Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Why Do Right-Wing Extremists Still Surprise People?

 I've been thinking about the right-wing terrorist attacks at the Capitol building last week.  The number of news articles, people in real life, and instance of Internet Commentary I've seen saying "We had no idea they would go this far!" truly astonishes me.  The lengths to which right-wing terrorists have always gone, however, does not surprise me.  (That link is to a literal list on Wikipedia of domestic terrorist attacks.)

Right wing terrorists have always been in the background of my life. For over twenty years, every synagogue I've entered has had armed guards at the front, who interrogate you and search your bags. Sometimes they won't let you in if you don't seem Jewish enough.  Before I hang up a Hanukkah decoration, I ask myself it will lead to these kinds of people vandalizing my house? Will this be the day someone leaves a burning cross on my lawn?  Is it safe?

Is this a Leopards Eating People's Faces kind of thing?  Suddenly it's real to people that those bigoted wastes of oxygen might harm them, instead of other minorities somewhere else?  I get why the police like to ignore white supremacist groups but... how does everyone else?

And now a brief story:

Twenty years ago, I was a college student in France.  I was travelling to Germany via Strasbourg, and tried to go to services one Shabbat.  The security guards- who are usually whatever ethnic minority in that country does the most menial labor, were Maghrebain.  (In the US, they're usually Black; in France, they're usually North African and Muslim.)  They interrogated me, checked my passport, called over a couple of older congregation members, and argued for a while.  

Finally, one of them said "Well, it doesn't say in your passport that you're Jewish."

I literally saw red, hissed "In AMERICA we don't put yellow STARS on the Jews' passports," and marched out the front door.*

Security theater!  It's the best!

* Yes, I was aware that there were stamps in Jews' passports that were not yellow stars; I was being dramatic.


  1. What's surprising to me is how government has bent over backwards to accommodate them. I'm too young to have been around for the Klan being mainstream, so my formative recollection is We Ain't Comin' Out, Texas with the Branch Davidians. This whole letting extremists plot insurrection with a huge arsenal-- that part is what I'm having trouble reconciling. Though recently I have realized harshly that my 40ish years on earth are just a little unusual blip of things getting better. I'm still adjusting. My mom, of course, is not surprised since she has more perspective.

  2. Yikes, you hit a nerve here, I practically have steam coming out of my ears. Sorry if anything comes across as rude - it is not directed at you (you just got me thinking about this stuff).

    I am not surprised that people are surprised at the "sudden" eruption of violence. It's always has been that way, everywhere. I'm thinking Europe in the 30's. I am thinking America unwilling to get involved in WWII. The willingness to "see no evil", the willingness to look away and pretend nothing bad is happening - as long as it doesn't affects us directly, as long as it's not in our front yard. So yeah, those crazies have been around forever, but we always pretend like they don't exist until... well, until they are knocking down our doors. And then, yeah, omg, how shocking, how could this happen here, in the capital of democracy, yada-yada.

    BTW, really like you story about attending Shabbat services while travelling... I had a sort of mirror-experience. I went to a synagogue in Rome, >20 years ago, for Rosh Hashanah. My future husband was supposed to meet me afterwards right outside. We didn't realize the whole block would be surrounded by Italian police. They wouldn't let him through - when I went to look for him, after waiting for a while at the main entrance, I saw him in a heated argument with an armed policeman (who was holding on rather tightly to his automatic weapon).

    Also, I hear you about wondering if it's safe display anything Jewish-like to decorate the house - I don't do it at all. For Hanukkah, we light the candles near a window that doesn't face the street. I never talk about being Jewish at work.

    1. I have, in fact, never put up a Hanukkah decoration anyone could see! The last time I lit a menorah in a window was in the Northeast, where they close the schools for the High Holidays.

      And the rest... yeah.


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