I believe it is fair to say that we are living in turbulent times. Our news alerts and Twitter feeds are replete with scary and troubling headlines of events new and old—whether remembering the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando two years ago, hearing of another mass murder-suicide by an armed domestic abuser, or seeing our American leaders abandoning longstanding allies while simultaneously praising known human rights abusers. More concerning than the news itself is the fast pace at which we must consume all this information. There is little time to process the happenings of today when we know there will be more to digest tomorrow.
In times when we feel overwhelmed then, when it can feel that it is all simply too much, we must cherish the moments that give us hope. I experienced one such moment this past Sunday afternoon. Over the past year, the Interfaith Leaders of Greater Lafayette (ILGL) has hosted several interfaith panel discussions. This past Sunday, the fourth of those panels— “Unmasking the Alt-Right”—took place at the First Baptist Church in Lafayette. The panelists on this important topic were Dr. David Atkinson, Dr. Marlo David, Dave Bangert (of the Journal & Courier). These three speakers were chosen carefully for the expertise and insight: Dr. Atkinson focuses on the history and analysis of White Supremacy groups such as the Alt-Right, Dr. David’s expertise is in economic anxiety and African American culture, and Mr. Bangert was able to speak on the challenges the media faces in covering these kinds of topics in our community.
Let me first say that I was so pleased to see such a large contingent of Temple Israel congregants at this panel event. I also want to thank Joyce Deutelbaum for writing the blurb about this event in our bulletin and for reaching out to so many of you personally to attend. It was exciting to see so many friends and colleagues from other houses of worship sitting right beside Temple Israel members, listening intently as the experts discussed how groups focused on antisemitism, racism, and homophobia can gain such traction in today’s world.
While I certainly do not pretend to be an expert on these groups and the political ins and outs of the Alt-Right’s followers, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable on this subject. In attending the panel, however, it became clear that there was a great deal I did not know, and that there is so much more to learn and discuss. So, you must be asking, what in a discussion about the dangerous political activism of White Supremacy in America gave me hope? Admittedly, the subject itself does not provide hope, quite the opposite. However, a few aspects about that afternoon did leave me energized and hopeful. The first is that Jews and Christians, of all races and backgrounds, gathered together on a rainy Sunday afternoon inside a historic Baptist Church to engage in high-register intellectual discussions on a problem which affects us all. We counted over 50 participants in the pews, no doubt one of the larger audiences for this kind of panel recently. Certainly, 50 people is not 200, or 2,000, but it’s 50 voices who left the panel ready to speak to others, spreading the knowledge and messages of peace and justice.
The second is that our expert panelists were able to tell us that recently the Alt-Right, having misjudged their hubris in Charlottesville and elsewhere, have gone underground and into hiding, having realized they did not have as many allies as previous thought. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a recent report showed that the Alt-Right is “imploding,” as reported by Heidi Beirich, who wrote a report on the subject. She stated recently that “the self-inflicted damage, the defections, the infighting is so rampant, it’s to the point of almost being pathetic.”
In other words, the Alt-Right, having previously been undercover and separated from other White Supremacist groups such as Neo-Nazis and the KKK, came out into the open in Charlottesville, thinking that they would be applauded but found, instead, a fierce resistance that caused turmoil in their inner ranks, and fear of arrest or worst among their leadership.
Does this mean that they have gone away? Certainly not, as reported by our expert panel this Sunday. However, there is hope for humanity, hope for America, hope for our community, as we know that if the Alt-Right or any other White Supremacist group dared to march down our streets, they would be met with a crowd of resistors ten times their size.
Finally, after the panel ended, while enjoying food and drink in the social hall, I spoke to many of the audience members, many of whom asked, “what’s the next panel?” I was so glad to hear that this kind of intellectual growth, this kind of engagement in practical discussions to better ourselves as a community was gaining strength and that people wanted more.
So, this week, as you scroll through your social media feeds and news outlets, take a moment to feel the hope that we still have for a better future, and that there is a healthy group of friends of all races, religions, and creeds who share our dream of equality, peace, and justice for all in this country; as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”