There’s a lot to digest in the disturbing images of racist protesters who gathered in Charlottesville with tiki torches chanting phrases like “Jews will not replace us” and “White lives matter.”
But it was their faces that I just couldn’t stop staring at: out and proud.
These weren’t a bunch of cowardly boobs hiding behind hoods. They weren’t crusty old bigots with one foot in the grave.
These were young men. Young white men.
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be crystal clear now:
We are not going to age out of racism.
Of course, we should have always known that, but we were too busy deluding ourselves with talk of a post-racial America, of color-blind millennials who were more open-minded than their elders – despite growing evidence otherwise:
Dylann Roof, the then-21-year-old unrepentant white supremacist who in 2015 executed nine black parishioners who’d welcomed him into their Charleston, S.C., Bible study class.
An increase in reports of racist and violent incidents after Trump’s election, many of them on college campuses.
And nope, I don’t want to hear boo about there not being a connection between the White House and what’s playing out on our streets when the president’s “make America great again” hats topped the heads of these hipsters marching for white supremacy, when former Klan leader David Duke said the rally was about “fulfilling promises of President Trump,” when even after Trump’s embarrassingly belated condemnation of the violence, he doubled down in an epic tantrum, blaming both protesters and counterprotesters for the violence, adding that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the issue.
I got my first up-close-and-personal glimpse of some of these fine people at a Trump rally in Harrisburg last December when I found myself surrounded by young people chanting, “Build the wall!”
How they laughed. One guy, in his 20s, said Trump was “hilarious.”
There was nothing to laugh at last week at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that ended with the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed after a car plowed into demonstrators protesting hate.
Arrested was known white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old from Ohio.
Also 20 years old was Peter Cvjetanovic, a University of Nevada student whose photo went viral in full-throated howl, torch in hand. Later, he claimed he was not the angry racist that people saw in the photo.
“White nationalists aren’t all hateful,” he explained. “We just want to preserve what we have.”
Nathan Damigo, founder of white nationalist group Identity Evropa, helped organize the white supremacist rally and claims he’s recruited more than 500 members at colleges across the country. And while many question his numbers, one thing hate-group researchers increasingly agree upon is that white nationalism is taking root among young men.
Jennifer Richeson, a Yale University social psychologist, predicted this in 2011. Along with colleague Maureen Craig, she worried in the journal Daedalus that as the county became minority-majority, white people would feel threatened and a swell of resistance would rise. And rise it has, in a generation sporting hate as openly as it rocks trendy haircuts.
In 2016, Richeson broke it down in a tweet: “The myth that the ‘children’ or ‘next generation’ will solve this must end. There is no natural course that will eliminate racism.”
After Charlottesville, many responded by saying that the hate and bigotry did not reflect American values.
That’s denial. It not only reflects the American values of the past, but it reflects the values of the present and the future.
White supremacists planned nine rallies nationwide for this weekend alone. What happened in Charlottesville only empowered them.
After the deadly rally, Pearce Tefft, a Fargo, N.D., man, wrote an emotional letter to his son, Peter, a white nationalist who participated in the Virginia march:
“We have been silent up until now, but now we see that this was a mistake. It was the silence of good people that allowed the Nazis to flourish the first time around, and it is the silence of good people that is allowing them to flourish now.
“I pray my prodigal son will renounce his hateful beliefs and return home.”
By the looks of the faces in these pictures, he’s not the only prodigal son who needs to be called back home.