The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, March 16, 1998, Page 5, Image 5

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    Hidden thoughts hurt
Repressed fears fuel racial problems
senior news-editorial
major and a Daily
Nebraskan columnist.
It was probably the most diffi
cult interview I’ve ever had to pre
pare for.
Two weeks into my research for
a report on Internet hate sites, I sat
at my desk, phone by my side, gaz
ing at the phone number for the
main chapter of the Aryan Nation’s
Church of Jesus Christ Christian.
The interview questions were
written below the phone number of
the assistant pastor of the church.
But other questions bounced
around in my head, inquiries that
could not be scratched out on
What will a conversation with
an active member of a group
devoted to intolerance be like?
Will he be a raving lunatic? Will
he attempt to convert me to his
point of view, rambling on and on
about the “evil” minority element
in our society? Will he be hostile?
Aggressive? Rude?
Visions of burning Southern
churches, Nazi rallies and angry
marchers with raised fists danced
in my head. Images of the scores
of hate sites I reviewed for the
report - the hateful rhetoric, the
ghastly illustrations, the anger and
fear portrayed in them - crowded
my memories.
And I began to wonder if I
could maintain my composure
while talking to a representative of
a group whose basic core beliefs
stood in such stark contrast to my
But after about an hour, the
interview was over. Actually, it
was fairly painless, much to my
surprise. The person who answered
the phone didn’t sound like a rav
ing madman. His speech and man
ner seemed sane enough. He might
have been a neighbor I stopped to
chat with on the way to the mail
box or a student from a class of
mine who passed me on the way to
the Nebraska Union and stopped to
talk a while.
In fact, it was the very “nor
malness” of this 30-year-old father
and husband that stood out for me.
He was an “average Joe.” A
golf-club repairman living in
small Northwestern town
with his wife and his 5-year
old daughter. He goes to
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good days and bad ones
just like the rest of us.
And it’s that average
makeup that revolves
around the whole issue
of intolerance.
Because if big
ots and those
filled with intol
erance glowed
in the dark, it
would be a sim
ple matter of
spotting them,
avoiding them and
not falling prey to
the web of half
truths and lies
they spin.
But as this
man demonstrated,
those filled with hate
don’t stand out from the gen
eral population, from the res
of us “average Joes.” These
people work beside us, live
among us, share our con
versations over coffee.
According to an Internet orga
nization called Hatewatch, there
seems to be a hate organization for
everybody. Like the bars that line
the roads outside some military
bases, there’s one for whatever
tastes a person has. Hate sites and
group subjects vary from the well
known white supremacist organi
zations to anti-homosexual groups
to sites devoted entirely to bashing
Bill Gates with darts. (I guess the
Web surfers don’t have Barney to
kick around anymore.)
And the more I pondered the
fact that most of the people
belonging to these groups devoted
to hate and bigotry were probably
indistinguishable from anyone
else, the more I came to pity this
assistant pastor I interviewed. He
talked of his experiences living in
the inner city of Phoenix. He
spoke of the fear he had for his
family and little girl - fear of ris
ing crime, fear of the violence and
drug use he saw on the streets of
his home touching his loved ones.
Manv of this nation’s citizens
live in the same fear and apprehen
sion. We watch the news reports,
the trials of 12-year-old killers
who led miserable lives them
selves. We hear of carjackings,
gang-related drive-by shootings
and young people dead for nothing
more than the jacket on their backs
or the party they attended.
As parents, sisters and broth
ers, sons and daughters, we all
worry. We all hope the ones we
care about will be safe from harm
in a world that appears at times to
be steadily falling apart.
But the answers don’t lie in the
falsehood of isolating a single
group of people for blame. The
color of someone’s skin or the
ancestry of someone’s family can
not be realistically singled out as
the cause of society’s woes.
Most reasonable people know
this, at least on an intellectual
level. But Bob Wolfson, director of
the Anti-Defamation League in
Omaha, pointed out that the dan
gers of intolerance reside not in
the extremist viewpoints, but in
more-subdued philosophies.
Many people don’t consider
themselves neo-Nazis, Wolfson
said. These people simply live with
a pervasive “insider/outsider”
mindset. And
it’s this
basic, repressed mistrust and
reliance on stereotypes that is the
true danger of intolerance.
In other words, normal people
with normal problems and a rising
fear of things beyond their control
are the real core of hate in
Fear can do odd things to a per
son’s mind. Some studies have
shown, for example, that many
Caucasians experience apprehen
sion when approaching a group of
young blacks on a street at night.
However, the vast majority of vio
lent crimes occur when the perpe
trator and victim belong to the
same racial group, according to
FBI crime reports. So where does
the fear come from?
Fear certainly is not exclusive
to a single group of people, just as
hate and intolerance transcend
race and ethnicity. Perhaps it’s just
easier to fear - and maybe even
come to hate and blame - a single,
concrete cause for what we see
happening to our society and our
loved ones. Perhaps it’s easier to
point at a group of people and say
it’s because of them that we lost
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assaulted or that our neighbor
hoods aren’t safe.
Because if we can place the
blame, it follows that the answer
should also be easier to find.
Surely it’s a lot easier than exam
ining the complex socioeconomic
roots underneath our real fears.
The Nazis had a name for that
answer. And despite reassurances
that group was solely responsible
for “the final solution,” many of us
forget that an anti-Semitic atmos
phere of subdued fear and hatred
existed in Europe and the United
States long before the first death
camps were erected.
The viewpoints of that assistant
pastor and his organization and the
myriad of similar groups dedicated
to intolerance don’t exist in a vac
uum. They merely serve as a
reflection of a more pervasive, and
in the end, a more dangerous, less
visible problem.
And, just as a virus, the prob
lem has the potential to grow and
develop to an all-out disease,
killing our collective minds and
bodies if left unchecked by the
“regular Joes,” the “normal ones,”
in our society.
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