September 2, 2017
It has been 3 weeks since the Charlottesville rally occurred, and it was during those times that I saw an image that I couldn’t even comprehend why it was there – the Detroit Red Wings logo. This is a logo that is synonymous with Michigan and hockey, and it is because of this that I questioned why I would see such an image at a rally that involved white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and neo-Nazis, and would find it among other images that represent those groups. It was surreal seeing a logo that I have some sentimental value for among groups that I so thoroughly disdain. The logo was altered just a bit, the spokes of the wheel were now arms of a swastika reaching out to the outer part of the wheel, demanding attention, and I guess in that sense they won. This instance made me curious about the state of hate groups in Michigan,
Let us begin by defining what a hate group is. The FBI defines a hate group as, “An organization whose primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons of or with a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity which differs from that of the members or the organization.” Now with a definition it becomes easier to try and count groups that fall under this category. There is an organization that works with trying to count and organize these groups, that is the Southern Poverty Law Center. I went to the SPLC to see what numbers they had reported for Hate groups in Michigan. They reported 28 hate groups in Michigan. Of those 28, 20 are some type of white supremacist or far right bent, while the rest are black separatist groups. Based on the SPLC, that places MI as the 11th highest state in hate group numbers, with much larger states ahead of it like California, Texas, and New York, along with some of our bigger neighbors like Ohio, or Illinois. In 2016, SPLC reported that there were 19 hate groups in MI, and in 2015 there were 15 reported Hate groups. Most of these hate groups are located in Detroit, but there are a few other locations around the state as well, such as in Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Ann Arbor, and Traverse City. From these numbers, I wanted to get some historical context on why Michigan seems to be a popular place for the spreading of hate groups.
Now I want to return to the logo alluded to earlier. I came to learn that this altered logo was in association to a group from Detroit called the “Detroit Right Wings”, I know… a real gas. It seems that this organization is quite new, and pretty hard to find. I could only find one website that talked about them in any depth, Russian Machine Never Breaks. Interestingly enough, what I thought would turn out to be a leftist news blog was actually a sports blog devoted to the Washington Capitals and specifically Alex Ovechkin (name makes sense now). The site describes the Detroit Right Wings as, “a Michigan-based group of ‘Identitarians,’ an anti-immigrant vein of white nationalism that counts Richard Spencer among its proponents.” The site provides a link to a fund-raising video posted by the group on Youtube, but the video is now unavailable. Of course, like any responsible organization that entertains the public and doesn’t want a PR nightmare, the Detroit Red Wings quickly condemned the use of the logo by the hate group.
Unfortunately, organized racism is nothing new in Michigan. In the 1920’s the U.S. saw a revitalization of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), with Michigan being one of the spots that saw an increase in activity. Michigan had more KKK members than any of the Southern groups. This happened because of the great migration that happened during the time. There was a large population of the African Americans that were migrating up to Detroit from the South for the new factory jobs related to the auto industry. This boom in population caused tensions between the majority white population that inhabited Detroit at the time and the incoming population. World War I had also just ended, so the influx of men coming back from fighting abroad also added to hostilities. This environment proved to be a fertile ground for cultivating the culture of hate that is found within organizations such as the KKK. With the invention of the automobile, members found it easier to meet up in groups, since multiple individuals could be taken to the meeting spot by one car. These organizations were not as directly violent as the original Klan of the Reconstruction South. This new Klan’s focus was on organized intimidation. They primarily burned crosses and boycotted Jewish and Catholic businesses.
Then in the 1960s came a pastor to Howell, Michigan, named Bob Miles. He was the Grand Dragon of the KKK, and he took part in the Pontiac bus bombing in 1971; an attempt at stopping the integration of public schools. They bombed 10 school buses at the lot that held the buses for the Pontiac school district. In another attempt to fight the integration of public schools, Bob Miles and associates attacked Principal R. Wiley Brownlee by tarring and feathering him for trying to bring about the integration of the Willow Run High school. Bob Miles was sentenced to nine years in prison for these two crimes.
There is another notorious individual in the history of Michigan for promoting hate group ideas: Father Charles Coughlin. He was the founder of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak. He was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience. He started his radio show during the 1930’s, but was forced off the air by 1939. On his program, he issued anti-Semitic remarks (at one point serializing the book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion), and supported the policies of Adolf Hitler and of the fascist agenda.
Another group that is prominent in Michigan’s history is the Black Legion, a splinter group that broke from the KKK in the 1930s. They were primarily located in the Midwest, but had the strongest influence in Detroit. It is believed that the Black legion was responsible for 50 murders in Detroit during their active time. They eventually collapsed due to a gunman, Dayton Dean, who was captured by police and testified against individuals within the organization.
A more contemporary example of Michigan being a home for radicalization and hate is the Michigan Militia. The Michigan Militia was founded in 1994 by Norman Olson and was created as a response to the perceived encroachments by the federal government on the Constitutional rights of citizens. The Michigan Militia descended into infamy on April 19, 1995, when two individuals, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were found to be a part of the Oklahoma City bombings that claimed 168 lives. It was discovered that these two had attended militia meetings before they carried out their terrorism. The Michigan Militia stated that they were never members, but the association stuck, and the Militia quickly descended into disarray. It is still active today, but their numbers are quite diminished compared to what they had pre-bombing. Although the Michigan Militia is not strictly a hate group, it acts as a way for predominantly white men to feel that they are indeed targeted by the federal government and open them up to the possibility of directing that rage at minorities, immigrants, and other vulnerable communities.
This is just a small snippet of the history and the information about Michigan and its hate groups. If you want a little bit more of an in depth look at the topics of the history I went over, Michigan Radio ran a story covering the different historical examples.
With my research, I gained a bit more of an understanding about the condition my state is in, and it has strengthened my confidence in my opinion. It is my belief that these Hate Groups are not just disdainful, but are dangerous. Sure, there ideas are abhorrent, and disgust most of the general public, but these groups are manipulative and that is where they become threatening. They take people who have anger and animosity and they twist their emotions, and direct them towards a target that isn’t the proper mark for those negative emotions. Once these groups have those targets locked in they then amplify these emotions until individuals are in a fervor, and are willing to commit drastic deeds for the sake of releasing these emotions. Once the emotions are released, the individual is applauded by their chosen community, and their actions are affirmed. Then it becomes a cycle for the individuals who are fully apart of these groups. Thus, it is important that we combat the messages that these groups are spouting, and the counter protests that have occurred at these rallies are heartening to see.
Forest for the Trees (Don’t Lose Momentum)
September 1, 2017
The city council of Lowell, Michigan, has decided to change the name of the local showboat from Robert E. Lee to something that is more reflective of the community and its history. This has come in the face of public pressure to change the name of the aging ship.
Meanwhile, in places like Durham, North Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland, statues commemorating soldiers of the Confederacy have been brought down by spectacular displays of popular force or the quiet and methodical action of local government.
This all comes in the wake of months of tension between those that want to remove the statues and commemorations of Confederates and those that want to keep these symbols up despite their dark, and quite frankly racist, history. Things obviously came to a head when blood was shed over one of the damn things in Charlottesville.
We have momentum, but it seems like this emotionally satisfying victory will be where things peter out. The sad reality is that changing a name on a rotting showboat or tearing down a cheap statue is a minor skirmish in a much larger war.
I wish that it was that easy. Imagine a world where smashing these totems woke up the people that avidly defend them. Where lawmakers realized apologia for racism and fascism was absurdly disgusting and cowardly. Where being “anti-fascist” and “anti-racist” should not be an extraordinary position, but a default position. Where Antifa was maybe scolded, but with the spirit of, “Your heart’s in the best place, but direct your aggression at the Nazis, not Starbucks.”
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, we have to make it. If we want to affect real, visceral change in our communities it means organizing, showing up, and fighting back against the people and institutions that would rather have the status quo. In America, the fight against oppression is one long continuum starting with Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and running up to the present. It is not a peaceful or happy history, and unfortunately when you deal with fascists and fascism the chance of having a peaceful debate is virtually nonexistent. Fascism is violence made political and discourse means nothing to them.
The statues are down, and the black paint has been chipped off, and in the grand scheme of things it won’t mean a damn thing. Don’t get me wrong. I think these are minor improvements and signal a wider “awakening” (if you want to call it that), but these actions don’t stop the very real injustices that people of color, especially poorer people of color, are forced to contend with on a practically daily basis.
Cops will still be protected from due process when they shoot innocent men and women of color in cold blood.
The inner-city schools will be allowed to crumble and the students therein left victim to charter school grifters looking to make a quick buck.
Black and Hispanic neighborhoods will continue to be at the mercy of thin municipal funding, unrestricted rent policy, and the specter of losing their home because a higher bidder got to their landlord.
Men like Dylann Roof and James Alex Fields will be treated with kid gloves while young African-American men will continue to be framed as vicious super predators. Roof has been sentenced to die, but how many people shake their heads in disappointment over him yet are indifferent if a young man-of-color is sent to the same fate? It’s almost as if those people want to roll their eyes and say, “Well, what do you expect from one of them?”
There is a bright side, though, to all of this: the left has momentum, and it has momentum for the first time in a long time, and Millennials are the crucial actors.
The Democratic Socialists of America now boasts a membership of 25,000 persons. At least for Millennials, the idea of socialism seems far more acceptable than that of capitalism. We are at a crucial tipping point where our generation can redefine the American social and political landscape, but we must be willing to commit to that revolution. Yes, the small victories are good where we can get them, but they cannot serve as distractions from the larger systemic issues at hand. We’re suckers for good optics, and they can be a quick adrenaline hit and morale boost, but they aren’t a panacea for oppression.
We have the momentum now, don’t stop with statues. It seems intimidating to challenge those larger issues, and there’s the very real chance that many of us could get hurt in the process, but don’t let that stop you. People constantly deride Millennials for “killing” certain industries, maybe now’s the time to go all in and bring it all down at once? The oppression of the people of color and of the working class.
Reach out, organize, and act. Millennials are rising like a great wave to sweep away the old and set the stage for something new, something better; don’t let it break and roll back to sea.
Control Your Past
July 25, 2017
You are not a statistic, you are a human being, that’s first and foremost. Your memories are not a commodity or a brand, they are deeply personal and not something for sale. At least, that’s the ideal. Unfortunately, in our cutthroat and rabidly nihilistic present everything is for sale and nothing is sacred. We’ll plunder your damn brains if it means a stronger bottom line. That is what is happening with the nostalgia-dominated culture. Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers all face an uncertain and existentially terrifying future. That’s not to excuse the casual racism or regressive behavior of some older people, but it is an understandable factor (that is, seeing the future and not understanding it and recoiling at the sight of it). For Millennials, we face some truly daunting prospects: college debt that may take decades to pay off, the possibility of never owning a home or being able to afford raising a family, or even achieving financial independence.
So, what does our bleak, probably cyberpunk future, have to do with nostalgia?
Some anthropologists theorize that nostalgia is an evolutionary survival trait. In trying times our ancestors fondly reminisced about the “good ol’ days” to not fall into a depressing death spiral, since that sort of thing usually resulted in starving to death and not living long enough to have children. We are living in our own trying times, and as a result we retreat to our fond memories usually in the form of an idealized past (be it the 1950s or the 1990s). This isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s understandable. The problem comes when nostalgia becomes a way of life. Trump rose to power on a fevered wave of nostalgia from older, white Americans that believe in some kind of idealized past from their childhood that completely disregards the racism and sexism and government-sanctioned oppression of political thought outside the norm (then again, that may have been a strong selling point, for some people). For Millennials, it’s the decay of culture. Not in some kind of neo-fascist, PJW-esque “postmodernism is the devil” way, but in creating a distinct culture that belongs to us beyond the past. In all fairness, culture exists on a timeline, but the problem isn’t just the loss of authentic culture, it’s more depraved than that.
What we are witnessing is the ultimate form of commodification. Politicians and entertainment magnates are all too ready to take the totems of our childhood and use it as a cheap power grab. Trump took a desperate and aging populace and used it to propel him to power. His vague and outlandish promises secured his regime, and in a way, Ready Player One is no different. The trailer opens showing a hellscape of stacked mobile homes in a dirty, industrial city and the protagonist retreats into a virtual reality orgy of nostalgia. The only thing missing is a healthy dose of an opiate. Trump and RTO are one in the same: things are shitty, but rather than look to the future let’s look to the past because it’s familiar and comforting, hell, let’s just pretend that things can be like they used to be.
That’s not to say we must discard the past entirely. I would love to see a return to Main Street USA and I would love to see the same kind of earnest, heartbreakingly honest culture of years past, but that doesn’t mean you just recycle the aesthetic; you draw from it and make something new that is independent of the past.
We are at a crossroads of dire proportions in human history, where forward thinking and acceptance of reality will be what saves us from extinction, not the quiet of backwards thinking and rejection of reality.
So watch The Iron Giant, and Hey Arnold!, but never forget that there are pressing matters to attend to, and eventually the present and imposing future will demand you take action – or else. And ultimately, take possession of your personal, private past. Those halcyon days are not something that should be bought and sold to the highest bidder. They belong to you, not corporations or politicians, and by giving those people power you lose a little bit of yourself. You allow yourself to become nothing more than a statistic in a larger demographic to be plundered and exploited.
Don’t lose yourself.
Birth of the Empire
July 4, 2017
Outside there is the sound of fireworks, possible gunshots and maybe some overzealous Michigan militiamen who have somehow obtained a small howitzer. On the TV there is an extraordinary display of light and fire over New York City while patriotic tunes are performed by a choir of West Point cadets, a band and a hair metal guitar solo. Between the fireworks there is the obligatory commercial montage. Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic, but when the same happens in other countries we either mock or cringe at the orgy of nationalism. Of course, it’s different because it’s the Fourth of July in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
It would be disingenuous to pretend that America has no redeeming qualities. After all, we gave birth to Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Levi jeans and took up the mantle when the European empires collapsed following WWII. Yes, American ideals like multiculturalism, civil liberties and a safe haven for the weird and oppressed are all good and well, but America also has a dark side. I’m not talking about the obvious black eyes like the genocide against the Native Americans or the crushing oppression of African slaves, I mean the legacy we have created for ourselves thanks to adventures beyond our borders.
Starting with the Monroe Doctrine in the early 19th century, the United States has decided that it will behave like any other empire while hiding behind a mask of righteousness and dedication to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Never mind the brutality at home and abroad, they’re mere hiccups and ugly footnotes in the republic’s glorious history. At least, that’s the attitude the majority of Americans seem to take. Yes, it’s unfortunate but it’s a learning process.
The Filipino Insurgency was a learning process. The Tuskegee Medical Experiments and the eugenics program were accidents. The overturning of sovereign democracies and backing of ruthless dictatorships was in the name of defending the “American Way” from the threat of…communism? Terrorism? Boogie man de jure?
So what does the Fourth of July mean for Central and South America? What about Southeast Asia? How is it celebrated by Native Americans on the reservations, or the African American living in the inner city patrolled by militarized police?
It means another year of business as usual, while people wave their flags and wipe away tears without consideration for what we truly represent.
This opinion is not a popular one, and I’m sure I will be branded as a manic anti-American who is anything from a communist to a terrorist sympathizer, but that’s no matter. Hell, not to lift myself to lofty heights but even the Founding Fathers were considered traitorous in their time. Seems like they were on to something. For a free democracy to not only survive, but thrive, dissent is necessary. Democracy without dissent paves the way for tyranny. It might be uncomfortable to be frank about our bloody history, but how does that discomfort compare to the amount of lives ruined or snuffed out in the name of territory or market expansion? Vigilance and criticism won’t change the past, but it could at least serve as a safeguard against future bullshit.
A little humility and embarrassment is better than continuing a tradition of oppression and inhumanity.
Happy Fourth of July.