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 targeted 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: