I went to a high school with a pretty high number of skinheads.
The bathroom stalls had swastikas etched into the paint. Use of racial slurs was rampant. Confederate flags were worn as fashion accessories. Being called a Jew was a kind of insult.
Kids are idiots, but sometimes idiot kids grow up and become idiot adults.
On Sunday, 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller was arrested on suspicion of shooting and killing three people in Kansas. Though none of them were Jewish, they were shot outside of two Jewish community facilities in the town of Overland Park.
From the backseat of a police car Sunday, Miller shouted “Heil Hitler.”
Probably, Miller shouted that phrase Sunday afternoon because he knew there were journalists in the area who would pick up on it. We have a tendency to disregard such statements, especially when connected to such violence, as the ravings of a madman.
Miller’s vitriol can clearly be dismissed as such, but we should also take an opportunity to recognize that they’re not isolated incidents.
Rhetoric like “foreigners taking American jobs” and screaming that your president is a socialist or the anti-Christ isn’t all that far removed.
Us-versus-them implies a zero-sum game. It makes the veiled case that what someone else gains, I must necessarily lose.
It’s what allows kids from my high school to insult each other by placing on them a label that was historically a scapegoat for every possible ill. It’s what allows Miller to spew his hate. It’s what rationalizes groups like our Traditionalist Youth Network, founded in part by IU student Thomas Buhls.
There is no “them.” For others to do well, to succeed, doesn’t require that you have less.
Hate is not born, but it can be engendered in youth. Students scratching racist symbols on bathroom walls might seem silly, even pointless. It is. But it can also grow into something more insidious. When people like Miller and Buhls are still defended, supported and rationalized, they produce their own replacements.