The Dial

Hackley Responds to Rise in Extremist Messages and Political Violence Confronting America

By Max Rosenblum, Assistant Politics Editor

Neo-Nazis chant “Jews Will Not Replace Us,” demonstrators are throwing rocks at police, white supremacists preach hate against African-Americans, and protest attendees are engaging in violent street brawls – that’s what the United States has come to in 2017.

Throughout the past year, the US has seen an uptick in hate group activity, which has sparked a variety of responses – some controversial. White supremacist hate groups have become active in the past year, not only during the recent August attack in Charlottesville, but during a previous Charlottesville rally in July, in addition to rallies in Gettysburg, PA, and Alabama this summer. As a result of white supremacist activity, a group of antifascists, called ANTIFA has also become prominent. In the wake of the Charlottesville attack, Hackley students and faculty responded to the rise of political extremism and violence with wisdom and insight.

The August 12 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia became fatal this past month when James Alex Fields Jr., an alleged Neo-Nazi, plowed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. His actions killed one woman and injured 19 others. The violence that perpetrated throughout the protest left three dead and 34 injured in total.

Although some conservative gatherings labeled as “Freedom Rallies” and “Free Speech Rallies,” have denounced violence and hate, others, like the Unite the Right Rally, entertained a substantial amount of alt-right groups.

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “In all the years that we’ve been tracking, we’ve never seen this many of these groups everywhere, and we’ve never seen their ideas penetrating the mainstream in the way they are.”

She found that in 2017, there are more than 900 hate groups, two-thirds of which “subscribe to ideals of white supremacy.”

Along with the rise of alt-right extremist groups has been the rise of ANTIFA, a collection of antifascist groups to counter the rise of extremist groups they perceive as fascist or racist.

These ANTIFA groups share one main goal, as a member of the Rose City (Portland, OR) ANTIFA put it in an exclusive CNN interview: “ANTIFA is any group that’s willing to stand up against fascists by any means necessary.” Street fighting, vandalism, and other acts of violence are included in the phrase “by any means necessary.”

Looking to the impact that the recent political violence and extremist messages might have on campus, Mr. Wirtz, Hackley’s headmaster, explained, “Hate and bigotry have no place on our campus or in our community. My sense is that students, families, and faculty and staff are attracted to Hackley for these attributes and dedicated to ensuring their continuity.”

He mentioned that the faculty have resources available to them concerning bigotry and hate, and have been told “not to shy away from the issues surfaced by these events as they arise in class or in conversation.”

Mr. Teacher and Ms. EK, Upper School Diversity Coordinators, gave insightful comments surrounding hate and bigotry, and their place or lack thereof at Hackley: “I think our student body knows not to go spray paint swastikas in a bathroom, or call someone the n-word. Those are obvious examples of very malicious intentional acts that should be avoided. However, there are whole other levels of actions/sayings that are significantly less maliciously intended or overt – they may be even subconscious – and they are much harder to identify and avoid.”

The two articulated that even though hateful and bigoted comments, even the most subconscious, are sometimes said, “that still does not make them okay.”

In addition, Mr. Arnold, in his new position as Upper School Assistant Director, explained, “I don’t think it’s possible for the events in Charlottesville to happen and for people to not have strong reactions or feelings of fear, confusion, worry, anger, etc.”

In response to the Charlottesville attack, the leaders of the Hackley Conservatives jointly stated: “This is obviously a horrible event. As with many of these incidents it only takes one person to cause a forever lasting atrocity.” When asked about the removal of confederate statues, the original controversy of the Charlottesville rally, they responded, “In our opinion the reasons to keep the [Confederate] statues outweigh the ones to remove them.”

Although the rise of political extremism throughout the United States can be concerning to many, Hackley is a school founded on strong ideals of good character. Instead of worrying about hate and bigotry on Hackley’s campus, Hackley’s administrators, as Mr. Arnold put it, “hope to foster an environment where people can have a discussion to understand why others may have beliefs different from their own.”

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Hackley Responds to Rise in Extremist Messages and Political Violence Confronting America