Among the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, one man stood out due to his “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. Its celebration of the Holocaust sent a chilling message about the sort of people who invaded the seat of American government in support of President Donald Trump.
Now comes word that the man is a Newport News resident. The anti-Semite next door. He was was arrested by U.S. Marshals on Wednesday on charges of violent entry of the Capitol without authority.
Sadly, violent extremism is nothing new to Virginia, a state that once took great pride in its reputation as the capital of the Confederacy. The commonwealth was no stranger to racial violence in the post-Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras, and at least 84 Black Virginians were lynched between 1880 and 1940.
Virginia’s woeful past includes the era of segregation, widespread racial intimidation and violence, as well as a romantic view of the failed secessionist movement for which some 30,000 soldiers from the commonwealth gave their lives.
Repealing Jim Crow laws and the process of integration lessened the violence but did not eradicate hatred in Virginia. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2019 that some 39 hate groups operated in the commonwealth. These include neo-Confederate groups and the Ku Klux Klan as well as modern incarnations, such as the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazi white supremacists.
The dangerous climate in America — the social and political unrest along with economic desperation — may help explain why these groups continue to thrive in a modern era, but they do not excuse hated, which must be stamped out wherever it takes root.
Yet, what we’ve seen in recent years is the resurgence of extremism, fueled by intolerance, and a frightening boldness in its practice. That the individual in Washington felt no shame about wearing clothing celebrating the death of 6 million people speaks volumes — about him and those around him.
That he lives in Newport News also reminds us that no community is insulated from the most depraved and disgusting political views imaginable. It challenges us to do better here to fight that hatred wherever we see it.
Because while encouraging tolerance and battling prejudice may been daunting on a national scale, everyone can make a difference closer to home, here in our communities, where we live, work, learn and play.
It begins with education, of course, including fact-based, clear-eyed instruction about the nation’s history. We should promote dialogue and discussion, especially by people of different backgrounds and experience, since understanding is the most effective antidote to intolerance.
The seeds of hatred are often planted early in life, and parents are encouraged to take an active role in their children’s lives — especially their online activities — to deter radicalization and recruitment. Big tech companies are unwilling to help, despite the certain knowledge that hate groups thrive online.
For someone already on the descent to extremism, the path to recovery is more challenging but still possible. People at risk should be engaged from a place of love and compassion, since aggression risks further radicalization.
But they should be confronted with the facts. They cannot be indulged since, like a cancer that goes untreated, it will result in further sickness, a sickness that infects others in that person’s proximity — loved ones, family members, friends and the community at large.
If you feel someone may be a threat to others, please contact the authorities. That’s especially important in this perilous moment. We cannot be is complacent in the face of such intolerance or turn a blind eye to others at risk.
The ugliness on display in Washington last week was disgusting, and it’s shocking that someone from our region would brazenly trumpet hate on his chest.
Countering extremism requires a community effort and difficult, sometimes uncomfortable work by us all if we are to build a commonwealth where hate has no home. We cannot shirk from the challenge.