Tag: ending violent extremism

This Vice News Documentary on Racism Looks Chilling

And it’s time for media to put the same spotlight on all forms of hate.

HBO’s Vice News program will begin airing a documentary tonight (8/16) that promises to take an unflinching look at the white supremacist terror movement. The program will include interviews with white supremacists and footage recorded during the explosive and fateful events of the previous several days in Charlottesville, Va.

HBO has put an extended preview of tonight’s episode on YouTube.  I urge you to watch it, but be warned that it is shocking material that could be considered NSFW and unsuitable for younger children.

This is important and timely journalism from HBO.  It’s very likely that a large number of Americans are unaware that the views espoused by the subject of this piece are anything more than throwaway dialogue for historical fiction.  Those who say that the best way to banish these idea is to apply the Voldemort defense — “don’t speak their name because it gives them more power” — are wrong.  More light.  More shame.  More perspective on how small they are compared to the largeness of those who disagree with them.

Vice should also assign a team to compile a similar unvarnished, unfiltered perspective of groups that the left is now holding up as heroes who are in fact not heroes at all.

A primary role of the press in a free society is to raise an alarm when threat to the greater society surface.  The mainstream national media is doing an excellent job running the siren about the boldness of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. They are, so far, doing a fairly awful job when it comes to sounding the alarm about any hate rising in the left.

In fact, the same righteous charge leveled by nearly every mouth talking on CNN Tuesday at Pres. Donald Trump, that his remarks to the press on that day drew inaccurate and immoral equivalencies between white supremacists and antifa thugs that were warring on the ground in Charlottesville, could also apply to their chorus of outrage.  The president’s equivalency wasn’t just immoral, they cried, it was invalid and false to its core because white supremacists are stand for hate, and antifa is about standing up to hate.  Compounding their flawed logic was a wave of social media posts welcoming antifa into the club of heroes that includes U.S. soldiers who fought and died to defeat fascism in World War II.

(Local coverage in cities like Seattle, Portland, and even Berkeley, where the have been face-to-face with left-wing anarchists and antifa thugs tends to be much less afraid to call a spade a spade, or a nail-studded two-by-four a weapon, as is often the case. Direct experience is a potent ingredient in producing honest journalism.)

The problem is that if we’re going to be a society that really does seek to guard itself against hate, it won’t work for the media to be so exclusionary about what it will allow to be labeled hateful.

Whether hatred coalesces like an oily choking smoke cloud around race-based hate or class-based hate, white supremacy or Marxism, really matters less than the hard truth that each of these hate groups targets for demolition the same common set of core values: freedom, equality and tolerance of different opinions.  These hate groups descend from lines of virulent thought that have stacked up staggering body counts.  The fact that they and other opposing groups on the extreme wings are at war with each other shouldn’t trick us, and especially the wise sages in the media, into being stuck with only one white hat and one black hat to use in talking about them.

For Extremism to Fall, Civility Must Rise

It’s time to revoke the moratorium that intellectuals and political thinkers have imposed on a certain mode of argument. From here on out, we should talk openly about the dangers that extreme political groups pose to democratic societies, even if that means we need to talk about (gulp) the lessons that include the history of Nazi Germany.

I want to say at the outset that, although this should be obvious, the United States is not now Nazi Germany. Despite all attempts by the left to portray the U.S. as a teeming majority racist country, there is no evidence that is true, even with the surge in growth among hate groups in recent years. Similarly, conspiracists on the right who project Nazi-esque totalitarian motives onto liberals and Democrats are unhinged and misguided.

Nor does it seem likely that even in the unlikely event that America descends into extremism it would ever feature horrors on the magnitude inflicted by the 20th century’s ethno-fascist powers; our demographic diversity is a bulwark and a deterrent.

Nevertheless, is should be clear that something is not right in the U.S. body politic. It’s time for a sobering check and to consider the true condition of our political health, even if doing so requires denying ourselves to daydream about what we wish it to be.

Not only because of Charlottesville do we need this examination, but also because of Oak Creek, and Dallas, and Baltimore, and so many other recent moments in which hate boiled over and erupted into uncivil violent rage. Charlottesville was a focal point of white supremacist hate; there will be others. Now is the time to condemn that particular brand of evil, but we can do more than one thing at once. We are, after all, Americans. We fought fascism in two hemispheres; we can identify and defeat it on two poles of the political continuum here at home, too. We only need to be brave enough to face it directly. It’s time to face the reality that the dark forces are conducting their war on the fringes but through the middle of the political landscape. There are real potential concerns if the middle doesn’t take steps to confine corrosive insanity to the edges.

The real danger posed by these extreme groups is not their direct impact—their raw influence is overstated, partly due to tactical shrewdness on their part and partly due to media amplification. Under normal circumstances, the clear majority of people intuitively recognize extremists for who they are and insert proper distance from them and their views. But today’s circumstances are far from normal. The real danger posed by extreme groups is different today than in the past 20 years because it manifests at a time when extremists warring in the streets occurs against the backdrop of hyper-polarized politics in the middle (relatively speaking) of the spectrum.

Political machines making maps to nowhere

There are entire machines inside of mainstream politics working to ensure that people see Democrats or Republicans as sympathetic to one extreme or the other. They are good at what they do.

The political maps generated by millions of social media posts, emails, and other forms of messaging is, to be fair, useful—the groups on the fringes are bad folks—but each side isn’t handing out the same map.

Republicans look across the line to see a movement that runs through Black Lives Matter, Linda Sansour’s Women’s March, and culminates in groups such as Antifa, the Muslim Brotherhood and the BDS movement.

Democrats stare over the barbed wire and see the Tea Party, President Trump hardcore base and the NRA coalescing into the alt-right, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

When there is blood in the streets between the extremists (as there was in Charlottesville and has increasingly been in clashes around the nation), the political maps come out. Enemies are identified and history tells us that far too often we use the oft-misleading rationale that an enemy of our enemy is our friend to enter uneasy and unhealthy alliances. We recognize how that method of calculation can backfire by reviewing the checkered realpolitik track record in foreign affairs. It is also the domestic political trapdoor through which the German establishment fell in 1933 and all of the world fell through it with them as the Nazis rose to full power.

German politics in the interwar period—the years between World Wars I and II—were chaotic. Here’s a speed course through the history. Conservatives and progressives tugged back and forth over bitter divisions for control of the parliament; Communists and the fledgling National Democratic Socialists (Nazis) fought violently in the streets for control of towns to gain footholds. Communists and Nazis each accreted a small base of power, and in the end, the balance of the German establishment’s concern went to its fear of communism. The more conservative elements reluctantly hopped into bed with the Nazis who promptly fulfilled their end of the bargain. This bit of Joseph Goebbels speaking in 1933 conveys the story well.

(Hat tip to Ben Shapiro for including this clip from a 2005 British-made documentary “Hitler in Colour” on his very fiery podcast today and prompting me to use it here.)

What do we take from this? Only that democracies aren’t invulnerable and a small or divided political center (in terms of dialogue, not beliefs of agenda) can be manipulated to follow its own interests straight to destruction.

It might be comforting to soothe oneself into blissful ignorance by picking up the flag of American exceptionalism and hugging it like a security blanket, believing that the mere existence of the values the nation was founded upon really do have magical prophylactic characteristics to repel viral forces as they emerge. (Constitution! Kills pesky extremism on contact!)

Because we’re immersed in an automated, push-button, retail on-demand world, it may have become very easy to also think of our way of life as self-cleaning. At times pundits promoting confidence in the durability of our system even speak of self-correction to quell fears about how far instability can really take us.

In reality, our system is not self-correcting at all. Our system requires real moral leadership and real will within the public to utilize the tools the system has provided to cause a correction to happen.

In order for that moral leadership to coalesce, it might be best to set aside Pollyannaish talk about how checks and balances and the oh-so-parchmenty substance of the Constitution form an impenetrable defense against threats to real freedom coming from several directions.  In short, it’s time for us to heed Sinclair Lewis’ warning and stop telling ourselves that it can’t happen here.  It—fascism, whether on the right or the left—can gain a foothold anywhere and when even a nation’s “mainstream” political dialogue becomes nothing more than artillery-grade name-calling across a deep and polarized policy divide, the ground becomes a little too fertile for extremism to grow.

We can do things in an effort to ensure that it won’t happen, but waiting for our leaders to adjust their behavior is not one of them. The hard, cold fact is that politicians are more responsive than they are proactive; they react to stimuli. Pat them on the head for a good deed and they do more good deeds. Smack them on the nose… you get the gist. It is necessary for all people, on both sides, to draw the same tough line for themselves and their political friends as they draw for their foes.

We have everything to gain and potentially so much to lose. Other generations have done their part to preserve the nation. If this is the most ours must do—to let each other know that extremism doesn’t have a home in any legitimate political movement—we’ll have drawn the short straw.

Gen Next Taps Power of Private Sector Brain Trust to Tackle Public Sector Problems

Though some political and cultural commentators bemoan what they see as reluctance within Generations X and Y to pick up the leadership chain that is each age’s responsibility, there is a group working diligently to accelerate the process of recruiting individuals to affect real change on crucial issues facing future generations.

Gen Next – with operations in Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, and Arizona and roughly 150 members nationwide – is an invitation-only nonpartisan organization started in 2008. By focusing on the widescreen issues of education, economics, and global security, Gen Next serves a vital function for a select group of entrepreneurs who are compelled to understand, engage and get involved in the process of finding solutions to big picture problems.

In an interview last week in Seattle, Gen Next CEO Michael Davidson described to me his organization’s role as that of both an educator and a facilitator for its members.

“The busiest people are the people that you need engaged in these types of issues,” Davidson said. “They need to have an intellectual framework for their own success, whether it be how they’re going to raise their kids, how they influence their networks, how they run their companies… the way they lead.”

One way Gen Next helps provide that intellectual foundation is by creating exclusive programs with first-tier resources and information. (Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, CBS news correspondent Bob Schieffer, and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld are among those who have presented to Gen Next members.)

“We did 100 programs last year and we expose the members to these ideas, people, and decision-makers in a way that expands their mind, their access and their view of how they can be influential,” Davidson said.

Maximizing the impact Gen Next can have requires finding a select type of individual, according to Davidson, one who has achieved a high measure of personal success (the $10,000 annual membership ante is its own evidence of that qualification), has an intellectually curious and forward-thinking nature, has a passionate spirit, and has a capacity to have fun (in Gen Next, the hard work put in toward big picture goals requires an esprit de corps).

A Gen Next member is one who, in the opinion of Davidson, will use the tools knowledge and understanding to forge pathways with their influence and create new solutions.

“You can’t just be an intellectual and sit on the sidelines,” Davidson said.

Gen Next regional director Chris Reigelsperger echoed the sentiment. “When you identify and take a remarkable person, give them the tools, the information and the network… they’re going to do some pretty incredible things,” Reigelsperger said.

Based on output from recent work of members globally and in Washington State, the Gen Next model for high-impact activism is functioning as intended.

Gen Next members were instrumental in the effort to reeducate Washington State voters about last year’s state income tax proposal and the negative effect such a tax would have on the state economy. The Defeat 1098 campaign drew heavily upon the talent pool represented within Gen Next’s Seattle membership.

Last month, Gen Next was involved in the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, Ireland, an event organized by Gen Next member and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen to begin solving the puzzle of how to unring the bell that is calling so many youth around the world to a life of violence. From The Washington Post:

Technology giant Google, having conquered the Internet and the world around it, is taking on a new challenge: violent extremism.

The company, through its eight-month-old think tank, Google Ideas, is paying for 80 former Muslim extremists, neo-Nazis, U.S. gang members and other former radicals to gather in Dublin this weekend to explore how technology can play a role in de-radicalization efforts around the globe.

The “formers,” as they have been dubbed by Google, will be surrounded by 120 thinkers, activists, philanthropists and business leaders. The goal is to dissect the question of what draws some people, especially young people, to extremist movements and why some of them leave.

At least in terms of binding ex-extremists to a common cause, the effort appears to have produced results. In the wake of the horrific attacks in Oslo, Norway that left 93 dead, “The Formers” issued a joint statement condemning the acts regardless of the ideological or political motivation of the assailant.

Gen Next is also following through to finance a project conceived at the Dublin summit, part of a broader effort with Home Box Office and Tribeca Films to produce a series of public services announcements weaving together the stories of former extremists. Gen Next members are also being enlisted in the digital strategy to complement the effort.

In Washington State’s near future, Gen Next is eyeing education as an area in which ambitious leadership is needed. Taking action to improve the situation for future generations is a consistent motivation for Gen Nexters.

Smartsheet.com founder Brent Frei, a Seattle member for the past year and a half, sees involvement in Gen Next as a way to fight for his childrens’ future in a way that maximizes leverage of his scarce spare time.

“I have four small children now,” Frei said in a telephone interview. “I desperately want them to grow up in a better world. It’s a pretty good world, but I want it to be better. To do that I need to be very proactive about making a positive difference.”

With so many options available for becoming engaged in solutions, Frei chose to accept the invitation to join Gen Next. “It was clear to me that Gen Next has a structure, but more importantly it has the right kind of people to amplify my influence,” Frei said.

Gen Next looks to add as many as 30 new individuals to it Seattle membership, and also has goals to grow in San Diego and Arizona before expanding into the rest of the United States.

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