Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Country Run By And For Neo-Nazis Is Not Worth Living In

Micah Smith reads a poem on the train for Memorial Day, 2016 Source: Common Dreams

The Portland, Oregon stabbing of a trio of unrelated men determined to protect two young women from a white nationalist with a knife has been on my mind this week. A steady stream of hate language, threats of violence and violent assaults have marked the era of the demagogue with bad hair; statistics indicate that all are rising as our society descends ever more rapidly into chaos.

I can't help thinking about the hijabi and her friend, Destinee Magnum, Black teenagers attacked by an angry white dude, seeing two of their defenders stabbed to death on the train.  According to the Seattle Times, Magnum describing the run up to the knife attack, "'He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country."

"He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.” My reaction: just like teenage cyberbullies commonly do.

The survivor's guilt and residual fear of the two girls must be profound.

Micah Fletcher, the young man with autism who survived Jeremy Christian's attack with a stab wound to the neck, told journalists of the two girls, "They got hurt, too" and also, more poetically:
I want you to imagine that for a second, being the little girl on that MAX. This man is screaming at you — his face is a pile of knives. His body is a gun. Everything about him is cocked, loaded and ready to kill you.

Perhaps it is image of the melting pot boiling over that stays with me, like a tragic one act play with an especially diverse cast: middle aged Catholic Army veteran Rick Best; recent college graduate Taliesin Mryddin Namkai Meche who was a spiritual seeker among many traditions; award winning poet Micah Fletcher who is just 21; and a 35 year old neo-Nazi who brought a baseball bat to a white supremacist rally earlier this year.

My white privilege allowed me to believe for years that the future of the U.S.A. lay in the direction of tolerance, meritocracy and justice for all. That dream has been slowly dying for a while now.

There are also the victims to be found among the families of the two men who died.

Photo source: Best family

Ricky Best was married to an Asian woman and he was the father of five bi-racial children. The irony of his not dying in Iraq or Afghanistan during 23 years in the military but on a commuter train in Oregon is a theme that haunts me. If I were his wife or child or sister I would be proud of his heroism and also very, very angry. I imagine that I would berate him mentally for stepping into the path of deadly force instead of popping in earbuds and turning away from trouble like most commuters do. 

Photo: Beth Nakamura
Talieisin Meche's mother wrote an open letter to the demagogue with bad hair, the man who many see as uniquely responsible for the flood of openly racial hatred polluting the airwaves. On Memorial Day she wrote of her son and the other two heroes he never had a chance to know:
They recognized the truth: we are more alike than we are different. 
To ride the train home without being assaulted because of the color of your skin or your religious beliefs, is an inalienable right.
In her letter Asa Deliverance appealed to the demagogue's "leadership" and implored him to condemn hate speech and hate crimes. Personally, I wonder why she bothered. Probably writing the letter and signing it "With Peace in My Heart" was an act of healing. A grieving mother is uniquely qualified to interpret her son's death thus: "he, along with the other two men, has changed the world, when in the face of hate he did not hesitate to act with love." 

Unfortunately, hate can and does change the world, too.

The murderer gives every indication of being not only fueled by racial hatred but mentally ill as well. His ranting recorded in police custody included the ill-advised wish that everyone who he stabbed would die. His ranting recorded in the commuter train was a laundry list of the type of thing you can hear on right wing radio any day of the week: "This is what liberalism gets you" and "Go home, we need Americans here" and "Pay taxes!"

Then there are the unsung heroes, the other passengers who chased after the ironically named Christian, who called 911 and made sure he was apprehended.

I suppose that is the part of the narrative that has grabbed ahold of me and won't let go. In the darkest of times, upstanders act without planning to do so. They may have internalized, as I have, the infamous Holocaust warning:

Because what causes people not to speak out is, of course, fear. Fear that they will be the one bleeding out on the floor after the stormtroopers have come and gone. Fear that their children will be orphaned, or that their mother will live out her days with a hole in her heart for the beloved child she lost.

But when the fear of living in the kind of society where thousands (millions?) of unemployed Jeremy Christians are armed and pumped up on hate messages ("cut down the tall trees") outweighs the fear of drawing violence on our own self, people like Micah Fletcher act.

They didn't set out like suicide bombers do to become martyrs that day. They may even, like Fletcher, critique the "white savior complex" they perceive in liberal Portland.

When they jump in front of the knife, they're not just defending the teenagers; they're defending their vision of how life ought to be.

Maybe in some way they're expressing that a country run by and for the Jeremy Christians is not one worth living in. Amen to that.

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