I have found what I was looking for, Bono.

April 14, 2019

I have climbed the highest mountains

Whenever friends or family would come to my little Georgia town, we’d force them to climb its namesake, Stone Mountain. It’s the largest exposed piece of granite in the world and offers a pretty spectacular view of countless pine trees from its nearly 1700 foot summit. On a clear day, you can see Atlanta, which calls itself the “city too busy to hate” in an effort to claim a full agenda gets white people off the hook. We took everyone up that mountain, even my grandparents. There was something spiritual about rising above the tree line, while seeing the graffiti of lovers from the 18th century etched into the rock.

ir164_stone-mointain_klan-flyer

As a kid I didn’t understand the historical significance of the mountain, which features the largest Confederate memorial carved right into its face. On Thanksgiving night, 1915, a group of hooded white men, including two elderly members of the original Ku Klux Klan, climbed the mountain, raised the Confederate flag, opened a Bible, and, for the first time, burned a 16-foot cross. The modern KKK was born on my mountain. The century of murder and terror it waged against Americans had its inglorious beginning on Stone Mountain. The land beneath it was owned by a Klansman and they still return to its summit, like a white supremacist Mecca.

Walking in the footsteps of those first Klansmen would lead the way towards a lifetime of studying hate and trying to understand organized racism. This included time spent undercover in the white supremacist movement. I’ve seen crosses set alight by men in robes and it made the blood freeze in my veins. This long career has been dedicated to trying to undue what those men started on my mountain in 1915. It’s taken me around the world and brought me to what I had been looking for all along, the antidote to hate.

I have kissed honey lips

Most of my life I have been untethered. I felt like I was floating from one 4 minute music video to another. Even when I was “in love,” I had a few toes out the door, ready for the next song cycle to carry me where it might. There were some epic romances, followed by a divine right to the blues and red red wine. My passport was full but I wasn’t going anywhere, locked in a Möbius strip.

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 1.50.41 PM

For much of that life fully lived, the music of U2 provided a soundtrack of freedom. The summer of 1986 I ended up back in Dublin (after working in Copenhagen for a few weeks). U2 was recording their soon-to-be revered Joshua Tree album. I was meeting with Bono as he wanted me to help him compile a release of unsigned American rock bands for their vanity label, Mother Records. (The compilation never was finished but he loved the tape of my roommate’s band, drivin’ ’n’ cryin’ and they were soon signed to U2’s label, Island Records. “Randy, I am a drivin’ ’n’ cryin’ fan,” he said, grabbing my shoulders.) The summer of ’86, I told him way too much about my challenging love life. Part of that summer had been spent with Sinead O’Connor in London, watching her shave her head for the first time. Part of my heart was back in the states with my girlfriend who was leaving me for a life in Paris. I was 22 and had no idea how love was supposed to work.

220px-The_Joshua_Tree

He told me the new album would have more love songs and be less political in its themes. The band was exploring more colors from its sonic palette. The following spring, I was driving in Los Angeles when I first heard the final product on KNAC radio; “Where the Streets Have No Name,” soaring as I drove across Mulholland Drive on top of the Hollywood Hills. The world opened up below me. The definitive musical statement of the 1980s had been made and it reflected everything I was at that moment, searching, running to stand still.

You broke the bonds, you loosened chains

My work studying racism and finding an audience in the ancient world of the university earned me the top rank as a tenured full professor at Hogwarts. I had leveraged my position, pushing the faculty to strike against the swollen trolls of the administration to build a university the cared more about easing student debt than the ever-expanding supply of overpaid deans. (If you didn’t know, Hogwarts has more troll deans than you can shake a wand at.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 4.15.40 PM

All that fell silent when she walked into the room. All the colors bled into one. Angel or devil, I couldn’t tell. I tried to put her out of my mind and went back to my lectures about how romantic love was a “social construction of reality,” a lie that we believe because we’ve been brainwashed by sappy songs and rom coms. I was still in my Möbius loop. “Maybe I should try online dating,” I thought. I tried to avoid looking at her. I worried it would be like B’rer Rabbit and the tar baby. One look and I would be stuck.

After the class was over, I ran into her in a bar. She bought me a shot of tequila and asked if I’d like to go out sometime. “I don’t date students,” I said, feeling the floor slipping out from under me. She bought me another shot. I heard Bono singing, “I can’t live with or without you.” Our friendship became more than that. I saw in her the end of the loop. She knew everything about me. All my flaws and the way out. Why had I been paying a therapist all those years? I saw in her the future mother of my children. We would not be only two people for very long. I saw in her the person who’s dreams I wanted to spend the rest of my life supporting. “I’m with her!” Soon we were married and the parents of a miraculous child who was conceived in a moment of brilliant foresight. “Let’s make a baby!”

sleep

The trolls at Hogwarts used this love of loves as a cudgel to silence a trouble maker. (It seems on-line wizard training is much cheaper than tenured full professors, leaving more money to hire more troll deans.) I was dragged in before the council of witches, their mouths dripping with the anticipation of scoring points for the queen troll. They treated our love as some grand violation. They wanted to destroy my lifetime of work against hate. Perhaps I should have fought harder, but I was in love with my wife and new baby and seeing the monsters that profited behind the hallowed halls of Hogwarts disgusted me. I was forced resign my position and left to create something new, away from their sickness. I let go of the hand if the devil and was free.

Felt the healing in the fingertips

I should have felt like a freefall, loosing the security of a salaried tenured position and the benefits that came with it. (It was easy to not go to the dentist when you have full dental.) Thanks, Obamacare! I became a hustler, selling assets, picking up random gigs here and there. She carried the cross as I stayed home with the baby. I’d hold my little girl and chant, “Everything’s gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be alright,” hoping the words would be a magical incantation, bringing the answer in a mighty flash of financial stability. “Vengeance is mine!” I would say, as I put some money, any money into my savings account.

we three 2

Instead, a strange healing happened as my world, once so big, was shrunk down to three people. It was a bizarre love triangle, like we were our own holy trinity. Not really us versus them, because we’ve had so many amazing people on our side. Us and them (and we think about the trolls less every day). There is a burning sun in our home that has melted us like glass into one perfectly clear entity. It might look like a blob to the outside world, but we are three voices in harmony, and, too each of us, it sounds like it’s coming the tongues of angels.

Being bounced out of my university security gave me back the hunger of my youth. I published a novel and proposed a reality TV show and found my way into cable news commentary. Each experiment was latched to hope that this would open a door that I could take my family through. My wife had her own ascendency, through her art and academic paths. She now grades her students’ exams as I write about our seemingly endless war on racism, from Stone Mountain to Trump. We are recreating the world in our image.

In the middle of all that I found what I was looking for. Hearing our daughter sing in the bathtub. Watching my wife see how her presence can help heal the great divide. Being asked to bring my experience to table after table. I had to lose it all to gain it all. I was of the world and now I am of we three, in this world. All the pieces fit. Like a teenage rock band that’s ready to take the world by storm (as U2 was in its infancy), our vision is unclouded.

10398622_75497409306_1578834_n

When Bono wrote the words to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” he was still childless. He didn’t become a parent until 1989. I’m guessing he would have written a different song if he had been a dad the summer of 1986. Maybe I’ll ask him someday. (He’s about as accessible as the Pope these days.) That song seemed woven into my cellular membrane in those days. Now that I’ve found it, nurturing it is what drives my bass drum beat. Only to be with you. Only to be with you.

Postscript: A lot of us have lived that song. Have you finally found it? Or are you still running? In this unhappy time, let’s share our answers. Post it, tweet it, Instagram it, shout it from the top of the Hollywood Hills. #Ihavefoundwhatimlookingfor

Advertisements

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.

dbedtecw0aam4q6-jpg-large

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 7.51.43 PM

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.

37910076_10157554445434307_4400292508416868352_n

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.

Embassy1779456_n

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.

37948138_10157554683229307_2276531841693384704_n

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.

1532461366-gettyimages-864246666

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.

countering-terrorism-with-racism-24-902.png

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.

37833757_10157554683274307_7550234846291820544_n

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.

 

Get out of your country!

May 15, 2018

Here’s a depressing statistic; only 36% of Americans have a passport. I got my first U.S. passport at age 18 and have kept it current since 1982. You never know when you might need to get the hell out. But, in reality, you should get the hell out. America is not the world. In fact, the United States is only 6% of the Earth’s landmass. How much of the other 94% have you seen?

C_Rex_workshop_150518

I’m in Oslo, Norway now attending another workshop on gender and extremism. (Suddenly, a hot topic it seems.) I spent a few weeks in Denmark in 1986, but this is my first time to Norway and it’s spectacular. Andrea came with me and we are enjoying the long days (Is it 10 pm or 4 pm? Who knows?) and the wonderful people of the vibrant socialist nation where everything seems to work perfectly. Beer, salmon, and discussions of feminist theories of violence with scholars from around the world. I can’t complain about much at the moment.

PASS

That my passport is getting a workout is beside the point. (Toronto is next.) Each time I’m taken out of my American comfort zone, I’m forced to grow a little. It could be just finding my way around a strange city like Oslo where all the street signs look like eye charts. “Get off the Metro at the Forskningsparken station.” It could be not knowing if I should eat the brown cheese (Brunost). Eat it! It could be wondering how expensive a 129 Kroner jazz album is. (I don’t know but I still bought it.) Bonus points if you have to figure out how a bidet works. Like an elder playing Soudoku to stave off the looming Alzheimers diagnosis, all this momentary discomfort is good for your brain, or at least your soul.

Unknown

My first trip to Paris was when I was 20 and bumped into a small group of American girls on the Champs Elysees. We were all hungry and I suggested we go get a table at a sidewalk bistro and make fun of tourists. They went to Burger King instead. They came to the the City of Lights but were too intimidated to experience Paris. They went home to their Whoppers. Le Whopper. What did they miss because they went for the safety of the familiar? McDonalds around the world are chocked full of Americans who are afraid to sample the local cuisine. Maybe they should just stay home and watch the Travel Channel while they eat meatloaf on the couch.

I was at a Home Depot once and this white guy started complaining that all the signs were also in Spanish. “They’re still in English, too,” I told him. “Now you know that ‘plumbing’ is also ‘plomería.’ Be glad.” You better bet all those American tourists are pleased as punsj about all those signs that are in the local language AND English. Are they afraid they might have to work a little bit to figure things out, like most everybody else? Or are they “special” because they’re Americans? Aren’t they special?

It’s bad enough there is a Starbucks and a Foot Locker everywhere you go on this planet. It’s like a grand conspiracy to make Americans feel safe and unchallenged wherever they go in the world. Did you go to Morocco or just the Epcot Center version of Morocco and is there a difference? Pretty much everywhere you go, people will speak English and deliver Dominoes pizza. Globalization has done what colonialism only dreamed of – Made the world our Subway sandwich.

AndiFishOslo

Sometimes it’s good to be out of your element. Know that comes out on your dinner plate might not look like what you expect. That surprise is for you! Know how to ask directions in the local tongue. I can ask how to find the toilet in seven languages. Kde je záchod? We don’t run the world so act like it. I was in a shop in London and this American, when hearing the price in pounds and pence, asked, “How much is that in real money?” It’s okay to show a little humility. The world will actually look on you with favor.

When you come down to it, you can find the familiar in the strange fairly easily.  Everybody everywhere is addicted to their phones. People all love coffee and chocolate.  Parents are all trying to keep and eye on their money and their kids. And everyone makes fun of how Swedes talk. It’s basic. So the little variations are where the action is. Here in Norway, businesses respond to the needs of families instead of the opposite, like in America. That’s pretty cool. I’m different for learning that. The record store is closed.

Go get lost. Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be better for it.