It’s Real

People who use social media to organize often refer to the crucial moment when someone steps out of the blogosphere and converts their online communication into real-life action.

Sadly, accused murderer James Von Brunn did just that Wednesday when he shot and killed African American security guard Stephen P.  Johns at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

In a place meant to honor the millions who died in the Holocaust, Von Brunn set out to make his lifelong vow of hatred for Jews horribly real. After shooting Johns, Von Brunn was shot and wounded by other guards before he could make good on his plans to kill others at the museum.

From his extensive writings on the Internet and from notes later found in his car, Von Brunn’s rampage appears to be linked to President Barack Obama’s appearance last week at the notorious Buchenwald death camp in Germany. In a speech there, Obama and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denounced so-called Holocaust deniers (like Von Brunn) who say it never happened.

The ugly truth is that the number of threats against Obama have skyrocketed since Americans elected him in November. One noted criminologist even chalked Wednesday’s murder up to what he called “the Obama effect,” which attempts (rather clumsily) to describe the uptick in racial trash-talking since Obama became the country’s first black president.

It’s quite evident that the Internet provides a ready forum and handy organizing tool for the rising number of racist, anti-Semitic haters out there.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to say what they want on the Internet. I would never say that.

But I do want to express my disgust at those who pooh-pooh the connection between the hateful things people write online and actual events like the murder of Johns – and the possible murder of many others – at the Holocaust Museum.

The groups who track hate online on sites like the one Von Brunn maintained have long warned that events like this were coming.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Los Angeles Times that the nonprofit group had tracked a sharp increase in what it considered right-wing hate groups over the last eight years — from 602 to 926.

A “confluence of factors,” Potok told the Times,  appeared to be fueling the growth — including anger about nonwhite immigration, concern over the deteriorating economy, fears of new restrictions on firearms, and the election of the first African American as president.

“We may well be seeing a perfect storm of factors that favor this movement,” Potok said.

Contrast that with those on the right, many of whom simply laughed a few months ago at a Department of Homeland Security report that warned economic and social conditions “presented unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”

Now there’s no excuse – we know it’s real.  So can we please stop pretending that the hate people spew online means nothing?

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