On Being Surrounded by Proud Boys (Part 2)

I’ve encountered large numbers of Proud Boys and their white supremacist allies on two occasions: in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017, and in my own home town of Marco Island in SW Florida earlier this month.

Both encounters left me feeling endangered. And if I as a privileged white Christian male feel endangered, I can only begin to imagine how people I love feel who don’t share one or more of those marks of privilege.

While I think it is truly important for all of us to remember one another’s humanity (as captured in the story of kindness I shared in Part 1), it is also vitally important that we don’t minimize what is happening quietly, every day, here in America. It’s ugly and disturbing. Trump has played into it, like everything else, using whatever he can for his own self-aggrandizement. But even if Trump and Trumpism are humiliated on November 3, as I hope and pray they will be, this scourge of white supremacy isn’t going anywhere … and all of us need to acknowledge it and stand up to it. Vigorously. Consistently. And wisely.

(Does anybody think that a post-president Trump will discretely refrain from cashing in on his adulation from American racists? He may prove no less dangerous after the presidency, unless he is successfully held fully accountable for his crimes, from tax evasion to money laundering to influence peddling to campaign finance fraud, etc.)

I highly recommend, as a start, this interview with Talia Lavin. It inspired me to get her new book, even though I find the subject distasteful. American white supremacy is like colon cancer: something you’d rather not think about, but you need to know about anyway, especially when it’s already killed people you know and love.

Here are ten quotes from the interview. Again, I encourage you to read the whole piece – and the book:

What did you think of Trump telling the Proud Boys to “stand by” during the debate?

I’ve been watching the Proud Boy channels on Telegram, watching their triumph unfold. But it’s not just them—there are tons of militia groups, paramilitary, violent neo-Nazi groups, that have taken this as a call to arms, as a sort of endorsement of their potential to influence the election, to influence American politics. Which is what it was.

I have serious worries, and I think I have reason to. Elections are sites of great civic passion, and they are also occasions for accelerationists. Accelerationism is a very popular mindset on the far right with a goal to facilitate civilizational collapse in the United States in order to subsequently usher in their ethnically cleansed white ethnostate. So when you have an election that’s as contested as this one, when you have a moment when democracy is faced with real precarity, that moment can seem like a ripe opportunity for accelerationists.

America’s done a really good snow job concealing its own complicity in this stuff. To me it’s not a coincidence that the slogan of the people in the 1930s who didn’t want to go fight against Hitler was “America First.” Does that sound familiar to you?

Christianity in the United States has long been entangled with upholding white supremacy, that theocracy and white supremacy are by no means mutually exclusive. There were slave owners that used the bible as justification. And that hasn’t necessarily changed. There is a big, fat white supremacist streak right down the center of white American Christianity. That is seen as especially difficult to dislodge. It doesn’t mean those people aren’t Christian. A lot of people are tempted to put Christian in quotation marks or say, these people aren’t really Christian because they morally disagree with them, but you and I both as religious minorities know that is a convenience that is not afforded to members of religious minorities. I don’t get to disavow Jeffrey Epstein as not really a Jew, or Alan Dershowitz, or anyone else I disagree with. And what that posits is that Christianity is a front of all moral good and the true interpretation of Christianity is whatever you consider to be personally most moral, and I find that awfully convenient and awfully privileged for people to say.

there is a pathologically persistent desire to paint every member of the white supremacist movement as toothless Cletus in his mother’s basement masturbating frenetically, some incel, no job, someone who is poorer than me, someone who is more ignorant than me, and that is not the case….There is no single type or form of person that is immune to white supremacy. And I would encourage people who consider themselves opponents, even soft opponents to the rise of organized white power, to take stock of their own communities and the people they know. Because they are not immune. There is no immunity in this country.

White people, Christian white people, are afforded the luxury of individuality that is denied for religious and ethnic minorities. Each white person gets to be considered on their own terms, and every other group must answer as a whole for the crimes of the one or the few.

There’s a sense that for the white moderate to say, “let the Nazi speak,” is a point of pride. “Look how noble I am.” And as I write in the book, that sense of self-congratulation is more valuable to them than the lives of the Black, Jewish, Muslim, trans, gay people that are affected by the speech of Nazis. And it is a lie. It’s a big, giant fucking lie because the goal of white supremacists is to use their free speech to talk and talk and talk and talk until no one else can talk anymore. Their goal is to kill, their goal is to engage in ethnic cleansing, their goal is to purge. And if the self-congratulatory naivete of free speech liberals is a tool they can use, they will use it. But they don’t care about free speech for anyone but themselves, and they don’t want anybody else to speak.

If every person tried to purge themselves of the idea that white supremacists and members of the hate movement are other and inferior to them, cannot be in their community, cannot be anyone they know, and then took it upon themselves to stand up against hate in their communities and to route it out when they see it, and to seek it out in order to route it out, I think that would cast a blow.

We owe it to this country, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our communities, we owe it to people under threat to take on risks and call racism out without apology. To make organized racists pariahs. Unemployable pariahs. We owe it to ourselves to be as ruthless as they are. That is what this time demands of us, that is what history demands of us. We need a great deal more anti-fascists in this country who are not afraid to be called anti-fascists and who together, with a cacophony of voices, with a diversity of tactics, can fight back.

On the balance of things I’d prefer not to be murdered, but if I have to go somehow, I guess standing up against Nazis in 2020 America isn’t the worst reason.


One last thing: if you haven’t voted, vote. Vote against the party white supremacists support.