One of the first thing prospective reporters are taught is the five W’s. Who, what, when, where, why.
We get to be pretty good at the first four. But the last one is often beyond us, beyond everybody except, perhaps, one person, or a few who are behind an act, a policy, a statement.
We consult experts for the “why” issue and the variety of answers we often get indicates the experts don’t have any firm answers either.
Sometimes the fault lies in ourselves as reporters. Sometimes the fault lies in ourselves as citizens. And in those instances that responsibility is with the public at large, not just those of us who record the sometimes unexplainable actions of our fellow humans.
Frazier Glenn Miller is the latest in a long line of figures whose minds are so far outside the norm that the vast majority of us cannot grasp what has driven their actions. Only a matter of weeks after the state of Missouri executed a man driven by hate, it confronts the case of a Missourian apparently driven by hate is accused of committing a terrible, terrible crime.
This scribe has stood in the park that was the Warsaw Ghetto. This scribe has walked through the remnants of Buchenwald, has looked into the open doors of its furnaces. This scribe has stood on the edge of the ravine at Wounded Knee. This scribe has been in the middle of frightening racially-fueled disorders in the 60s.
Hate is no more understandable after these experiences than it was the day a high school classmate said there would be “trouble” if some African-American workers building a new high school moved to our all-white Illinois town after the new building was done and enrolled their children. All these years. All this time. All these experiences. And no wise and learned person has been able to explain the “why” of hate.
We were looking at the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has compiled a list of 23 hate organizations in Missouri. Twenty-three. Seventeen are identied by the city where they’re located. More than half of them are in St. Louis (5) and Kansas City (4). That might not surprise many people. But the listing of two in West Plains and one each in Houston, Wentzville, Potosi, Wappapello, Branson, and Springfield might raise some eyebrows.
A Kansas City Star editorial today (April 21) refers to such group as “The Rats in America’s Cellar.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center goes back to 1971 when two lawyers, Morris Dees and Joseph Levin, Jr., formed it in Montgomery, Alabama, which the SPLC calls “the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement.” The group says its purpose is to fight hate and bigotry and to seek justice “for the most vulnerable members of our society.” It “monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public.”
The Center says the number of hate groups has increased by 56% since 2000. It also says the “Patriot” movement groups have increased from 149 groups in 2008, the year President Obama was elected President, “to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012.” For some reason, perhaps the fact that their activities did not prevent President Obama’s re-election that year, the number dropped to 1,096 last year.
What is behind all of this? The Center’s answer is a body blow to many of us and to those we cover.
The surge in hate groups, says the SPLC, “has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation’s first African-American president…The growth of extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive.”
And yet many of those who take advantage of this climate would be quick to tell you they harbor no personal ill will toward any of those whose existence has given rise to the fear and anger on which the media figures and politicians the Center mentions capitalize.
This climate is not new to Missouri, a place where slaves were imported in the early 1700s to work the eastern Missouri lead mines, a place where a Governor issued an extermination order target at Mormons who had come here to freely practice their religion, a state that once jailed a Catholic priest for preaching illegally, a state still wrestling with racial divisions within its big cities and hate groups even in some of our smaller towns.
Hate is never far beneath the surface in our world, in our state.
There is shame in exploiting that which the exploiters claim to abhor. And in letting them get away with it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center report on Missouri is at:


Heroes and bums

He would come into the little news booth at the radio station on Wednesday mornings and we’d talk about one of the darndest college basketball teams these eyes have ever seen. Sometimes he’d bring a player with him, which more than filled the little booth for the three minutes or so that we talked with Coach Jonathan Staggers of Lincoln University during basketball season.
In those days, Lincoln University basketball was a major community event in Jefferson City. One night, when Lincoln played rival Tennessee A&I, I got there a little late and was among the crowd standing three-deep under the Lincoln basket in the first half. The second half lasted only a couple of minutes before the opposing coach took his team off the court after disputing a referee’s call, and forfeited the game.
Lincoln averaged 108.3 points a game that year, topped 100 in twenty of their 28 games.. One night, I watched them hang up 75 points in each half.
Staggers believed in three passes and a shot. Forget this dribbling stuff. “We’re going to press them from the minute they get off the bus,” he said in one of our interviews, talking about a big game coming up that week. Press, run, shoot. Win. Lincoln was 25-3 that year, lost in the Division II regionals to Southwest Missouri State, which finished as the national runner-up. And they continued the run-and-gun, triple-digit scoring the next year when they went 20-3
Some longtime Missouri Tiger football fans might remember his son, Jon, as a Tiger football star in the Dan Devine Days. But this reporter will always remember his dad, the coach, who often talked as much about character as about the upcoming games. He once said one of the messages he preached to his players was, “You can’t be a hero on the court and a bum in the classroom.”
He left a few years later to coach at Hayward State, and died in 2001 at the age of 77.
All these years later, those words come to mind every time some college athletes with million dollar bodies act as if they have twenty-five cent brains. “You can’t be a hero on the court and a bum in the classroom.” Or anywhere else, frankly.
It was a life lesson, not collegiate advice, that he was giving. Most people get it. A few never do. And they’re not all athletes.
Glory once tainted, however, might not be lost. And failure early need not be failure always. Perhaps all who seek that glory of the young should be reminded of a verse from A. E. Housman—

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows.
It withers quicker than the rose.

Whether in collegiate sports or adult politics, the coach’s words and the verse of Housman reminds us that the fame of the moment is likely to be temporary. But character will be a constant.

Notes from the front lines

–being some miscellaneous notes not requiring more than a line or two.
Today is “Dog Days” at the Capitol. Are we the only ones with a sick enough sense of humor to think the serving of hot dogs as part of the event is kind of, well, funny?
The Senate had advanced a bill shrinking the size of government by eliminating three handsful of advisory boards and watchdog committees mostly populated by House and Senate members. One of the entities getting the axe is the Joint Committe on the Reduction and Reorganization of Programs Within State Government.
State senate debate twice within the last few days has turned into shouting matches that so violated chamber decorum that the bills being discussed were withdrawn from discussion until the combatants got a grip on themselves or other senators got a grip on them.
The situation became so ugly in one of the incidents that the Senate stopped all activity until the participants could be taken off the floor and, we are told, restrained by other Senators until some level of sanity was resumed.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Senate was a place where grownups served.
But at least the Senate was working. The House decided attending the Cardinals’ home opening game was more important than doing the public’s business. Instead of coming into session at 4 p.m., give or take, on Monday, the Reps didn’t start their work week until after 7 p.m. after many members had had enough fun at the ole ballpark. When the House did go into session, one resolution was adopted. One bill was taken up and was promptly laid over. The most important thing the House did was take attendance, which entitled members to collect their $104 per diems for the day.
And, oh, yes, we have a Representative who’s been charged with DWI. Twice in recent weeks.
This is the time of year when the Capitol is awash with school children. If we are to believe what the lawmakers who represent them say, they are at the Capitol to see their legislature in action and to learn about how government works.