This afternoon I attended a seminar called Hate Groups in the Wake of Charlottesville: A Community Leadership Briefing. The meeting was held at a local Jewish synagogue and attracted a fairly diverse crowd. The audience gathered to listen to a distinguished panel of speakers that included Joseph Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Oren Segal, the Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Joseph and Oren were joined by two local FBI agents, Kevin Fisk and Ben Egan, each with expertise in the areas of counter terrorism and civil rights respectively.
The seminar started with questions posed to the panelists. Several questions were about the “alt-right” (short for alternative right) movement. The consensus of the panelists was that the alt-right is a re-branding of white supremacy with slightly different tactics. The alt-right is specifically targeting younger people and is trying to mainstream their message. They rely heavily on social media as a recruitment tool and are boldly making their presence known on college campuses across the United States.
It was pointed out that the use of social media by extremist groups has the ability to unite individuals who are often isolated. In the past, extremist groups needed a charismatic leader to bring a group together, but social media provides a forum to connect isolated individuals and a platform to cheer each other on. For the first time, people in different geographical locations can unite and connect in their extremism.
After listening to the panelists, the audience asked questions. The question on everyone’s mind was, “What can we do to fight these extremist hate groups?” The panelists gave two answers:
First, we need to build communities that embrace differences. We need to support and encourage each other regardless of our ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender expression, ability, class, or other differences. When one community is targeted by hate, we need to surround that community with love and support. We unite and stay strong. We speak out against the hate.
Second, we need to talk to children and youth about these issues. The panelist pointed out that kids who are not well-informed about cultural diversity, or are not taught the importance of respect, are the ones who fall victim to the extremist groups. As parents and grandparents, we need to teach our children about the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Our voice needs to be louder and stronger than the extremist voices they might encounter in school, on the playground, on campus, or on social media.
Have you talked to your kids about the importance of diversity, equality, inclusion, love, and respect? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Make a promise to end the silence. Talk to your children. Read to them. Give them the tools they need to stand up to hate and fear. Model love and respect. Value equality, inclusion, and diversity. Show them that love conquers hate.