sure and sub­ju­ga­tion. And that fear, often exploit­ed by those in pow­er, has proven again and again to be among the most lethal threats to non­white Americans, accord­ing to racial jus­tice advocates.

So how does the nation begin address­ing the war of white aggres­sion after count­less missed opportunities?

The Rev. William Barber II, a civ­il rights leader and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, a mul­tira­cial coali­tion that aims to lift mil­lions out of pover­ty and oppres­sion, said it starts with col­lec­tive­ly refus­ing to have polit­i­cal debates root­ed in lies and racist tropes.

White suprema­cy, though it may be tar­get­ed at Black peo­ple, is ulti­mate­ly against democ­ra­cy itself,” Barber told The Associated Press. “The col­lat­er­al dam­age, when you keep unleash­ing the lies, sow the wind and pour this poi­son into the veins of peo­ple, is the sys­tem becomes so sep­tic that vio­lence spews out of it.”

After tak­ing the oath of office on the very plat­form that some in the mob scaled to breach the Capitol, President Joe Biden acknowl­edged the dan­ger of doing noth­ing about sys­temic racism and vio­lence born of hate.

A cry for racial jus­tice some 400 years in the mak­ing moves us,” he said. “A cry that can’t be any more des­per­ate or any more clear. And now a rise of polit­i­cal extrem­ism, white suprema­cy, domes­tic ter­ror­ism that we must con­front and we will defeat.”

Historically, white suprema­cy has advanced in lock­step with fears of Black polit­i­cal pow­er. After the Civil War, when for­mer­ly enslaved peo­ple got the right to vote and hold office, the white response includ­ed Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion, vot­er sup­pres­sion and oppres­sion through law enforcement.

The Jan. 6 Capitol riot occurred the same day that Georgia declared the win­ners of its runoff elec­tions — Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the first Black and Jewish can­di­dates the Southern state had ever sent to the U.S. Senate. And it hap­pened as Inauguration Day approached for Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian per­son sworn to serve as vice president.

It should not go unnot­ed that at least one large Confederate flag was waved by the Capitol trespassers.

To many in that most­ly white mob, non­white Americans wield­ed an incon­ceiv­able amount of polit­i­cal influ­ence in the last elec­tion, threat­en­ing the pri­ma­cy of white rule. When white suprema­cism is chal­lenged, its defend­ers delib­er­ate­ly sow divi­sion in ser­vice to the old order, Barber said.

This kind of mob vio­lence, in reac­tion to Black, brown and white peo­ple com­ing togeth­er and vot­ing to move the nation for­ward in pro­gres­sive ways, has always been the back­lash,” he said.

Oren Segal, vice pres­i­dent of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said address­ing the war of white aggres­sion also requires that we stop using benign terms like “cul­ture war” to describe vio­lence that lit­er­al­ly kills Americans.

All some­body had to do was actu­al­ly look at the dead bod­ies and the killers to real­ize that the threat of domes­tic white suprema­cist vio­lence has been with us for quite a while,” Segal said.

According to the ADL, which tracks hate vio­lence, rough­ly 74% of extrem­ists who com­mit­ted homi­cides in the U.S. between 2010 and 2019 were right-wing extrem­ists, and a major­i­ty of those were white supremacists.

On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked racism, xeno­pho­bia and zealotry since 1990, said the num­ber of active hate groups decreased last year by 11%. The decrease is due, in part, to a splin­ter­ing of white suprema­cist and neo-Nazi groups and a migra­tion to social media plat­forms and their use of encrypt­ed apps. Still, the law cen­ter said, the lev­el of hatred and big­otry in America, as well as the threat of domes­tic ter­ror­ism by hate groups, has not diminished.

Christian Picciolini, a for­mer far-right extrem­ist who found­ed the derad­i­cal­iza­tion group Free Radicals Project, said it has become easy to oth­er­ize and ignore white peo­ple who sup­port far-right move­ments or join hate groups. But for too long, he said, that has been part of a col­lec­tive denial among white peo­ple that a real-world, vio­lent threat exists.

We have to under­stand that, if we want to pre­vent this in the future, we have to exam­ine our his­to­ry — 400 years of what I would clas­si­fy as our nation’s pot­holes,” said Picciolini, who last year released the anti-extrem­ist book “Breaking Hate.”

Malcolm Graham, a for­mer state sen­a­tor in North Carolina, firm­ly believes that America’s fail­ure to con­front white suprema­cism cost the life of his old­er sis­ter, Cynthia Graham-Hurd. She was among the nine killed in 2015 dur­ing a Bible study meet­ing at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

The mas­sacre “was a defin­ing moment,” Graham said. But that moment was wast­ed when offi­cials and media overem­pha­sized that the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies for­gave the killer, instead of inves­ti­gat­ing his path to extrem­ism, he said.

We nev­er real­ly dealt with what occurred in Charleston, because every­body was so quick to want to clean it up,” said Graham, who now serves on the Charlotte City Council.

Cynthia Graham-Hurd, a beloved pub­lic librar­i­an who was just shy of her 55th birth­day, died hud­dled under a desk in the church’s fel­low­ship hall. She had been shot at least a half-dozen times.

The gun­man, Dylann Roof, com­mit­ted the nation’s dead­liest act of anti-Black domes­tic ter­ror­ism since the 1963 Ku Klux Klan bomb­ing that killed four girls at a Black church in Alabama. During clos­ing argu­ments at Roof’s tri­al, a fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor said the 22-year-old avowed white suprema­cist intend­ed to start a war between the races.

His actions instead sparked a nation­al reck­on­ing over white suprema­cist iconog­ra­phy, includ­ing the Confederate bat­tle flag, mon­u­ments and stat­ues that appeared in pho­tographs and draw­ings inves­ti­ga­tors found among Roof’s belongings.

In July 2015, for­mer Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who is Indian American, signed leg­is­la­tion per­ma­nent­ly low­er­ing the Confederate bat­tle flag that flew over South Carolina’s Capitol. Many saw it as a sign that white Americans were awak­en­ing to their com­plic­i­ty and accept­ed their oblig­a­tion to address dis­pro­por­tion­ate white con­trol of gov­ern­ment, econ­o­my and media.

Two years after the Charleston mas­sacre, in 2017, white suprema­cists, the Proud Boys and neo-Nazis held a so-called “Unite the Right″ ral­ly in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event was staged in oppo­si­tion to the pro­posed removal of a Confederate mon­u­ment from a pub­lic park. Heather Heyer, a white coun­ter­pro­test­er, died in an attack car­ried out by a rallygoer.

Trump — who, just one day before Roof car­ried out his mur­ders, launched his White House bid by decry­ing Mexican migrants as rapists and drug deal­ers — infa­mous­ly said there were “fine peo­ple” among the racist Charlottesville ral­ly participants.

There have been moments when it seemed like a reck­on­ing with racism was at hand. After the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, white peo­ple joined protests across the nation.

The SPLC said 111 Confederate mon­u­ments and oth­er white suprema­cist sym­bols have been removed, relo­cat­ed or renamed since Floyd’s death. But near­ly 1,800 Confederate sym­bols, includ­ing 725 mon­u­ments, remained on pub­lic land as of December.

Confederate sym­bols are not relics of the past – they are liv­ing sym­bols of white suprema­cy,” SPLC chief of staff Lecia Brooks said.

As evi­denced by the events of Jan. 6, the Confederate flag is just one of many tools still used to reassert white suprema­cist ideals,” she told the AP. “These sym­bols did not go up overnight and the pow­er they hold — specif­i­cal­ly in the South — will not be over­come if we con­tin­ue to stay silent.”

The SPLC has called for fed­er­al law enforce­ment agen­cies to devote more resources to track­ing and pros­e­cut­ing hate vio­lence and bias inci­dents, as well as enact­ing leg­is­la­tion that shifts fund­ing away from pun­ish­ment mod­els and toward pre­vent­ing vio­lent extrem­ism. Picciolini, the for­mer extrem­ist, said pre­ven­tion is essen­tial to derad­i­cal­iz­ing peo­ple who pose domes­tic ter­ror threats.

The way that I work with peo­ple to dis­en­gage them from extrem­ism is to not real­ly debate them ide­o­log­i­cal­ly,” he said. “I think that’s the same way America has to deal with this prob­lem. We have to look back at our his­tor­i­cal pot­holes and final­ly accept them and address them, (and) embrace the peo­ple who’ve been harmed along the way, to help shape our future together.”

For Graham, who lost his sis­ter in the Mother Emanuel shoot­ing, the onus isn’t on Black peo­ple to begin nego­ti­at­ing a truce in the race war. Accountability must come first, he said.

I think white folks need to have a town hall meet­ing, and I think they need to start call­ing their peo­ple out,” Graham said. “They have to be able to point a fin­ger at folks that look like them, and point them out at their din­ner table, at their church­es, at their places of employment.”

Those town halls can be spaces for heal­ing between the races, said La June Montgomery Tabron, pres­i­dent and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a phil­an­thropic organization.

At the root of heal­ing is truth-telling,” said Tabron, whose orga­ni­za­tion has host­ed a nation­al day of racial heal­ing for sev­er­al years. “What we know in our work is that, for chil­dren to thrive in the future, they need a coun­try, a nation and a world where there is equity.”