What others say: Charlottesville hits close to home

  • By The Billings Gazette editorial
  • Thursday, August 17, 2017 10:06am
  • Opinion

“White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.

“As we mourn the tragedy that has occurred in Charlottesville, American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry.”

That’s what President Donald Trump should have said Saturday morning shortly after violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. That’s what the nation — especially white supremacists and their sympathizers — needed to hear from our president immediately after a driver deliberately rammed his car into a crowd protesting racism.

Trump failed to be the leader America desperately needed on a day when hate claimed three lives, injured dozens more and terrified a community that tried to stand up for equality of all citizens.

Trump’s equivocal tweet Saturday in which he blamed “many sides, many sides” for the tragedy in Virginia was denounced by Republican and Democratic leaders. But white supremacists, such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, were jubilant. Duke, who endorsed Trump’s candidacy last year, issued a statement Saturday reminding Trump that he owed white America for electing him. The Daily Stormer, a website for racist speech, crowed that Trump had affirmed his support of their cause by avoiding condemnation of the white supremacists.

Charlottesville is 2,000 miles from Montana, but we are closer in spirit. Back in 1993, a small number of skinheads, KKK sympathizers and assorted white supremacists descended on Billings. Hateful leaflets appeared defaming local citizens, including the police chief and Jewish members of our community. Native Americans, gay folks and a Jewish family were targeted with vandalism and harassment.

The community was galvanized to action when a child’s bedroom window decorated for Hanukkah was broken out. Local Christian ministers asked parishioners to put Menorahs in their windows in solidarity with Jewish neighbors. The Gazette printed a full-page, color Menorah picture. The community response got its name from a message first posted at Universal Athletics on 24th Street West: Not in our town.

Last year, after Trump’s election, the Daily Stormer urged its readers to “troll storm” Jewish residents of Whitefish and posted images of people in a gas chamber bearing the photos of Whitefish residents. The Daily Stormer promised to march with guns in Whitefish on Martin Luther King Day, but did not.

The hate that spewed fear, violence and death in Charlottesville last weekend could erupt anywhere in America — if we allow it.

Hate, in all its forms, against all persecuted groups must be condemned. Not all haters are violent, but those — like Trump — who fail to clearly call hate what it is, give tacit permission for the extremists to bomb a mosque, ram a car into a crowd marching for equality, harass LGBTQ folks and even break a child’s window at Hanukkah.

When a minority is threatened, the majority must speak up. Silence sends the message “we don’t care.”

Americans who care for their sisters and brother of all races, creeds and sexual orientations must keep speaking out because hate doesn’t belong in any town.

The quote at the beginning of this Gazette opinion is what Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Saturday. On Monday, the president finally called out the racist groups precipitating the Charlottesville violence. He did it by reading a teleprompter statement:

“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

Americans must hope that the president really means that.

— The Billings (Montana) Gazette,

Aug. 16

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