I have to admit to a certain fascination with neo-Nazis and the like. A lot of them are just angry men who find comradery in their shared anger and hatred. But where does that come from? I mean, I’ve known a lot of violent assholes. And every couple of days some guy goes on a shooting spree. What would make someone grab onto what is about the purest example of evil we have and say, “I’m for that!” I mean, I’ve known young people who dabbled in what they thought was Satanism by reading old books on witchcraft. They just thought they were being naughty. If any adult identifies as a witch, what she means is that she thinks trees and herbal remedies are cool—it is nothing dark, much less evil.
Certainly, the neo-Nazis and the Klansmen depend upon racism. But the whole society is racist in its own way and most people at least try to hide their racism if not actively fight it. So again, we are back to the fundamental question: why do people want to be public assholes? Is it as simple as them wanting attention? I tend to think so. But that isn’t to say that they don’t completely accept all the vile thinking that goes along with the persona.
Yesterday, the Southern Policy Law Center reported, Neo-Nazi Bill White Indicted for Internet Threats—Again! Mr. White has been indicted so many times, it is hard to keep track. And to me, he seems just like any number of other loud-mouths. But that’s what these people always seem like until they start acting on their rhetoric. There is, after all, a process. Unless one is actually dealing with arguments, rhetoric just has to get more and more extreme. But there is an end to that. Eventually, that rhetoric must lead to action. Or the people must just drop the whole matter, as I suspect is the more common path.
White’s path is, shall we say, unusual. Wikipedia reports his various political moves over the years:
It does have a certain consistency: authoritarianism. And once you reach Pat Buchanan, a neo-Nazism we will go! But it is interesting that it wasn’t until he got in with the “white power” crowd that he started making threats and generally being a real concern to the peace of our society.
Now let me just make a comment about leftist movements in the United States. It isn’t like they are lily white. In the 1960s, there were certainly leftists who wanted to start a revolution. Bombs were made; people died. And there will always be people on the extremes doing crazy things for their own crazy reasons. But the left learned valuable lessons from the 1960s that it has never forgotten. You just don’t get the kind of violent rhetoric from the left that you get from the right. The left seems to understand that violent rhetoric leads to violence while the right continues to pretend there is no connection.
I wouldn’t call Bill White a member of the political right in this country, although that is most certainly where he came from. I don’t think people like him have real political agendas anyway. “The Jews are greedy and lie” is not really a political statement. But clearly, he’s a searcher. And as such, he’s an example of our society not providing people with constructive ways of finding meaning. Regardless of whether White makes good on his threats and spends the rest of his life in prison, or reforms and becomes an advocate against racism, he has become “someone” in our society.
Finding Positive Meaning
Most of the people in the United States are “nobody.” In the old days of unions, people had that to identify themselves: they were members of a collection of workers who were making the country a better place. Remember “Union Strong”? There are lots of ways for people to feel valued, but work is one of the most important. But for most people, work has become nothing more than a paycheck. Being part of a union was being part of something. Despite the “We Are Walmart” ads, the workers there know that they are not Walmart. And the moment Walmart gives them their most recent paycheck, their connection with the company is over until their next hour of work.
Increasingly, I see the decline of unionization as a much bigger problem than just economics. The decline of unions in America is part of a larger problem where people don’t see where they fit into society and they certainly don’t see how it is they matter. So it is not a surprise that a man like Bill White, who has clearly spent much of his life looking for his place, has turned from one radical group to another, only to land in a world where his most vile and hateful tendencies have made him a star of sorts.
Our Cultural Cancer
As a society, we can deal with the Bill Whites of the world. We can put them in prison. Or we can at least keep tabs on them enough to stop them from physically hurting anyone. But he’s symptomatic of a larger and more difficult problem. How will our people find their places in our society where they can make things better? Part of that answer is increasing unionization and decreasing income inequality. But fundamentally, it is about our society abandoning its obsession with wealth as the ultimate gauge of a person’s value. I don’t think this problem can be cured. But it can be treated; it can be less harmful. Currently, it is metastasizing and will destroy our society if we don’t treat it.
The Bill Whites of the nation are just the most obvious symptoms.