Hate the hate

The infamous white supremacy group Hammerskin organized a 20th anniversary celebration in Portland and gathered this past weekend in an undisclosed location.

The infamous white supremacy group Hammerskin organized a 20th anniversary celebration in Portland and gathered this past weekend in an undisclosed location.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, the weekend before Hammerfest 2007, a Northwest coalition of anti-racists coordinated a community response to the gathering of the Hammerskin anniversary party, which included anti-fascist awareness events and training, and a “musician’s against racism” show.

It’s hard to know if either gathering made much of a difference.

The Hammerskin Nation, originally called Confederate Hammerskins, began in Dallas in 1997, and has since spread across the U.S. According to Infoshop News, the past weekend’s Hammerfest was planned with the help of Volksfront, a “Portland-led white supremacist group with links to Kenneth Mieske and Kyle Brewster, two of the killers of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw in a 1988 racially charged crime.”

The book “A Hundred Little Hitlers” by Elinor Langer documented the rise of white supremacist groups in the U.S., focusing specifically on the brutal murder of Seraw (beat to death with a baseball bat). In her book, Langer claims that during the ’80s, Portland was “the whitest big city in the United States,” and, “The secret of Portland, which continues to be well kept even from most of the people who live there, is that the racial politics and the smallness of the black population are one and the same.” Shortly after the killing, Oregon was proclaimed a “hate-free zone” by local politicians and civic leaders.

Good, everything is better. Or not. Or, which seems more likely, we can’t do much more than point out the obvious, which is that everyone, regardless of their creed, has a right to free speech and to hang their propaganda, etc., and everyone else has a right to protest what they disagree with. But that’s about all we can do.

We can gather as big and often as we like to preach against racism, bigotry, fascism, ad infinitum, but it’s doubtful that we can really stop acts of violence before they happen. Basically, until someone does something wrong, even a gang of mindless thugs who promote and carry out violence against Jewish people, people of color, sexual minorities and activists, there’s not much to do but keep repeating that it’s wrong and try to persecute perpetrators after the damage has been done.

Not to say that anti-racist rallies aren’t important to our community. They spread awareness of the problem, encourage cooperation with law-enforcement and make us feel proactive. But how do you stop violence from happening?

It’s impossible. The catch-22 of our First Amendment rights allow hate-groups to congregate, organize and promote their values via the Internet, literature and music. This right, protected under the law, has precedence over the obvious threat that hate-groups present in our communities.

As I mentioned above, rallying against them can have its benefits. But give groups like Hammerskin too much notice, and it becomes a tool for neo-Nazi groups to promote their agenda.

Oprah has had Nazi skinheads on her show. Geraldo did it. Jerry’s done it. But what’s the point? Why give racists a larger audience? The majority of the U.S. is not racist and the majority of us certainly don’t walk around waving swastikas or burning crosses. In other words, none of us really need it pointed out to us that groups like Hammerskin are wrong.

I’d just assume ignore them. Nothing they say or think has any bearing on reality or reason. But this approach incites the fear that hate groups will go unnoticed, snowball, and acts of violence will increase, gangs will organize and grow, and what was previously an annual gathering of 70 or so Nazi skinheads will become a major problem.

That’s possible, I guess. And I’m sure one can point to the rise of Hitler as an example of community indifference to the horrors around them, or the prominence and violence of racist groups in the Northwest during the ’80s to prove it’s a problem. So what’s my point? Rallies are great. Everyone is allowed to have one. Personally, I don’t need to rally to charge my anti-hate beliefs. They feel ingrained in my personality and compassion for humanity. And that, I think, is our strongest defense against mindless violence in any city–our own compassion and practice of tolerance and love, which can be practiced anywhere, anytime of the year, without banners or news coverage or other media outlets like this article.