What I’ve Learned about Countering Violent Extremism (is the opposite of what I’ve been told to believe)

August 3, 2018

I’m pro-radicalization. I want to radicalize people to be critical of power structures and constructs. I want them to ask questions about government, gender, guns, and Genesis. I want them to dig deep and talk to people outside of their comfort zone. I want them to show up on the front line. I want to admit that they can be well-meaning but wrong.

The latest buzzword in my academic field is CVE – Countering Violent Extremism. It basically represents a constellation of various strategies to prevent people from becoming violent religious and right-wing extremists. (I can already hear right-wingers asking, “But what about violent left-wing extremists?” To which I would say, “Touché.”) It is inherently of value to people like myself working to reduce hate crimes. My first exposure to this work was this spring when I was flown to the Middle East to participate in a United Nations/Haditha program to explore the role of gender in CVE.

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In those three days, I heard zero about surveillance or government programs to profile Muslims. I heard from ex-jihadists and ex-skinheads and people working in community-based groups to rescue teenage girls who thought running away to Syria to become a bride of an ISIS fighter seemed kinda cool and rebellious. I was honored to be in their company to talk about the my research on the role toxic masculinity plays in right-wing extremism.

So when I got an invite from the U.S. Embassy to be a part of a “CVE Community Leaders Exchange” in the United Kingdom, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I had presented on confronting hate crimes to the British delegation when they visited Portland earlier this year and now ten of us, from Portland and Seattle, would be on a ten day trip to talk to community agencies in Luton, London, and Leeds, England. (Why didn’t we get to go to Liverpool?) The Portland delegation was four folks who work for the city, including a police captain who heads the youth service division, and me, representing the Coalition Against Hate Crimes. The Seattle delegation had a similar mix of city officials and community advocates. The trip, organized by a non-profit called Cultural Vistas, would allow us a chance to observe important community work on the issue.

To be clear, I think most of the people in our group had no interest in “CVE” anything, and were motivated by learning how community groups help young people. As a criminologist, this was my connection to the whole thing.

Off to the UK

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Our first stop was three days in Luton, England. Luton had been a hotbed of activity for the right-wing, anti-Muslim English Defense League (EDL), as well as Al-Muhairoun (ALM), the Islamacist group that had been linked to several terror incidents including last summer’s attack on the London Bridge. We spent our days talking to people who are working to divert youth from this type of extremism. This included teachers at the Al-Hikmah School and Mosque, and youth intervention workers, and Carnival mask makers, scholars studying right-wing nationalism, and a group called the Luton Tigers who gets kids on the football pitch as an alternative to radicalization. The young imam at Al-Hikmah explained that the best way to strengthen their Muslim faith was to clarify the teachings of the Koran, which are in direct opposition to the call for violence.

What I learned right off the bat was that all this work was done by committed community leaders desperately working to help young people make the most of their lives instead of becoming Nazis or jihadists. Instead of talking, these people were doing. Unlike their critics, they were actually working with those most at risk. I didn’t see one single covert government plot unfolding or double agent spying for MI5. I just saw motivated people putting their shoulder to the wheel.

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Then we headed down to London where I slipped off to a “Free Tommy Robinson” rally in front of Scotland Yard. Robinson is the nationalist leader of the EDL who was jailed for contempt of court. The small crowd of rabid older white blokes (many in Trump hats) wanted their Islamaphobic leader released and, briefly, set on me for holding an anti-Nazi sign. It was a reminder of how important this work was as a British member of parliament had been stabbed to death by one of Robinson’s followers, while he shouted, “Britain first!” (And five police officers were attacked at the rally I attended, making it all even more dire.)

While in London, we had a long morning in the basement of the Home Office (essentially the UK’s Department of Justice) learning about modifications to the Prevent program, Britain’s primary CVE program. The initial rollout went all kinds of sideways, with some horror stories of Muslim kids being wrongly profiled and thrown onto “Terrorists!” watch lists. We got the government line on the attempt to overcome the “toxic” branding of the program with a more bottom up, community-based model, which is what we witnessed in the field. Maybe it was the English accents, but it felt a little bit like we were sequestered in the inner sanctum of the Orwell’s Ministry of Information, so we asked the hard questions about CVE and civil liberties.

What we heard in Luton, London, and Leeds, was that when you asked critics of the Prevent program what should be done to divert youth from violent extremism, their answers were exactly what Prevent was doing in 2018. There was just an awareness gap. The program needed a PR campaign, said we Americans who know the value of a good advertising budget.

After our morning at the Home Office we had another community meeting at the new U.S. Embassy building, followed by a reception. Other than having to walk past a giant grinning photo of Donald Trump (who was having his secret meeting with Vladimir Putin as we walked in), everyone was completely hospitable and happy to host our delegation. When I lived abroad, I was always mindful of where my embassy was just in case things got weird (or I lost my passport). It was a true thrill to be inside. We took a group photo and I posted it online. From Stone Mountain punk to American diplomat. Kinda cool.

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That’s when things got strange. A friend who works with the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Portland began posting on Facebook that we were complicit in some anti-Muslim governmental “training.” It just seemed silly at the time. I had just been watching the World Cup with the Muslim founders of the Luton Tigers. My only training was in what team to cheer for after England was knocked out of the cup. (France?) There was a hysterical storm brewing back in Portland, but we continued on. Most assuredly there are folks in the Muslim community who have been burned by “CVE” efforts in the past, but it wasn’t what we were seeing at all. There seemed to be a disconnect.

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Up to Leeds, where I had last been in 1982 to see the Rolling Stones play. We did some fantastic site visits to communities that are on the front lines in the battle for souls. We visited a domestic violence shelter where a bad-ass Bangladeshi sister works to counter violent extremism by teaching men how to respect women. We went to a refugee service center where committed activists work to counter violent extremism by plugging migrants into the needed resources to build secure lives in their new home. We went to the Makkah Mosque where leaders from the local Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh communities talked about how strengthening faith networks worked to counter the pull of violent extremism. And we ended up a in a community center in the Harehills, the poorest section of Leeds, talking to a cop named Ash. Ash had, with the help of the neighborhood kids, built this center with his bare hands to create a meaningful community-based way to counter violent extremism. Four walls, two floors, plus a gym and football pitch, just from the energy of his desire to create alternatives for young people. Wow.

In none of these experience was there anything about surveillance or undermining the civil liberties of any group, especially Muslims. There was only committed community activists, including police officers and imams, who were going above the expectations of their role to give youth an alternative to become violent nationalists or jihadists.

Fake News?

So imagine my surprise when I was contacted by young journalist at a Portland weekly, the Portland Mercury, asking what was going on over there in England. The folks from CAIR had her ear and there must be some conspiracy afoot because anything associated with the government is inherently oppressive to minorities, right? I tried to let her know that our trip was nothing of the sort and was motivated by learning how to protect those communities from the rising tide of hate in America. I even sent her some boring pictures of the delegation sitting in various settings, listing to community presentations. Those pics weren’t used.

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The Mercury’s piece was entitled, “City Officials Attend a Conference on Controversial Anti-Terrorism Surveillance Strategy” (with a creepy stock photo of someone doing some lurking). At first I laughed at the sophomoric reporting. There was no conference, just a series of community meetings. And, again, the issue of surveillance was never even on the table. How to get girls to play soccer and how to get boys to not join Nazi gangs were. That wasn’t headline grabbing, I guess. What Portland readers got was more hysterical knee jerking that conflated old and dealt-with criticisms of the UK’s Prevent program with Trump-era Department of Homeland Security anti-terrorism strategies. Suddenly, I was a part of Trump’s Muslim profiling thought police! And my friends at CAIR were convinced that I was either an agent of the Trump regime (Have they read this blog?) or a dupe of a massive Alex Jones-level conspiracy.

The whole charade has been deflating. It insults the efforts of those who are committed to do this work to protect youth and their communities as well as the delegation itself. I spent 10 days away from my family because I wanted find strategies to help Oregonians be safe from the wave of hate that has surged under the Trump presidency, targeting, among others, the Muslim community. The city workers and police in our delegation all had the same goal – find what works at preventing people from going down the rabbit hole of extremism and hurting (and killing) our friends and family. Certainly research must be done on what strategy is the most effective, but we saw plenty of anecdotal evidence on how small groups of people can change the world.

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The other piece of this is locked into the binary thinking that breeds hysteria and, dare I say it, fascism. Here we have the simple good vs. evil duality. Reality is alway more complex. There is a large voice in Portland that thinks anything associated with the government is evil. All cops are evil and, I guess by extension, all equity workers for the city are evil. It requires little effort because everything drops into their binary paradigm. Just post an article from a few years ago and you’ve “proven your point.” Understanding the real world takes effort. First hand contact implies risks to challenging your perfect perspective. I can think all Trump supporters are “crazy racists.” Actually talking to them might upset what “I KNOW.” The Portland and Seattle city workers on this trip impressed me with their desire to work for social justice. And my conversations with Prevent coordinators in the UK (who were not white people, by the way) made it clear that Prevent had to make up for its past mistakes and rebuild trust with all the communities it serves. They were ready to do that heavy lifting, not from behind their laptops, but in the streets of some of the toughest streets in England.

The hysteria of the Mercury piece and those that still think we were all on some Trump secret mission threatened to affect important community relations in my city. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the local police bureau has engaged in numerous outreach efforts with the Muslim community and there has been a meaningful flow of good will and joint efforts to work to protect those communities. I have been a part of much of that work and it flies in the face of the “Cops suck” chant from the teenage anarchist crowd that gets so much attention. I wonder if my colleagues at CAIR have any practical ideas on how to fight extremism. I’m hoping it’s not more division between “them” and “us.” As much as I respect their work, I would inform them that there is only us.

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Like the local leaders I met in the UK, we will continue to strengthen those community relations, build local capacity, and help young people build the strength to resist. Resist. This resistance builds bridges, not more walls. It smashes ignorance (on all sides) with truths. We fight hate by reaching out to our critics to find a common path forward. We’re in this together.

In the end, the trip really wasn’t about “CVE,” but BCC – Building Community Capacity. I learned some good lessons that I can’t wait to share.

 

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Talking About Gender and Violence in the Middle East

April 19, 2018

How do you talk people out of becoming terrorists? I’ve spent this week in the United Arab Emirates at a workshop on the role of gender in countering violent extremism. The three day conference in Abu Dhabi was sponsored by the United Nations’ UN Women and Hedayah, a UAE group that works on counter-terrorism issues. My role was to brief the global participants on the state of right-wing extremism in Trump’s America, something I’ve been talking a lot about lately.

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It was a pretty amazing gathering at the Bab al Qasr Hotel, right across the street from the Emirates Palace. Three days of intense conversations with people doing work in Kosovo, Lebanon, Uganda, and the rest of the world afflicted by violence done by both men and women who have been sucked into the rabbit hole of extremism. I made friends and colleagues that will last a long time, but more importantly we saw how much of our work overlapped. My work studying white supremacists sounded a lot like the reports on ISIS and Boko Haram.

Extremists of any stripe, including right-wingers and jihadists, are often guilty of dehumanizing the targets of their anger. Similarly, we are often guilty of dehumanizing them, casting them as “animals” or “savages.” In reality, they are products of their environment on a path we rarely get to see. They often have real life grievances. It may be the evaporation of the livable wage in the U.S., or the death of family members in Iraq under U.S. bombs. Someone gives them a devil to blame and an action plan to address their emotional rage and you have a freshman terrorist.

In this context, it’s not a stretch to see a young person, who has been been bombarded online with images of real world horrors and persistent recruitment by radicals framing the horrors as the product of a vast conspiracy, heading off to join ISIS in Syria or walking into a black church in Charleston with a loaded gun.

The gender factor is clear, these calls to violence are targeted at young males looking to perform some heroic act of masculinity to defend their race or religion. While there are occasionally women warriors in both the Aryan and jihadist movements, it’s typically the guy with the gun defending “his” women. Women (in heaven or on Earth) are often used as lures like they are in college fraternities. ISIS fighters are promised wives, sex-slaves and 72 virgins in paradise. White nationalists are liberating “their” women from feminists, homosexuals, black rapists, work, and whatever else conspires to keep them out of the kitchen making sandwiches.

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The three-dray conference in Abu Dhabi was a chance to share stories from across the globe about what might work in developing strategies to rescue men and women, and boys and girls from violet extremism. Former jihadists and academic researchers worked together brainstorming on action items that would translate into UN policy proposals. We dined together and then shared more stories and refined the plan to craft a message that was more than the trope that mothers should stop their sons from becoming terrorists.

Over the course of the workshop, I thought about my own daughter on the other side of the planet missing her daddy. If she was a girl living in Cameroon or Albania, her life could be so much different. Married off as a war bride or convinced to rebel against her circumstances by being talked into strapping a bomb to her chest. The way extremism affects girls like Cozy around the world adds yet another level of external trauma the daughters of this world consumed with hyper-masculine violence face.

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I could not be more proud to do this work countering violent extremism. It makes sense to be doing it in the middle east, but it should be done everywhere. The UAE, stuck between the war zones of Iraq and Yemen, has demonstrated how it is possible for a population not to go down that path. Each morning I looked out my window, past the Persian Gulf, to the cradle of civilization. This was the world of the goddess where the weapons of war were absent for 4000 years. Committed people are working to find our road back.

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Generation Z will turn this gunship around.

February 23, 2018

A week ago I was ready to gather my family and get the hell out of this gun-crazed country. What a difference a week makes. Teenagers across the country walking out of their schools, demanding adults finally make the changes to insure their safety. Students in the Florida state house as lawmakers refuse to ban assault weapons. Kids begging President Trump to “do anything” as he held a crib sheet reminding him to act empathetic. Children throwing their bodies on the wheel and the ground in front of the White House. High school juniors going toe to toe with Senator Marco Rubio about his NRA allegiance, fearless in their contempt. It’s enough to make an old geezer like me think there might be some light at the end of the long dark tunnel.

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A week ago it felt like America was destined for a pointless mass shooting each week as another gun-male took his pathetic anger out on more innocent civilians. Then a girl named Emma Gonzalez channeled the rage of a nation held too long under the terroristic threat of the National Rifle Association. She didn’t blink and she didn’t bow. It was the tipping point. This student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the worst this country has to offer stiffened her spine and single-handedly opened the floodgates of frustration and fury and put the NRA on the back foot.

Let’s just get this out there before this becomes about the “gun debate.” The NRA doesn’t care about the Second Amendment. I doubt most of its members even really know what the Second Amendment says. The NRA cares about guns sales. They are a lobbying organization for gun manufactures who depend on utilizing any tactic to ramp up weapon purchases. “Obama is gonna take away your guns!” “Hillary wants to repeal your right to carry a weapon!” “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a lots and lots of good guys with guns!” “Buy a gun for everyone in your family! Buy three!”

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The perfect example of this push to sell more guns to a freaked-out America is this moronic call to arm the teachers. This “solution” is even coming from our idiot-in-cheif in Washington. Besides the fact that the NRA spent over $31 million to get the “billionaire” elected, I would bet half of that in cash that Trump has never even fired a gun. I’m a teacher and I’ve actually fired a gun. Lots of them. In fact, I had training with the FBI on some the weapons that are being debated right now. I feel completely comfortable firing a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun but not inside the hallways of a campus full of screaming students.

What these NRA kooks ignore is that the majority of these mass shooter gun-males are on a suicidal mission to “go out on their feet in a blaze of glory.” As long as they take out a few kids before Professor Rambo shows up, they’ve achieved their goal. The thought of a well-armed faculty is not a deterrent, it’s an incitement.

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That’s why the voices of Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tar, and all the other Lakeland, Florida students are so powerful. They don’t have time for the latest round of pointless bullshit from our “leaders.” Their lives are literally on the line. The march they organized (within one week of the slaughter of their classmates) on March 24 is being called the “March for Our Lives” and it will be the first real expression of the collective will of the post-millennial generation, Generation Z, and it’s going to be a game changer.

This fall, the babies born in Y2K will be heading off to college. Those 18 and younger, make up the most diverse and plugged-in generation ever. Most of them can’t vote yet, but don’t think that will quell their political voice. Look at how they’ve turned the tide in one week. The NRA is now public enemy number one (no matter how loudly Wayne LaPierre screams about “SOCIALISM!”). I pity any politician that has taken NRA blood money. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) took $122,802 from the NRA and should be shamed from office in November. Let their gun money hang like an albatross around their necks.

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We social movement scholars put a lot of weight on 1968 as a watershed year. Yeah, the student uprisings and unrest facilitated the election of Richard Nixon and six more years of the Vietnam War. But it also gave us the 26th Amendment, insuring that 18, 19, and 20 year-olds would forever have meaningful political power. 2018 could be Generation Z’s 1968, hopefully without all the assassinations. This is my daughter’s generation and, if she is any barometer, their energy will drive these old men into submission.

From #metoo to #neveragain, #thetimestheyareachangin. Get ready you old people, the kids are not alright and they are not going to wait for you to get your shit together. Your old road is rapidly aging. I’m ready to lend a hand. What about you? What side of history do you want to be on? These children can’t do any worse than we have.

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How to talk rationally about gun control

October 5, 2017

The slaughter in Las Vegas on Sunday was the largest since the 300 slaughtered at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890 or the 250 slaughtered in the 1921 attacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma (or any of the other slaughters in which non-white Americans were the victims). The carnage has America in a brief moment of refection. Why does this keep happening and what are we going to do about it? The answer to the second question is probably nothing. If we couldn’t find the will to amend our gun laws after Sandy Hook in 2012 when Adam Lanza shot 20 small children to death, we never will. There will be many more shootings, some will be bigger Stephen Paddock’s death toll of 58 (so far), and we still won’t do anything.

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The sad reality is that our congress is owned by the National Rifle Association. They pimp out mostly Republicans but a lot of Democrats as well. (Here in Oregon, both Republican Rep. Greg Walden and Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader have taken NRA donations.) The NRA is fiscally invested in widening the sale of all types of guns, as well as silencers and “bump stocks” that Paddock used to modify his assault rifles into automatic machine guns, greatly increasing his casualty rate. In 2015, the NRA supported the unbanning of armor-piercing bullets that have been used to kill police officers. And old white guys get angry at rap music.

We will see plenty of NRA puppets say it’s “too soon” to “politicize” the murder in Vegas. But there is another mass shooting just around the corner so it will always be too soon. So stop using that excuse. Stop using excuses period and do something.

I’ve written about the connection between men and gun violence. (It’s always men doing this. Always.) I want to talk about how to talk about gun control with two simple points.

The Second Amendment, like all rights, is negotiated.

The First Amendment is not absolute. Go into a crowded movie theater and shout “Fire!” or onto an airplane and say, “I have a bomb!” and then claim “free speech.” I dare you. Or try writing something libelous or post on your Facebook page that you are going to kill the President and try and hide behind the First Amendment. I dare you. Your goose will be cooked.

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The Supreme Court is in charge of determining what is constitutionally protected and what is not. In Virginia v. Black, the high court, in 2003, ruled that burning a cross was protected speech, unless it could be proven that it was intended to intimidate others. Our rights are constantly negotiated. They aren’t absolute and they aren’t “sacred.” The U.S. Constitution is a living document, written by humans, that the humans of the judicial branch are constantly interpreting and defining.

Case in point; the Second Amendment. It states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There is certainly a difference between “a well regulated militia,” and an angry 64-year-old real estate investor with 47 firearms in his possession, but let’s focus on the second part; the right to keep and bear arms. The Bill of Rights was written in way back in 1789. I used to tell my criminology students at Portland State that there were only two ways to interpret its second amendment.

  1. The Historical Interpretation: When the founding fathers wrote the amendment, they were thinking of the arms that were available to people in 1789. This would be pistols, flint lock rifles, muskets, canons, and maybe those bombs where you light the fuse and chuck them at people. And the founding fathers wrote the Constitution for white male property owners. (Jeez, women weren’t allowed to even vote until 1920.) So the the Second Amendment says white men can own muskets and that’s it.
  2. The Libertarian Interpretation: The Constitution applies to ALL Americans, including children, the mentally ill, convicted felons in prison, and, yes, even women. And the Second Amendment applies to ALL arms, including machine guns, flame throwers, nuclear missiles, and weaponized anthrax. So the Second Amendment says psychotic American serial killers have the right to own intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Obviously, the reality has been negotiated to be somewhere in between those two interpretations. Automatic assault weapons were banned in 1994 under the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. In February, President Trump signed a law to make is easier for mentally ill people to purchase guns. SCOTUS didn’t even recognize an individual right to possess a weapon until 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller). It’s a constantly evolving landscape of what the Second Amendment actually protects and prohibits. It’s never been static. So why think it’s set in stone now? It’s set in pudding.

It’s all about reducing harm

I love it when the the gun control debate pops up, the trolls say, “Well, if you outlaw guns, people will still kill each other. With guns! And knives!” Look, you can kill a person by pushing them off a cliff. Nobody wants a law banning cliffs. This about reducing harm. After a horrible 1996 mass murder in Australia, the country passed real gun control and both murders and suicides dropped dramatically. Obviously, there are still murders and suicides in Australia, but there are significantly fewer victims. So don’t give me this, “if you outlaw guns there will still be murder” crap.

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Conservatives are stuck in this binary thinking. Either a gun law eliminates all gun crime or it’s pointless. Look, we just want to reduce the body count. We’ll never eliminate it. Gun-related homicides dropped 59% in Australia after they changed the gun regulations.  If your loved one was one of the people who would have been killed in the 41% of murders that didn’t happen, you’d think that the gun law was the best fucking thing to happen since sliced kiwi. Here, the NRA-check cashers in congress don’t care about the 93 Americans that are killed by guns every single day. Sure, they’ll send their “thoughts and prayers,” which is the polite way of saying they’re sending smoke up your ass.

Laws save lives. The seatbelt law has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Not everybody wears one, but the tally of 33,000 people killed in crashes each year would be vastly greater without the law. A gun law that clamps down on internet gun sales, or limits ammunition sales, or makes it harder for wife-beaters to buy handguns won’t stop crime, but there will be fewer casualties. If that means someone you love won’t get shot, I bet you’d think that law was worth pissing off the NRA and their deep pockets.

We don’t want to take your guns away

The hysterical right love to play this old song that somehow liberals want to take their guns away. “Out of my cold dead hands,” they bleat. Plenty of liberals and/Democrats have guns. They want to protect their families and go hunting, and shoot trap (whatever that is). I’ve shot plenty of guns. I used to keep a shot-up gun range target in my office, hoping to intimidate any grade-grubbing undergrads. Some of my shooting has been pretty high-powered. I did a weapons training course with the FBI in 2005 and scored this hot pic of me squeezing off a few rounds from an MP5. I don’t own a gun (as far as you know) but I have fired two Glocks from each hand, Matrix-style. Definitely not like the movies. I respect guns. I want to keep these things away from lunatics.

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The majority of Americans want stricter gun control laws. According to the most recent Gallup poll on the topic taken last October (you know a new one is coming any minute), 55% of Americans want stricter gun laws and only 10% want less strict laws. You’d never know that this week as congress is expected to loosen access to gun silencers. What Americans want is some reasonable legislation that keeps the Second Amendment somewhere between white property owners with muskets and convicted felons with nukes. Something that might drop the body count by any meaningful percentage.

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Gun nuts often say that gun laws only serve to punish law abiding gun owners because of the actions of a few criminals. It’s worth pointing out that most murderers aren’t actually criminals until they choose to commit murder. Stephen Paddock, 64, had no criminal record until he smashed out the windows in his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and unloaded hundreds of rounds into a crowd of concert-goers, in the greatest act of single shooter mass violence in our lifetime.

How do we stop the next mass murder? The answer is complex, but a slack legal system that allows an individual to assemble an arsenal of high power weapons, that have nothing to do with home protection or hunting, has to be addressed. It’s time to, again, revisit what the scope of the Second Amendment means and what we can do as a nation to reduce the body count in this war against Americans, NRA be damned.

Support: Everytown for Gun Safety

It’s not the KKK in masks and hoods: Fighting hate without violence

September 15, 2017

I’ve been doing this anti-racism work for a long time. Thirty years ago I walked into the middle of a Klan rally in rural Georgia and held up a sign that said, “Racism is ignorance” and was dragged out by a National Guardsman. Racist skinheads set my scooter on fire, left threatening notes on my doorstep, and stalked me at my gym and outside my classes at Portland State. One night they plotted to severely beat me at a meeting in a bar, but I was tipped off to the plan and slipped out the back door. (I said I was going the john and just kept going.) I’ve had neo-Nazis post pictures of my house and car on the internet, post lies about me on gossip websites, and even post a fake Wikipedia entry about me. I was antifa before antifa was cool.

So when some snot-nosed teenage (white) anarchist tells me I’m a “privileged white guy” who doesn’t know how to stand up to racists, I just laugh. It’s kinda cute.

I’ve written in this blog about the legitimate political philosophy of anarchism as opposed to the black masked kids who think setting trashcans on fire will somehow “smash capitalism.” I’ve also written about how violence against the alt-right idiots only helps the alt-right idiots. And I will keep banging the drum of civil political discourse as long as there is something to (non-violently) bang on.

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The alt-right gang was back in Stumptown this past Sunday, bleating about “free speech” and not making much of case for anything, other than how much they hate the “communists” who don’t like their free speech. Of course, being Portland, lots of amazing folks came out to protest them, to make their case loud and clear that Portland stands united against hate. There were Buddhists meditating, and school kids, grandmothers, and clergy, peacefully marching in opposition to the alt-right’s message of intolerance and division. I’m proud that my city’s values are so clear here.

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But there were also thugs. “Anti-Racist Thug,” as one of their t-shirts said. I don’t believe these are the core activists of Rose City Antifa. Antifa is not an organization, let alone a “terrorist organization.” Antifa is a movement against fascism and fascism has never seemed more like a real possibility in my lifetime than it does right now. Movements are inherently disorganized and can attract people for many reasons, including those who care more about thrill of the moment (and being in a riot can be a real hoot). Some are motivated by their own completely unrelated psychological issues. (I hate my father so I’m going to throw a rock at a cop!) Some are just followers, much like their hate group counterparts on the right, who are looking for a simple analysis of the world and a simple action plan to go with it. Like I said, I’ve ben doing this work for a long time and I have seen all of the above. Antifa has attracted all of the above and it might destroy their movement like so many movements before it. Calling Occupy Wall Street. Hello? Anyone there?

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The events on Sunday were a mess. Alleged “Black Block” members allegedly threw bottles at cops and knocked down police barricades. Police allegedly threw a distraction grenade at counter-protestors and pushed a person allegedly video-taping the skirmish to the ground. An alleged Trump supporter in a parallel event across the river in Vancouver, Washington, backed his pick-up truck, with its confederate flag, into a group of counter-protestors, evoking the deadly car-attack in Charlottesville on August 12th. There were seven arrests made after some counter-protestors threw rocks and smoke bombs at the police. The guy that drove his truck into the crowd, strangely, was not arrested. I was glad I allegedly stayed home. Donald Trump has already used Portland’s “antifa violence” to justify his ignorant comments about Charlottesville, making more calls for Nixonian law and order. The greatest gift to fascists in this country might just be the thugs antifa is attracting.

I was frustrated that these agitators in masks and black hoodies were hurting our cause by driving away potential allies and giving Fox News more footage for their “violent liberals” narrative. Who wants to come out to a rally when masked trustafarians are throwing bottles at cops?  I administer the Facebook page for the Coalition Against Hate Crime and I posted, “FYI: When I protest racism, I don’t hide my face under a mask like a Klansman.”

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I should have expected the blowback from the fascisticly anti-fascist gang, one calling for me to be banned from the page (that I’m the admin of). When I tried to explain that one should be proud of protesting and showing their face at these rallies, I got accused of being a privileged media whore. When I said becoming a parent has reinforced my desire for nonviolence and empathy for the haters themselves, one woman said she couldn’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to call me on my “bullshit.” When one said they could care less how their violence played on Fox News, I said maybe they should if they care about the end goal. One antifan said I didn’t have to worry about Nazis coming after me.  I tried to let him know I’ve had to deal with Nazis coming after me for 30 years. I could hear Beyoncé singing, “You must not know about me.”

But there were some valid points made, including the fear of alt righter Nazis coming after counter-protesters, trolling them on the internet, or showing up at their workplace. They have a reason to fear this as it’s been their tactic against racists for years. Here we go round the mulberry bush. An eye for an eye. I get that much of this is a radical performance for radical peers. “Look how well I defend the black flag. I told Blazak to STFU!” And we get absolutely nowhere.

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I ended up taking down the post because it just became an attack on me by people who I had assumed were my allies in the struggle against racism. They consider me a collaborator because I work with the police and not against them. I might have accused some of them as being agent provocateurs working for the Trump camp, handing the alt-right evidence of their claims on a silver antifa platter. It wasn’t very productive. They’d ask me my solution to the problem and I said the hard work to reform the system. “Fuck that, revolution!” You let me know how that goes. How many burned-out cops are watching department budgets shift funds from community policing to over-time for this week’s alt-right/antifa wrestling match? How many city resources are spent cleaning up after the extremist boys on the right and left masturbate on our streets?

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In the end, I think there are many paths and tactics in this cause. I admire the youth who are taking to the streets to stop our slide backwards. I was them at one point. Idealistic with simplistic solutions. I was fueled by the music of The Clash, not the analysis of NPR. Those kids are a big part of the struggle and should be supported but also guided by those of us who have done our time in the trenches. The one thing that we know absolutely does not work is violence. If fact, it only makes things worse. Young males have long romanticized marching off to heroic macho combat. Older veterans know nothing is won in the end. There’s a reason Martin Luther King, Jr. adopted the non-violent resistance tactics of Gandhi. Of course there were casualties in Gandhi’s struggle of Indian independence (and King’s). Heather Heyer, killed in Charlottesville, was just one of many casualties in the long non-violent struggle against violence in this country. And there will be more.

Hating the haters is not the solution. Understanding the haters is. I’ve said this many times; inside almost every alt-right Nazi white supremacist/separatist/nationalist asshole is an amazing anti-hate activist waiting to be released. You don’t stop a Nazi by punching him. You might by hugging him. Only love undoes hate.

A friend saw me in the weeds with these “revolutionaries” on Facebook and bailed me out by posting a video from a musician I dearly love, Michael Franti. I’ve followed his career from the Beatnigs, through the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, to Spearhead. I don’t doubt that most of these beautiful radical youth know his music as well. In a voice much more articulate than my post, he said exactly what I was trying to say. Stand up for love.

I’m working on crafting a statement of non-violence for our coalition. We can’t sink to the fascists’ level. We have a right to defend ourselves but if the alt-right is not actually using violence and we are, it just makes Donald Trump (God, I hate to say this) appear to be right. We have love on our side. We don’t need smoke bombs. If you want to wear a mask, that’s your choice. But I hope you will stand proudly as my ally and willingly be counted. Dr. King didn’t wear a mask, but the people he marched against did.

MLKhate

#PowerToThePeaceful

Postscript: It’s an important point that I, as a privileged white person, can walk away from the anti-racism struggle when I need a break from it. People of color cannot.

Charlottesville: America’s fork in the road

August 15, 2017

Chaos theorists talk about bifurcation points in our human history when everything changes. The invention of agriculture around 9,500 BCE that allowed nomadic people to  (literally) put down roots and build civilizations. The invention of the wheel around 3,200 B.C.E. that allowed us to travel and trade with other civilizations. The invention of the modern computer around 1950 C.E. that allowed us to process masses of information in a non-linear way.

The carnage in Charlottesville, Virginia feels like a bifurcation point. If not for the world, then for America. Are we going to descend into a fascist state or are we going to wrestle the reins of our democracy away from torch-carrying “proud boys” and their enabler-in-chief?

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When I began my research on white supremacist extremists thirty years-ago, they were purely a fringe phenomenon. There has been some serious actors, like The Order, that funneled millions of dollars from violent heists to folks like David Duke and the Aryan Nations, in hopes of funding a race war. My guys were mostly 17-year-old knuckle-heads who were angry that their parents had been laid off from the local textile mill and the only source of an explanation was the White Aryan Resistance. For years, my work was focused the alienated few who took their righteous anger in the wrong direction. It was always fascinating and good fodder for cable crime programs but never seemed to have much value in the analysis of mainstream culture (as much as I tried to link the two worlds). Nazis were an anachronism. A comic footnote in our progressive history.

That’s until Donald Trump decided he wanted to be president.

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The images of Charlottesville, with hordes of white men carrying torches, chanting, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” was shocking enough. That they were defending a statue of the traitor Robert E. Lee was beside the point. But then we saw the video of one of those neo-nazis, James Fields Jr., driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and seriously injuring many others. Even though this was a tactic utilized by ISIS around the globe, President Trump refused to call it an act of terrorism. In fact he refused to call it much of anything, bemoaning that there was violence on “many sides.” Two days later he retweeted a post asking why the media had covered this but not the “9 deaths” in Chicago that weekend. Because, you know, black people.

Unravelling the Alt-Right knot

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Those on the racist right get fairly regular public make-overs. In the late 1980s, Louisiana Grand Dragon David Duke took off his Klan robe and put on a Brooks Brothers  suit (and got a nose job) and ran for president of the United States (as a Republican). He didn’t win, but he did get elected to the Louisiana state legislature for a term. White supremacists have become white separatists and then white nationalists. It’s all the same racist ideology. I was doing live commentary for local news station during a large alt-right rally on August 6. One of the attendees said he was a “western supremacist.”

My first thought was, “Well, west coast is the best coast. So am I!” But then I realized he meant western civilization supremacist. He was a white supremacist.

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There’s a lot of people who are attracted to the alt-right message who are not white supremacists. Local alt-right organizer Joey Gibson is not even white. He just loves Donald Trump. A lot. He seemed to be caught off-guard by all the Nazis that kept showing up at his “free speech” rallies and is now fashioning himself as a “moderate Libertarian.” But the Nazis still show up whenever he holds a rally. They want to complain about immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter, and feminists and anything else that bugs white men that day.

For the last ten years the alt-right has been primarily an internet phenomenon. Those who felt the most conservative Republican was not conservative enough. They found a safe space on the web, including on Breitbart,  4Chan, Reddit, and the DailyStormer.com. They’ve been able to find a place to talk about the “liberal (Jewish) media,” how much they hate the women on The View, the threat of “Sharia Law,” and Trump’s favorite drumbeat, that President Obama was a Muslim, not born in America. Going to a Klan rally has its risks, but sitting in front of your laptop, kvetching about Beyoncé all day is easy peasy. (You know she hates white people, right?)

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The campaign of Donald Trump, with all its white supremacist dog whistles, brought these trolls out into the sunlight. Now they’re in the streets ready to preserve the macho tradition of the white men who “built this nation” by beating up a few “communists.” (Last season, they were all “anarchists.”) They’ll go to liberal bastions, Berkeley, California or Portland, Oregon, or the University of Virginia because they know they’ll generate a strong response. And if some anti-fascist kid punches one of them in the face, they can further their wimpy cause that white men are the “victims” of the multi-cultural shift in America. Boo hoo, poor oppressed white men.

There are legitimate social issues that people have a right debate: immigration, trade policies, when religious freedoms bump up against existing laws, free speech. On the Glamor Shot surface, that’s all these alt right blokes are doing. It’s just a public conversation. But you barely have to scratch the surface to see what the truth behind this phenomenon is. Drop into AltRight.com’s editor Richard Spencer’s Twitter feed on any random day. Or pretty much every thread on Reddit’s “alternative_right” page or the incredibly sexist “Politically Incorrect” forum on 4Chan. How did these dorks become part of our mainstream political discourse?

Make America White Again

There are two very real threats from the alt right. And I mean very real.

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The first has to do with our alt-right president, who rode to power by championing the issues of these quasi-fascists, including bringing some of them into his White House men’s club. (You think Steve Bannon is a right-wing nut-job, spend some time with Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s deputy assistant.)

The rhetoric of the alt-right is that America is being ripped away from white men by all these enemy forces; Muslims, Jews, feminists, homosexuals, liberals, Mexicans, Chinese steel, and Korean smartphones. (It’s so much easier to just say “communists.”)  The Charlottesville marchers chanted, “You will not replace us!” After all, it’s good to be the king of the hill.

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The problem is, they are sort of right. White males are a shrinking percentage of our nation of immigrants. The U.S. Census Bureau has stated that by the year 2050, the proportion of Americans who are non-white will be be greater than the proportion that is white. If you believe this is a “white man’s country,” there’s reason to panic, because your vision is fading away. While most of us not only accept the demographic shift, we celebrate the added diversity, these guys want to go back in time. Push back against the hordes and make America great again. That’s why they voted for Donald Trump. What looks like an attempt to even the playing field to the rest of us, looks like oppression to them. They needed a “strong leader” who will stop this “political correctness.” Merry Christmas, motherfuckers!

Obviously they are going to lose. They can have all the tikki torch marches they want, but they can’t stop the browning of America. There is not a single family fleeing the violence of El Salvador who is saying, “We can’t go to America. They have racist Twitter trolls!” BUT, with friends in high places, the alt boys can hope Trump and his alt-right handlers can dismantle democracy just enough, and gerrymander a few more swing-state districts, that America starts to look like the country after the Klan helped push through the Immigration Act of 1924. It’s not an impossible vision. Neither is A Handmaid’s Tale.

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The McVeigh Threat

The other is what happens when the alt-right coup plan fades. There is a direct parallel  with the militia movement of the 1990s. Like the alt right, people (men) were attracted to the militia movement for a number of reasons, including gun rights, land use issues, and a general hatred of paying taxes. A bit further down it became a hatred of the federal government who had control of these issues. The next step on the flow chart was the arrival of the conspiracy theories. Republicans and Democrats and the whole ball of wax were controlled by the Freemasons or Illuminati. (The left tends to go for Reptilian aliens or the Koch Brothers.) A bit further down that conspiracy becomes anti-Semitic. America was controlled by a Zionist occupation government. (ZOG!)

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At that bottom of that dark funnel were the revolutionaries who believed a second American Revolution was needed to replenish the nation and rid the country of its Zionist masters. This was Timothy McVeigh’s intention when he bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare facility. The alt right has its own McVeighs who believe the exact same thing. Jeremy Christian, the Portland Max train murderer idolized McVeigh as a true hero. At his arraignment, Christian shouted, “You may call it terrorism, I call it patriotism!” Just yesterday, the FBI thwarted a plot by an alt right follower named Jerry Varnell to explode  a van in Oklahoma City to jump start McVeigh’s race war.

The more people you bring in at the top of this funnel, the more revolutionaries you end up with at the bottom. The question is, what will be the body count from these McVeighs as they realize that Trump isn’t going to deliver 1924 America to them on a silver platter? Will they force their race war on us? And if so, can I go ahead and enlist with the Black Panthers?

Why seekers flock to Nazis and Trump

People want to make sense of a confusing, chaotic world. The pace of change is accelerating. The old order is unrecognizable. Transgender bathrooms, bilingual signs at Home Depot, and a new iPhone when you haven’t even gotten the old one yet. It’s dizzying. Some one thinks your racist because you said, “All lives matter,” and you didn’t realize you were supposed to ask when pronouns people prefer. Wasn’t “queer” a bad word? People of color not colored people. I get it. It’s a lot for a privileged person to keep up with.

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Both Trump and the Nazis speak to this sense of normlessness, what sociologists call anomie. People need a frame to put all these images in and Trump and the Nazis do it. It’s a simplistic worldview of good versus evil and the only reason it’s confused is because of the fake or Jewish media. But don’t worry, Trump and the Nazis will explain it for you. It’s all a big conspiracy meant to deprive the average white (male) person from his natural position in the status quo. As Trump opined today, what are they going to do next, take down statues of George Washington? He owned slaves! (I’m guessing Trump doesn’t actually that Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general who was defeated by the United States.)

Once you have the analysis provided, the second part of the appeal is the action plan. What are you going to do about it? The white nationalists in Charlottesville clearly stated they wanted to take their country back. From who? Trump says he wants to make America great again. When was that? These are not even thinly veiled calls to return America to the days before civil rights movement upset the straight white male apple cart.

Step one: Provide the analysis. Step two: Provide the action plan. Step three: Unleash the hounds.

Life in Alt Right America

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Saturday afternoon I was hosting a hate crime forum in downtown Portland, co-sponsored by the Department of Justice. Peoples’ phones started buzzing and attendees began to ask, “Have you heard what’s happening in Charlottesville?” Afterwards I was whisked off for a CNN interview where I was asked what I would say if I was Trump’s speech writer. Over the next 48 hours I did dozens of interviews about the alt right (including with Turkish TV). There were two things on my mind. Could this please wind down before I take my daughter to Disneyland for her third birthday? And how did this weird little fringe group I started studying thirty years ago become mainstream? (I woke up this morning to MSNBC giving their audience a primer on neo-nazi groups and symbols.)

We are at a crossroads in America. It is obvious that President Trump just does not get it. He does not get the real trauma cause by racism in America. He does not get real threat posed by domestic terrorists, like James Fields, Jr.. And he does not get that people trying to stop fascists are not somehow equally threatening as the fascists themselves. His only response to this horrific trend should be to purge all the alt right bozos from staff. He needs to admit that he made a mistake and that’s he’s instituting a course correction for the country.

But he won’t. He never admits mistakes. That takes an evolved person. He’s the mayor of Simpletown. The alt right loves him and so he loves the alt right (and it’s clear that Trump is afraid of his alt right handlers). They will go on a road of destruction together. The destruction of the core values of this country. The question is – will the rest of us go down it with them?

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Note: This isn’t the most cogent piece I’ve written. I tried to zip if off between TV and radio interviews, a Canadian film crew in my house, and Cozy jumping on my back over her excitement about meeting Minnie Mouse this week. Also, the sun is going to disappear. But you get it, I hope.

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Living with hate in Portland

June 1, 2017

It’s been a long time since my city had such an emotional week. Maybe in November 1988 when three skinheads murdered an Ethiopian immigrant named Mulugeta Seraw, ripping the scab off the supposedly liberal wonderland of Portland, Oregon. It showed us the ugliness underneath that had been there since Oregon was founded as the nation’s only “whites only” state in 1859. Last Friday that wound was opened times three.

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A local “patriot activist” named Jeremy Christian had been bouncing around on the fringes of the alt right movement. He had been seen seig heiling at a “free speech” rally earlier in the spring and around town going on racist, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant rants. His Facebook page was all over the place, hoping Trump would be his new Hitler, idolizing the Oklahoma City Bomber, briefly defending Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton, and, most recently, wanting to kill those who perform circumcisions. He was an equal opportunity hate machine. And as the world now knows, last Friday that hate became lethal.

I used to ride Portland’s Max train a lot when I was single. It was often a source of free entertainment and a bit of sociological research. It’s a busted circus train where the human zoo gets to mingle. It might be obnoxious teenagers trying to size up an elderly woman dressed like she just climbed down from the Russian steppe. Or maybe a suave hobo trying to make small talk with a tightly-pressed banker. It’s never the same and always seasoned with a dash of risk. At any stop the anti-Christ might step on board and take the train to hell.

That’s what happened Friday when Jeremy Christian got on the Green Line on my side of town and started harassing two teenage girls who had gotten on the wrong train on their way to the mall. Homeless Christian started ranting that it was his train because he paid taxes and they should leave his country. One of the girls was black and the other wore a hijab, so Christian launched into a racist, anti-Muslim tirade. The poor girls had nowhere to go. Three passengers, Ricky Best, Micah David-Cole Fletcher and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, tried to get the maniac to back down and Christian quickly pulled out a knife and stabbed each man in the neck, killing Best and Namkai-Meche.

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On Friday afternoon, while this was happening, I was on my way back from the University of Oregon in Eugene where I had attended a workshop on implicit bias. My thoughts were on beating the traffic to pick up Cozy from daycare. My mind drifted to my wife’s new job at an immigration law firm and the family of squirrels that had made a home in my attic, threatening to chew through our home’s wiring. While I was trying to pick which lane would get me home the fastest a man my same age, also a father, was laying on the Hollywood Max platform, bleeding to death and thinking his last thought. There’s a good chance I had met Ricky Best. He worked for the city and we often take city employees on our Fair Housing Council bus tour where we discuss Oregon’s dark history and encourage people to stand up to hate. Our bus driver is sure that we was one our riders.

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Those three men were the best of Portland; a Republican army veteran, a recent college graduate with a new job, and a PSU student who did spoken word poetry about Islamophobia. They were white men, not girls of color. They could have just thought, “Hey, this is not about me.” But it was about them. It was about us and how we stand together against the darkness. Riders on the train took off their clothes to try to stop the blood gushing from their necks while Christian, waving his knife, ran away. As Namkai-Meche gasped for life he managed to say, “I want everyone one the train to know I love them.”

When I first heard the news, I went into “official” mode. As the chair of Oregon’s Coalition Against Hate Crime I had to alert the network of community partners and start talking to our contacts in the Portland Police Bureau and the Department of Justice about an appropriate response. There were vigils to speak at and interviews to give to put this horrific crime in context, including on NPR’s All Things Considered. The “hate crime expert” hat was on and there was important work to do.

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On Tuesday, I told a CNN crew I would meet them for an interview at the growing memorial at the Hollywood Max station. That’s when my expert hat fell off.

The Max station is now covered in chalk messages of love and tolerance, flowers, candles, and pictures of the stabbing victims. It was overwhelming, this complete coming together in an outpouring of collective grief and appreciation for these heroes. Two little girls were drawing chalk hearts on the pavement with Rick’s, Michah’s and Taliesin’s name in then. I thought about how much Cozy loves to chalk on the sidewalk and I broke down. How do you explain this kind of hate to a child? The next two interviews I gave they had to stop because I broke into tears in the middle of them. This wasn’t academic anymore, this was my community.

We’ve made so much progress as a society. All the measures show kids are much more tolerant than previous generations. HR departments have equity managers and police departments do trainings on implicit bias. Even in the middle of Trump’s wink and nod to our worst qualities which has unleashed a new permissiveness for hate and bullying, we’re still better than we were. Trump and his thugs are a passing fad. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends away from bullies.

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At the memorial, I wept because I forgot that. I thought my 30 years of work on this issue amounted to nothing if hate mongers were still slaying good people on commuter trains. But all the work we do has paid off. We are better. There will always be monsters like Jeremy Christian, who see themselves as righteous patriots. They will fall through the cracks no matter how small we make them. Let us stand up to them each and every time. We’ve come to far to turn back now.

I got home from a series of interviews last night and saw that our cat had killed one of the parents of the baby squirrel that was living in our attic and just felt the weight of the grey Portland sky.

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