On Thursday, CNN’s John Blake published a story blaming “ordinary people” for making Charlottesville possible, and quoting a history professor who called such people “white supremacists by default.”
“We are a country with a few million passionate white supremacists — and tens of millions of white supremacists by default,” Mark Naison, a political activist and history professor at Fordham University in New York City, told CNN. “You have to have millions of people who are willing to be bystanders, who push aside evidence of racism, Islamophobia, or sexism. You can’t have one without the other.”
Blake, the CNN reporter, paraphrased activists like Naison saying “the tragedy that took place in Charlottesville this month could not have occurred without the tacit acceptance of millions of ordinary, law-abiding Americans who helped create such a radically explosive climate.”
He argued that “it’s the ordinary people — the voters who elected a reality TV star with a record of making racially insensitive comments, the people who move out of the neighborhood when people of color move in, the family members who ignore a relative’s anti-Semitism — who give these type of men room to operate, they say.”
Throughout the article, Blake remained careful to acknowledge that these were the words of activists like Naison, rather than himself.
But at the end, he slipped up. “If you want to know why those white racists now feel so emboldened, it may help to look at all the ordinary people around you, your neighbors, your family members, your leaders. But first, start by looking at yourself.”
Blake listed four different types of “ordinary people” who abet white supremacy by their actions. First, he mentioned the “low-down segregationists,” white people who left the inner cities as black people moved in. Second, he pointed to those who say “yes, but,” criticizing anyone who pointed to violence on “both sides” of Charlottesville.
Third, Blake singled out “those who chose chaos,” blaming Donald Trump’s supporters for choosing a reality TV president who would bring chaos to the White House. Finally, he attacked whites who “look the other way” when someone they know is supporting white supremacist ideas. “This passivity extends to how people react when their country’s leaders become intolerant.”
In a country as large and diverse as the United States, and with the history of America, some people probably do look the other way rather than confronting white supremacists in their community. In the past 50 years, some whites did “flee” to achieve a de facto segregation.
Even so, Blake’s article still painted with far too broad of a brush. It is important for everyone to condemn racism, and not to encourage it in others, but articles like this perpetuate the Left’s fear that there are white supremacists “under their bed.”
Since Charlottesville, there has been a disturbing trend of clamping down on “hate” by supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that lists “hate groups.” Among true racists like the Ku Klux Klan and black supremacy movements, the SPLC also lists mainstream conservative organizations.
According to the SPLC, the Christian nonprofits Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Council, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), American Family Association (AFA), and D. James Kennedy Ministries are all “anti-LGBT” “hate” groups. The organization also attacks “hate” groups that expose the evils of radical Islamic terrorism.
Even so, mainstream media outlets like ABC, NBC, and especially CNN have also endorsed the SPLC’s hate list. Just last week, CNN posted the very “hate map” that inspired the 2012 terror attack on FRC, both on its website and on Twitter, with no mention of the fierce criticism SPLC has received over this labeling in the past.
The SPLC’s rush to condemn all forms of bigotry may be admirable, but it is itself guilty of bigotry. By comparing pro-family and other mainstream organizations to white supremacist groups, this rhetoric dials up the division, violence, and tribalism that have racked America for the past few years.
Such efforts also ignore the violence inspired by movements like Black Lives Matter and Antifa.
Claims of bigotry, such as the unthinking association of President Trump with racism, sexism, and “Islamophobia,” need to be challenged. Trump is by no means perfect, and his comments — “grab them by the p**sy,” “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims” — were undisciplined to say the least. But these errors, serious as they are, do not prove claims of sexism or Islamophobia.
The path toward peace and understanding does not involve pointing the finger at political adversaries and using conversation-ending words like “racist” and “homophobe.” CNN’s attempt to pull this maneuver on “ordinary people” across America will likely backfire.
The answer to tribalism is not more tribalism. Contrary to Antifa’s claims, “punching a Nazi” does not make an activist automatically on the side of the angels. (The Soviets, who under Stalin killed more people than Hitler, also fought the Nazis in World War II.)
Americans need to fight racism of all kinds, and especially the white supremacy visible in Charlottesville. But blaming the actions of a few on millions of “ordinary people” is a recipe for disaster, and CNN should know better.