This is section 14 of a long poem called “The War Place,” which tracks the prevalence of war in the history of the United States. One time I made a chart of the years of my life and the years that America was engaged in hot or cold wars during my lifetime. Between 1954 and that moment, there were very few years of peace, if we define peace as the absence of war. The final section of the poem addresses what I call “the war against haters,” a different challenge than the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs as some social campaigns have been framed. In the past few years, hate crimes have increased in number. Recent mass shootings and attempted bombings are just the latest evidence of heightened violence against people who are targeted for their religious or political beliefs, race and ethnicity, social activism in public or online, and other factors.
The War Against Haters
Morris Dees keeps writing to me from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama to say he has counted 926 hate groups in the U.S.A. and identified all kinds of people who don’t belong to groups but are just steaming on their sofas ready to blow if provoked by a shouter on cable TV or a knock on the door by a Census worker or another picture of our first black president, even if his mother was white.
One survey in 2009 “found that 21 percent of Americans believe President Obama is the Antichrist or may be” and a surprising number of people said they believe “he is not or may not be an American citizen.”
What do I do with a magazine full of details about creeping Nazi fever, anti-Semitic intellectuals, off-the-grid nativist vigilantes, homophobic skinheads, and wealthy donors to racist campaigns—pass it on, put it on billboards?
In his letter to me, Morris lists “What You Can Do” to teach tolerance: Speak up when you hear slurs. Eat lunch with someone new. Complain about stereotypes in the media. Examine your own soul and take a test at www.hiddenbias.org. Encourage police to call a hate crime a hate crime.
I should send him a big check, so he can put up taller and brighter lighthouses to shine on the slime, buy bigger excavators to dig the haters out of their bunkers, and mail copies of his magazine to every citizen.
Two teenaged sisters descended from a Klansman sing out for an Aryan revival. Swastikas get sprayed on synagogues in Washington. Twelve black men beat a white man with a piece of concrete in Buffalo.
Morris puts all this down “For the Record” in each issue. Why don’t I get this free each month from the F.B.I.?