Glory Hallelujah, you might proclaim, righteous voices for harmony within our increasingly diverse nation have overcome hate.
It’s safe to say that Americans of all races were mortified in 2017 to see video of thugs marching with lit torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Va. The mob of mostly white young men chanted all sorts of hatred against Jews, blacks and immigrants. It was a bone-chilling spectacle for many who thought such movements were relics of a pre-civil rights era.
So Twitter’s move to silence the neo-Nazis and various other bands of white supremacists that gathered in Virginia might feel like the perfect reply. The racists are getting their comeuppance. No longer will their horrendous 280-character screeds be allowed.
On Dec. 18, Twitter began halting such rants through its new community standards. So far, accounts associated with American Renaissance, Britain First, the American Nazi Party, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the League of the South, the New Black Panther Party and Nordic Frontier have been suspended.
This #TwitterPurge will likely only increase in 2018. As we’ve seen with any number of attacks on free speech, the push back tends to ricochet. And, yes, this is a free speech issue.
Any threads that can be traced to violence are grounds for having an account suspended, an understandable decision. But how far this will go, and whose account might be next, is a bit trickier. Any post that Twitter deems to “threaten or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease” are subject to suspension.
The danger of this new policy might not be immediately obvious.
Hate shoved underground doesn’t dissipate. It settles in to root. And, as any good gardener knows, the roots of an invasive plant can scurry underground for years, deviating and twisting until they pop up where you least expect to find them. We’ve seen it happen before.
The hate on display in Charlottesville is traceable to antecedents in the 1990s. The explosion of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 is significant to the timeline. There is a hauntingly beautiful memorial now on the site, an empty chair for each of the 168 victims, many of them children from the daycare center that was blown apart by the truck bomb.
Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the murders, devised his scheme to avenge the government siege of a heavily armed, anti-government, white supremacist family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and to avenge the more deadly federal siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.
After Oklahoma City, much of this counterculture movement went underground. A whole mishmash of white nationalists, anti-government sovereign citizens and pseudo-military groups began to form, but largely out of public view.
The nation further took its eye off of such domestic terrorism after Sept. 11, believing that foreign terrorists were the more urgent threat.
We should be concerned about what these folks might do in the future, nursing their rage at being sidelined from a social media platform that has done so much to lend them a more prominent public profile.
Already there is evidence that they have merely switched to other platforms. Many others are readily available to them.
As unsettling as it may be to contemplate, right-wing extremists have done much to shape debate in common discourse, be it on immigration enforcement, the Black Lives Matter movement, NFL players taking a knee in solidarity, the dominance of English vs. foreign languages, and who is allowed to speak at college campuses.
The public needs to be informed, aware and engaged. They must grasp how extreme views can infect the wider discourse.
Charlottesville was targeted by racists over the issue of removing Confederate monuments. Reasonable people can disagree on that issue. But they need to also be aware of how nuanced, informed views can be overtaken by emotional and incendiary provocation.
And to do that, we have to be able to see where those prone to violence, to extreme views that no American should stand for, express themselves.
Email Mary Sanchez, a columnist for The Kansas City Star, at email@example.com.