Beware of the merchants of fear

Published 8:19 am Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I have written before about the inherent racism of our Confederate monuments and so the protest and the violence Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia was not a big surprise for me.
The surprise is the vehemence of the hate.
Last year, I briefly covered the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana. As part of that coverage I attended a debate at Dillard University featuring David Duke. Duke, of course, is a notorious racist and Dillard University is an historically black school, so needless to say, there were protests.
But the protests I saw had none of the rage and venom of the man himself. During the debate—a debate held in an empty room due to safety concerns—we journalists watched, in a screening room, as Duke repeatedly cut off other politicians and ranted about the plight of the aggrieved white person.
At one point, he said, “We’re getting outnumbered and outvoted in our own nation.”
Duke, of course, was in Virginia on Saturday, encouraging the racist throngs to protect the state of Robert E. Lee.
This is why those statues must go.
There was a time when the South was segregated by race, and those monuments were meant to signify that and their supporters long for those bygone days. Today, as society is beginning to change, some people are getting uncomfortable.
For Duke, the removal of these statues is shorthand for a lot of things. It symbolizes the decline of blue collar America. It reflects the drug abuse, the joblessness and all the other woes so prevalent in the heartland because to him, the root cause is the same: people who do not look like him and who may not be able to speak English.
For Duke and people like him, he can point to the removal efforts and work up outrage in himself and in an audience. I saw him try to do it in Louisiana.
He is a merchant of fear, selling his goods with a side of outrage. If people are afraid, he figures, they will vote in the strongest, loudest voice in the room.
He is not wrong and he is not alone. Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist, also broadcasts fear loudly in order to sell a product.
Volume aside, the idea of an ever-present existential threat to our country and to our people is itself dangerous. If enough people believe the only way of survival is by electing dangerous, dim-witted leadership then we’re all in trouble. As it stands, one person is dead in Charlottesville because the driver of a car was so wrapped up in identity as a white man that a counter-protestor was too much of a threat for him.
I don’t know why this fear is spreading. But, it is spreading.
Closer to home, a right-winger in Texas, Preston Wiginton, tried to organize a “White lives matter” protest at A&M in September. On Monday the university cancelled the event, though Wiginton has promised to sue the state over the matter.
The very notion that white people are being systemically disenfranchised by society is itself laughable, except it is not a laughing matter because there are some violent, racist people out there who do indeed believe this.
There is a lot of talk about fake news this year, but so far as I have seen, people in the media have not pushed back on this narrative of aggrievement by some in the alt-right community. But it is only so much fake news.
It is all the more tragic, then, that this fake news had real consequences.
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed because of it.
Jesse Wright is editor of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at

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