Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia and one closer to home, should once again remind us of the power of words. Words can inspire, uplift, and heal us. They can also drive wedges between us, incite violence, and sow fear.
The angry words of hundreds of Neo-Nazis marching in a torchlight parade in Charlottesville last week reminded us of Germany in the 1930s. They chanted anti-Semitic slogans attacking those of the Jewish faith. The words brought into stark focus just who and what the alt-Right were. The euphemistic term “alt-Right” was always just a cover for calling white nationalists and white supremacists by their true name.
It was the same face of hate, the same words of intolerance the world had heard before. Our nation had gone to war and paid a heavy price for the spell those evil words had conjured in Nazi Germany. Why was it rearing its ugly head again on our shores?
The next day we saw more of the violence the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists had brought to Charlottesville. We saw the killing of an innocent woman, Heather Heyer, just 32 years old, and the injuring of dozens more by one of these thugs.
It would take the president of the United States two days to read from a teleprompter a true condemnation of the violence. It would take only one day more for his words to repudiate his own statement and send a chilling shock wave through the world. Donald Trump chose to give aid and comfort to the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists by drawing a false equivalency that their actions were mirrored by the counter-protesters and that there were “many good people” on both sides.
No Mr. President, there are no “good” Nazis or KKK members. What they stand for is evil and by their adherence to evil they are themselves evil. The President could not even come to mention the women who lost her life to these people by name. These were not the words of a President trying to calm a situation or to heal a nation. These were the words of a president intent on dividing a nation for his own ends.
As the nation and the world recoiled in horror at the president’s words, he did what he always does and tried to distract and change the subject. Suddenly Nazis marching and committing violence in Virginia, chanting their hatred for Jewish people, was all about preserving southern heritage, protecting monuments to the mythos of the “Lost Cause.”
Then came the terrorist attack in Spain and the president did not have to wait two days, just two hours, to condemn it as terrorism. He then repeated a story he had told during the campaign, a story he knew not to be true. It involved a famous Missourian, General John J. Pershing. The myth was that Pershing had fifty Muslims shot with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, which is considered unclean, while putting down an uprising in the Philippines in 1899. The president then claimed it stopped radical Muslim’s from terror for the next 25 years.
The entire story is fabricated and false, without even a bit of truth. The fighters were not radical Muslims, but trying to throw off American rule as they had opposed previous Spanish rule.
But words matter. They can incite hate and fear.
That was the president’s goal, not solving the problem of terrorism. If he thought dipping bullets in pigs’ blood would stop terrorism by radical Muslims why has he not ordered the military to do so? It is because he knows he is telling a lie—a lie to make himself look tough and decisive instead of weak and bumbling. Estimates vary, but it is likely that only 1% of American Muslims condone or applaud violence like we saw in Spain. But Trump would rather risk driving that number higher than miss driving a wedge and ratcheting up fear to ingratiate himself to the howling base that sustains his political power, albeit diminished.
Finally, our lesson last week on how much words matter, wound its way back to another Missouri native, this one of our own century. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal of St. Louis County, known for being an outspoken person, made the mistake of posting a comment on facebook that she wished someone would assassinate the president. These words brought swift condemnation, even from members of her own political party, who believe she should resign or be ousted. The incident was seized upon by Fox News and other right-wing news outlets, who played it up to show how Democrats were inciting violence, again trying to use it to justify the harsh hate filled rhetoric we heard in Charlottesville.
Senator Chappelle-Nadal took the comment down and publicly has said it was a mistake. But she has refused to apologize. The inability to apologize for one’s mistakes is unfortunately a trait she shares with the president. Words matter, even those that remain but for an hour upon an electronic cloud. The senator will no doubt be hearing from the United States Secret Service and could well be ousted from the State Senate, a heavy price for ill-posted words.
We have all learned something from the incidents of last week. We have much work to do to eliminate Nazism and white supremacy from our own country. There is much we must do as a people and as individuals to heal our nation and to bring people together. The president and many other politicians, who rely on hatred to fuel their grasp on power, will never be part of the solution when they are a part of the problem. Hopefully, we have all learned that even when our words are confined to a sound bite on television or a 140 character tweet that what we say and write—our words matter.