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Hate and Ignorance: A Bad Combination for America

I have always loved watching movies and since March 2020 have probably watched more online movies than in any other comparable six-month period in my life. Like everyone else, I go to Netflix or Hulu and begin my search for a “good watch” by going to a “Genre” and proceed to look for a title. Of all the different types of movies, I almost always avoid “horror shows,” especially if I am watching late at night. For me, horror movies are too tense, too scary, and too bloody to even consider watching, especially at night.

Unfortunately, “real life” in America today does not offer much respite from “horror shows,” particularly the “horror show” of hate and hate based violence which has been growing in the United States for the last few years. Unfortunately, the real life American “hate horror show” cannot be turned off like a movie on TV. Unfortunately, the spiking of hate in America includes a new wave of highly weaponized anti-Semitism. All of us have all seen it on full display from Charlottesville to Pittsburgh and beyond. Moreover, we now have a reliable report that knowledge of the Holocaust among young Americans is insufficient and subject to decline. Hate and ignorance are a deadly combination about which all of us should be concerned. Sadly, we are experiencing a double feature horror show in America today, hate and ignorance.

First is the horror show of hate. Hate is nothing new in the American experience. Anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-gay violence is hardly novel. It is a tragic counterpoint to the lofty egalitarian aspirations of our country. Today, hate and hate induced violence are on the rise in our society. It is incumbent upon us to understand it and to fight it. Hate is not an equal opportunity phenomenon. It comes in many guises and has a hierarchy of purveyors. This year, 2020, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a report which definitively concluded that White Supremacists present the gravest and most persistent terror threat to the United States.

For sure, it is critically important for us to understand what White Supremacy is about. On their website, the ADL offers the following summary of their report “The State of White Supremacy” in the United States:

  • “White supremacist ideology in the United States today is dominated by the belief that whites are doomed to extinction by a rising tide of non-whites who are controlled and manipulated by the Jews—unless action is taken now. This core belief is exemplified by slogans such as the so-called Fourteen Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
  • During the recent surge of right-wing extremist activity in the United States that began in 2009, white supremacists did not grow appreciably in numbers, as anti-government extremists did, but existing white supremacists did become angrier and more agitated, with a consequent rise of serious white supremacist violence.
  • Most white supremacists do not belong to organized hate groups, but rather participate in the white supremacist movement as unaffiliated individuals. Thus, the size of the white supremacist movement is considerably greater than just the members of hate groups. Among white supremacist groups, gangs are becoming increasingly important.
  • The white supremacist movement has a number of different components, including 1) neo-Nazis; 2) racist skinheads; 3) “traditional” white supremacists; 4) Christian Identity adherents; and 5) white supremacist prison gangs. The prison gangs are growing in size, while the other four sub-movements are stagnant or in decline. In addition, there are a growing number of Odinists, or white supremacist Norse pagans. There are also “intellectual” white supremacists who seek to provide an intellectual veneer or justification for white supremacist concepts.
  • White supremacists engage in a wide variety of activities to promote their ideas and causes or to cause fear in their enemies. They also engage in an array of social activities in which white supremacists gather for food and festivities.
  • Among domestic extremist movements active in the United States, white supremacists are by far the most violent, committing about 83% of the extremist-related murders in the United States in the past 10 years and being involved in about 52% of the shootouts between extremists and police. White supremacists also regularly engage in a variety of terrorist plots, acts and conspiracies. However, white supremacists also have a high degree of involvement with traditional forms of criminal activity as well as ideologically based criminal activity. Most of the murders committed by white supremacists are done for non-ideological reasons. However, even if such murders are ignored, white supremacists still commit the most lethal violence of any domestic extremist movement in the United States.”

The second “horror show” running in America is the declining state of Holocaust education. “A recent state-by-state survey revealed a number of “disturbing” findings, including a “shocking” lack of basic Holocaust knowledge among young adults in the United States,” according to multiple news sources. “Sixty-three percent of all millennials and Generation Z did not know that six million Jews were murdered,” we learned, “and 36 percent thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed during the Holocaust, according to the results of a Claims Conference survey  … Although there were more than 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos established in Europe during the Holocaust, 48 percent of respondents could not name a single one, the survey showed. In perhaps one of the most disturbing revelations, 11 percent of respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust.” Indeed, these are numbers to worry about.

Rising hate and an increasingly historically illiterate young population are a very bad combination. For American Jews, it is a disturbing reality and a challenge to mount counter and preventative measures ranging from education to institutional and personal security.

As we enter the festival of Sukkot on this Shabbat, let us be mindful of the symbolism of the Sukkah itself, at best a fragile structure, and remember that our society too is increasingly fragile due to hate and ignorance.

More than ever, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Shabbat Shalom, Chag S’mayach and Gut Yontiff

Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.

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