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Decent people must respond to white supremacists

A report by The News’ Lou Michel last week made clear that white supremacists do not merely inhabit dark corners of the internet, but some walk among us in Western New York.

Statistics in the story from the Anti-Defamation League suggest Buffalo Niagara is neither a hotbed of hate groups, nor immune from their reach. There have been more than two dozen incidents of white supremacy material being distributed in the region since 2016.

The FBI and other segments of law enforcement monitor them, but their jurisdiction extends only to law-breaking, such as acts or threats of violence. People espousing racism, neo-Nazi views and other forms of hatred possess the right to free speech under the First Amendment.

But here’s the thing: Those who oppose those miserable outcasts have the same ability to express themselves, even a duty to do so. Tolerating racism can never be justified.

Karl Hand, of Lockport, is the founder of the Racial Nationalist Party of America. Hand told The News it is hard to estimate how many people are in his organization because members don’t want to be identified because of the “stigma that goes with it.”

The stigma exists for good reason. In July 2016, Hand organized a White Lives Matter rally in Cazenovia Park. No one showed up to support him, though about 350 counter-protesters came out to rally against Hand’s brand of hatred. Despite a scuffle that broke out, it was a heartening sight.

Some principles of psychology and sociology illuminate the thinking of white supremacists. Many who project menacing personas online turn out to be cowardly in real life. That is one reason they develop a fascination with bombs and firearms, as a way to compensate for their perceived lack of power.

A theme running through supremacist literature is the fear that white people are losing their majority status in America, while our society becomes more diverse.

“You will not replace us!” was the chant shouted by torch-bearing marchers in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. Status anxiety – the fear of losing their dominant place in society – causes some individuals to scapegoat anyone who doesn’t look like them.

Skin color is not the only differentiator. The rise in anti-Semitic acts of violence in the past few months, in New York State and elsewhere, serves as a painful reminder of how bigotry against Jewish people remains a dark undercurrent in some segments of society. Promoting anti-Semitic views landed two groups in our region – the Niagara Falls-based Catholic Family Ministries and the Buffalo mosque of the Nation of Islam – on a list of hate groups maintained by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hand’s Racial Nationalist Party is also on the list.

Catholic Family Ministries/Family News is described a “radical traditionalist” Catholic organization whose late founder, John Vennari, once referred to Judaism as “part of the kingdom of Satan.”

The Buffalo mosque belongs to the Nation of Islam organization, whose semi-retired national leader, Louis Farrakhan, has a history of anti-Semitic statements. In a speech just last year, Farrakhan said, “Pedophilia and sexual perversion institutionalized in Hollywood and the entertainment industries can be traced to Talmudic principles and Jewish influence.”

The mosque has some strong defenders in Buffalo’s African American community. They say it plays an important role in the lives of young people of color, which is admirable. It would no doubt benefit the mosque’s reputation if it distanced itself from Farrakhan and his despicable pronouncements.

We all have a duty to speak out against hatred. As Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

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