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September 11, 2015

Marching for Fairness – the NAACP Journey for Justice

After participating in the historic voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery on March 21, 1965, Rabbi Abramson Joshua Heschel famously said:

“For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

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ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs Rabbi David Sandmel and NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks on the road to Washington DC as part of the Journey for Justice.

 

That march played a significant role in prompting Congress to enact the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) – perhaps the most impor­tant and effec­tive civil rights leg­is­la­tion ever passed.   In the half cen­tury since then, the VRA has secured and safe­guarded the right to vote for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Its suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers to full civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and in advanc­ing equal polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is unde­ni­able.

Sometimes legs pray.

And sometimes legs carry you to Washington DC to demand progress toward justice and fair treatment for all.

Today, fifty years after the passage of the VRA, and two years after a deeply troubling Supreme Court decision that essentially gutted the heart of the legislation — marchers are on their way to Washington to demand voting rights protections again.  The NAACP has organized America’s Journey for Justice, which started in Selma on August 1.  The Anti-Defamation League is one of the supporting organizations for the 1000-mile march, as we had supported the original Selma to Montgomery march.  Then-ADL National Director Ben Epstein wrote,

“We walked together—more than 3,000 Americans: Negroes and whites, ministers, rabbis, Catholic nuns, students, representatives of organizations, those who belonged to no group other than the human race—all in peaceful demonstration against blind violence, in ‘gigantic witness’ to the constitutionally guaranteed right of all citizens to register and vote.”

Journey to Justice culminates in an Advocacy Day on the Capital Hill on September 16.  Marchers and their supporters will have dozens of meetings with Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The principal focal point for the lobbying will be the need to address the devastating impact of Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 Supreme Court decision which gutted a key provision of the VRA, dramatically limiting its effectiveness and reach.

Last November – the first major election since Shelby County – there were new restrictions on voting in 15 states, endangering voting rights for hundreds of thousands of Americans. From voter ID laws that threaten to disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, students and elderly voters, to cuts to early voting and onerous requirements for voter registration, the right to vote is in peril.

The proper response to the Shelby County decision is the bipartisan Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (S. 1659/H.R. 2867).  The VRAA reasserts appropriate federal oversight over efforts to change state and local voting laws and provides additional safeguards for voting.

Since, 1965 reaffirming the nation’s commitment to full voting rights for all has never been controversial.  Each time the VRA came up for reauthorization it has received overwhelming, bipartisan Congressional support.  The last time Congress extended the VRA, in 2006, it did so after an exhaustive hearings on voting discrimination and the impact of the VRA – resulting in thousands of pages of documentation.  The legislation passed overwhelmingly: 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives and 98-0 in the Senate.

As we have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) this summer, we have been reminded just how far we have come – how impactful the VRA has been in ensuring the rights of all Americans to have their say in our democracy.   Journey for Justice marchers and their supporters are demonstrating that Congress must do more than merely commemorate anniversaries of historic civil rights victories.  They must act.  Now is the time for Congress to act to restore the protections of the VRA and secure the right to vote for all Americans.

 

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August 31, 2015

Virginia Shootings Spur White Supremacist Vitriol

Within hours of the deadly August 26 on-air shooting of television reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia, the on-line white supremacist world erupted in hateful rhetoric and discussions of violence.vamurderscomment

The shooter, Vester Flanagan (also known as Bryce Williams), was someone whom white supremacists could easily exploit to generate anger. His victims were white; Flanagan was a black, gay man with a history of filing discrimination complaints against former employers, including the television station where the slain journalists worked.

Flanagan killed himself as police caught up to him, but not before he faxed to ABC News a lengthy suicide note/manifesto, detailing a litany of grievances and perceived mistreatment because of his race and sexual orientation. Moreover, in his note he directly referenced the June 2015 Charleston shootings, in which white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof killed nine African-American churchgoers. Flanagan tried to explain his murders—seemingly committed for personal reasons—as a retaliation for Roof’s own killings. Referring to Roof’s hope that a race war would result from his shootings, Flanagan wrote “You want a race war…THEN BRING IT.”

Reactions from the racist right were swift and involved well-worn anti-black and anti-Semitic tropes. Among them: that black people shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, because they have “no impulse control,” and that the victims, as members of the “Jewish media,” deserved to die. And above all, an echo of Roof’s call for race war: The hope that the shootings would spark a “revolution” of whites rising up against their ostensible oppressors (blacks and Jews) and striking back.

The New Order, a small Wisconsin-based neo-Nazi group, presented a typical anti-black response, issuing a statement headlined “White Lives Matter” that described the shootings as a crime committed by “a deranged anti-White Negro” and claimed that “The murder, rape and assault of White people by racist Black criminals is a daily event in the United States.”

Anti-Semitism shaped the responses of many white supremacists. On Stormfront, the large white supremacist discussion forum, poster RedBaron claimed that reporter Parker “was part of the Jew controlled media. The propaganda she helped to put on the air came back to haunt her (to death).” The “Jewish plot” trope was repeated by another Stormfronter: “I don’t think the Jew power structure wants a fully awake white public right now. They’ve been doing everything to drug us into a stupor as they incite blacks to murder us.”

At the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, poster GuiMaster also had little sympathy for Parker: “But how do we know that this woman was ‘noble?’ She was working for the anti-White media. How aware was she that her job involves spreading communist anti-White hate propaganda?” On Facebook, another white supremacist labeled Parker’s father, who had appeared on Fox News to plead for more gun control measures, a “Zio-Marxist” pushing a “Jewish” agenda.

For many white supremacists, though, it was Flanagan’s reference to “race war” that most exercised them. For them, the sole bright spot in the killings was that they might speed the start of an anticipated racial conflict. At the Daily Stormer, for example, one commenter wrote: “When the ‘race war’ comes, it’s gonna be us killing them in short order.”

On Stormfront, longtime Arkansas white supremacist Billy Roper hoped the killings would “awaken more of our people to see it as the reprisal act it was in a war which is just beginning, in fits and starts, as they so often do.” Meanwhile, on the Facebook page of “American White History Month,” Jon Winslow wrote: “White people! Start rioting now!”

Others seemed interested in actions more serious that rioting. Stormfront poster 14words_of_truth wrote: “People keep asking me ‘when is the race war going to start?’ It started a long time ago; it is not going to start, it is going to change. The change will be that the White Man will start fighting back.”

To which Stormfront editor JackBoot replied, “Well said. So far we can’t escalate from the war of words on our side, and that escalation is long past due. They’ve been spilling our blood for years, and I’m not talking only about the Jews’ proxies. We got a lotta catch-up to play.”

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July 24, 2015

Lafayette Shooting Suspect Fixated on Perceived Moral Decay

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John Russell Hauser (Louisiana State Police)

A preliminary examination of the on-line writings of John Russell Houser, who killed himself last night after a vicious shooting spree at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, that left two dead and nine others injured, reveals a twisted, angry man upset at a perceived moral decay that he thought was destroying the United States.

Houser, originally from Georgia but who had lived in various places across the South prior to the shooting, spent much of his free time in recent years making short, angry posts to on-line discussion forums and comment sections on various websites, often using the screen name “Rusty Houser.” In many of these posts, Houser discussed his belief that the United States was “about to fall.”

His discontent with the United States led him to make extreme anti-American statements, such as describing the United States as “the enemy of the world.” When, in the winter of 2015, some 200 cars piled up in a multi-vehicle snowstorm accident, Houser claimed that “the lack of moral Americans standing for anything makes me wish it were 200 747’s.”

In another posting, he wrote that he was “with all those who hate the filth farm known as the U.S.” In 2014, Houser claimed that “all countries that hate the U.S.” needed to unite.

As some of these statements indicate, Houser was obsessed with the notion of moral decay in the United States; this obsession fueled much of his anger.

Anti-black racism played an important role in Houser’s vision of decay and doom. He repeatedly argued that blacks should be deported because they, as he said in one 2013 posting, “WILL NOT WORK and have NO FAMILY VALUES.” This was language Houser used again and again, sometimes referring to blacks explicitly, at other times describing them in other ways, such as “another race, not Latinos.”

In 2014, Houser claimed that “failing to mention the role of Blacks in building and maintaining the alliance of evil that literally grips the globe” would slow the re-taking of America. “Elsewhere, this particular role is the Jew. Here in the U.S., it is the Black.” In another 2014 posting, Houser elaborated on the morality-hating people who allegedly controlled America, an alliance consisting of 1) upper class whites; 2) Blacks; and 3) “misfits,” which Houser listed as “homos, transvestites, people who will not work, people with no culture, etc.”

Other sources of decay for Houser included atheists, liberals, and gays—in the latter instance, Houser even supported the rabidly homophobic Westboro Baptist Church.

In contrast, Houser admired other ethnic or religious groups, such as Latinos or Muslims. This was because he viewed such groups as either hard working or with strong moral values, or both. “I will never understand,” he posted in 2013,” why the hard working, morally superior Latinos never bring up for discussion the other race which is known to be completely the opposite for the most part.”

Referring to Muslim immigrants, for example, he said, “those coming in are far more decent morally than the average American.” Iranians, he wrote in late 2013, were “far higher morally than this financially failing filth farm.”

Faced with this fantasy scenario of doom and decay, Hauser seemed to have hoped for a man on horseback who would sweep away all the perceived moral filth—a Travis Bickle writ large. “The one bright spot,” he wrote on one forum in 2013, “is that all matters in need of tidying up will be dealt with in summary fashion soon.”

One of his models for such a leader was Adolf Hitler, whom he repeatedly praised. In 2013, he wrote that “Hitler’s reaction to much would be invaluable now, if 98% weren’t brainwashed in the U.S.” In early 2015, he claimed that Hitler “accomplished far more” than any other leaders. Around the same time, he claimed that “decent people can retake the entire world, as Hitler proved.”

In a different 2015 posting, Houser wrote that “Hitler is loved for the results of his pragmatism” and that “the U.S. is no more than a financially failing filth farm. Soon the phrase ‘ruling with an iron hand’ will be palatable anew.”

In 2013, Houser had similar views on American white supremacist figure David Duke, writing that “at one time [Duke] appeared exactly what the U.S. needed.”

Houser also admired the Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi political party, describing them in 2014 as “composed of moral people.” Elsewhere, he described their ideas as “a legitimate effort to solve problems” and their leaders as “intelligent, well spoken, and exercising good faith.”

Houser had similarly admiring views of a variety of other extremist groups and movements, including radical Islamists. “Yes, I am saluting the fundamentalist Muslims,” he said in January 2015, “They have stood against evil.” He added, in a follow-up post, “They have my complete Christian respect.”

These attitudes and opinions, which reveal themselves so strikingly in Houser’s writings, raise the unsettling but real possibility that he deliberately chose a showing of the movie Trainwreck at which to launch a Taxi Driver-like spree of violence. The writer and star of the movie, talented young comedian Amy Schumer, has received considerable media attention thanks to the movie and her popular television show, and, given her chosen comedic persona of a sexually free-wheeling woman, as well as her liberal opinions, one could imagine how a disturbed mind like Houser’s could come to focus on the movie as a symbol for all of his dark fantasies about moral decay in America.

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