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June 22, 2015 1

What Should We Tell Our Children About Charleston?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we grieve, protest and fur­ther inves­ti­gate the hor­rific mur­der of nine African Amer­i­can parish­ioners at the his­toric Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, many peo­ple are ask­ing: What should we tell the children?

Par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and oth­ers are some­times uneasy about dis­cussing issues of vio­lence and injus­tice with chil­dren because they want to pro­tect them from ter­ri­ble and scary top­ics. How­ever, it is impor­tant that chil­dren have a lan­guage for dis­cussing the unfair­ness and injus­tice they see in the world and that as adults, we model that these con­ver­sa­tions are ones we are will­ing to engage in as we assure them that we are work­ing to coun­ter­act injustice.

Except for very young chil­dren, it is impor­tant to raise the issue with chil­dren. It is likely that with online access and the 24/7 hour news cycle, many young peo­ple have already heard about it and may be look­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to learn more. In talk­ing with chil­dren about emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing top­ics, remem­ber to:

  • Give them the time and space to express their feel­ings (what­ever those feel­ings are) and actively lis­ten with empa­thy and compassion.
  • Find out what they already know, clar­ify any mis­in­for­ma­tion they have and answer their ques­tions. If you don’t know the answer, be hon­est about that and find out the answer together.
  • In an age-appropriate way and using lan­guage they can under­stand, share your own thoughts, feel­ings and spe­cific val­ues about the topic.
  • Give youth infor­ma­tion about what is being done to make things safe and what actions are tak­ing place to coun­ter­act the injustice.

Here are spe­cific talk­ing points you may want to cover with young people:

Words and sym­bols matter

We have heard that the alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, told racist jokes and spewed biased ide­ol­ogy. A con­tem­po­rary of Roof’s said “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seri­ously like that.” Hate has the poten­tial to esca­late and the Pyra­mid of Hate illus­trates how biased behav­iors and attitudes—when left unchallenged—can lead to more seri­ous acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence such as the one per­pe­trated in Charleston. If those atti­tudes, beliefs and behav­iors were ques­tioned and addressed, per­haps there would have been dif­fer­ent out­comes and those nine lives would not have been taken.

Sym­bols are forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that con­vey impor­tant mes­sages to chil­dren about what we value, what is impor­tant and what kind of soci­ety we want to cre­ate. Hate sym­bols, espe­cially when dis­sem­i­nated and per­va­sive, com­mu­ni­cate that hate and bias are accept­able. Roof had patches on his jacket of flags of regimes in South African and Rhode­sia that enforced the vio­lent white minor­ity rule. He was also seen in sev­eral pho­tos with a Con­fed­er­ate flag, which has come to sym­bol­ize racial hatred and big­otry. Iron­i­cally, the flag is still dis­played in South Carolina’s state­house grounds in Colum­bia and activists and elected offi­cials have been press­ing for its removal for years.

Racism is sys­temic and can be overcome

While Roof was not a for­mal mem­ber of a white suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion, he espoused white supremacy ide­ol­ogy that is preva­lent, online and world­wide. In address­ing this topic with young peo­ple, we need to give them hope and inspi­ra­tion by show­ing them that we have come a long way on issues of race and other social jus­tice issues by push­ing for leg­is­la­tion, edu­cat­ing peo­ple and tak­ing action. At the same time, it is also impor­tant that we con­nect the dots so that young peo­ple under­stand that issues such as school seg­re­ga­tion, racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and vot­ing rights are not indi­vid­ual acts but are part of a larger sys­tem and that if soci­etal change is going to take place, the solu­tions also need to be systemic.

Activism makes a difference

Since the mur­ders last week, there have been protests across the coun­try and in Charleston and Colum­bia, SC specif­i­cally call­ing pub­lic offi­cials to take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag as a first step. On Sun­day, in a mov­ing demon­stra­tion of empa­thy and con­nec­tion, church bells across Charleston tolled for nine min­utes to sym­bol­ize the nine vic­tims. We know that our nation has a long his­tory of activism that has brought about sig­nif­i­cant social change–from mar­riage equal­ity to immi­gra­tion reform and the recent “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment. One of the most impor­tant prin­ci­ples we can con­vey to our chil­dren is that their voices and actions make a dif­fer­ence and will help to build a bet­ter world.

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March 18, 2015 9

Arizona Shooting Spree Suspect May Have White Supremacist Connections

After a man­hunt that lasted sev­eral hours and involved mul­ti­ple police depart­ments, author­i­ties in Mesa announced the appre­hen­sion of a sus­pect believed respon­si­ble for mul­ti­ple shoot­ings in Mesa on March 18 that killed one and injured at least five more.   The sus­pect in the shoot­ings has been iden­ti­fied by media reports as Ryan Elliott Giroux.

Ryan Elliott Giroux

Ryan Elliott Giroux

Giroux has a past crim­i­nal his­tory, includ­ing a stint in state prison.  A Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions mug shot from his time in prison reveals that Giroux likely is or was a white suprema­cist, based on his facial tat­toos.  Giroux had the words “skin” and “head” tat­tooed on his eye­brows, while next to his left eye is a promi­nent “88” tat­too.  The numer­i­cal sym­bol “88,” which stands for “Heil Hitler” (because H is the 8th let­ter of the alpha­bet), is one of the most popular white suprema­cist tat­toos in the United States.

Giroux also has a Celtic knot­work tat­too on his chin.  Such tat­toos are pop­u­lar with white suprema­cists, though also used by others.

The shoot­ings began at a motel in Mesa around 8:45am, where two peo­ple were shot, one fatally.  The shooter went to a nearby restau­rant, where he allegedly shot a woman and stole a car.  Other shoot­ings occurred as the sus­pect tried to evade appre­hen­sion.   Mesa police offi­cers even­tu­ally tracked down and appre­hended Giroux.

The motive for the shoot­ings is not yet known.

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March 18, 2015 7

White Supremacists Target Two Anti-Racist Intellectuals

Two white suprema­cist groups, National Youth Front (NYF) and Tra­di­tion­al­ist Youth Net­work (TYN), have launched a cam­paign against two intel­lec­tu­als whose work focuses on race– related issues. The two groups have orga­nized protests on cam­puses and used the Inter­net to gar­ner sup­port for their cause.

NYF member John Hess at protest in Arizona

NYF mem­ber John Hess at protest in Arizona

NYF, a branch of the white suprema­cist Amer­i­can Free­dom Party (AFP), has tar­geted Lee Bebout, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity (ASU) in Tempe. Pro­fes­sor Bebout is teach­ing a con­tro­ver­sial course called “U.S. Race The­ory and the Prob­lem of White­ness.” NYF mem­bers and sup­port­ers placed fliers declar­ing Bebout “anti-white” on cam­pus and in his neigh­bor­hood. White suprema­cist web sites such as Storm­front and Daily Stormer then pub­lished Pro­fes­sor Bebout’s con­tact infor­ma­tion. He has since received dozens of threat­en­ing and harass­ing emails and phone messages.

In early March, a small group of NYF sup­port­ers, includ­ing neo-Nazi Harry Hughes of the National Social­ist Move­ment, con­tin­ued their cam­paign against Pro­fes­sor Bebout by hold­ing a protest near ASU. Though NYF has tried to estab­lish chap­ters on var­i­ous cam­puses, the only area of real-world activ­ity appears to be at ASU. The group’s so-called direc­tor of national chap­ters, Dax­ter Reed (aka Daecca Reed) is based in North Car­olina. The leader of the group, Angelo John Gage, is a white suprema­cist based in New Jer­sey. He ran for U.S. Con­gress as an AFP can­di­date in 2014 and has done pod­casts on The White Voice, a racist Inter­net media site.

TYN, founded by white suprema­cists Matthew Heim­bach and Matt Par­rott in May 2013, has pro­moted a cam­paign against Tim Wise. Wise, an inde­pen­dent scholar, gives speeches about com­bat­ing racism at cam­puses around the coun­try. TYN mem­bers and sup­port­ers recently protested Wise’s speech at Indi­ana Uni­ver­sity at Bloom­ing­ton on March 11. Thomas Buhls, the head of the TYN chap­ter at IU—Bloomington, led a group of about 20 sup­port­ers who held signs against Wise and about end­ing “white guilt.” TYN has declared that Wise is anti-white.

Accord­ing to Buhls, a for­mer Klan mem­ber, TYN was joined at the protest by other white suprema­cists, includ­ing neo-Nazi Robert Rans­dell and mem­bers of hard­core racist skin­head group Supreme White Alliance. Buhls also reported that NYF mem­bers joined the protest, which was met by a larger crowd of anti-racist protestors.

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