This week, we hear from David Schoen, email@example.com a Minister for Church Legacy & Closure, UCC Church Building & Loan Fund.
The attack upon our National Capital on January 6 brought to the forefront of our nation’s attention the threat of violent paramilitary and white nationalist groups to our democracy. The impact of these groups is felt not just in Washington, DC but throughout our country and local communities.
How do communities of goodwill and faith deal with white nationalist and paramilitary organizations down the street?
This past October, the Washington State Three Percenters (WA3%), a far-right, anti-government extremist militia sponsored an armed, anti-government rally protesting COVID public health protections. Originally to be located at the Deer Lagoon Grange on South Whidbey Island, the protest rally was moved after many community members expressed grave concern to Grange leadership.
The Deer Lagoon Grange, down the street from where I live, is part of the National Grange agricultural movement, and has been a rural community organization in South Whidbey Island since 1927. The Deer Lagoon Grange, like many organizations in past years, has experienced a decline in membership. In November 2020, however, the Grange received new members including several members recruited by the WA3%.
In response to the WA3% protest rally and the rise of religious nationalism, local island clergy wrote and published a Call to Hope & Action in November. The call expressed concern for post-election chaos and violence, spoke to the grief and fear of the pandemic, and called for support for victims of racism and oppression, and commitment to ongoing healing work in the community.
At the same time, a group of local residents on the island formed a group to “Reclaim the Grange”. A petition was written to submit to the local, state, and national Grange organization expressing concern about the growing relationship and participation of WA3% in the Deer Lagoon chapter saying that the far-right militia threatens the South Whidbey Island as a welcoming community with values of safety, equity, and inclusive democracy. Calling upon the Deer Lagoon Grange to continue its history of being a welcoming and accountable organization that honors public health guidance, the group also encouraged local residents to apply for membership in the Grange once a safe atmosphere and process can be assured. The petition was signed by 651 individuals including 510 signers from South Whidbey, a good response from the local population. The president of the Washington State Grange organization has been receptive and positive to the petition and in December wrote an opinion piece published in The Seattle Times lifting up the Grange’s values of tolerance, civil discourse, and common good.
White nationalist and extremist groups have significantly increased and been emboldened in recent years. A “surging” racist movement continues to be driven by “a deep fear of demographic change” according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Since 2017 there has been a 55% increase in white nationalist hate groups, 182% increase in incidents of the distribution of white supremacist propaganda, and an increase in the number of rallies and demonstrations by white supremacy groups, “We are seeing an increase in the public expression of far-right, white supremacist ideological viewpoints,” (John Cohen, former counterterrorism coordinator, U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
More and more communities like South Whidbey are dealing with the increased presence and activity of white nationalist groups. For example last year, residents of a small rural village in Murdock, Minnesota were startled when the Asatru Folk Assembly, identified as a white supremacist hate group bought an empty church building for organization meetings.
How do communities of goodwill and faith deal with white nationalist and paramilitary organizations down the street? Here are some thoughts based on what has happened on Whidbey and other experiences,
- Study the root causes and history of white nationalism and racism
- Reflect on racism and nativism in yourself and organizations in which you participate
- Support those most vulnerable to the impact of white nationalist and racist organizations
- Learn from the experience and wisdom of people and communities of color that have confronted and continue to confront racism
- Encourage study and discussion of racism in families, schools, organizations, and churches
- Find allies with common vision and values
- Organize positive actions to counter white supremacist and groups promoting violence
- Stand up and speak out for inclusive, uniting, just, and anti-racist values
- Expect backlash and threats; report threats to authorities
Remember the riveting words and presence of Amanda Gorman, who spoke her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at the President’s Inauguration in January.
“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:
A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation…..
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.”
4 thoughts on “White Nationalists Down the Street”
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Thanks for this! What I would expect from you. Discover little of this here in the Valle.
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David! Thank you for this article! It is both timely and essential reading for the entire church.
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The fact that the group purchased an old church building may be significant. In a previous parish a similar group purchased an old church and declared it their church, giving it a religious sounding name. This kept it off of tax rolls and the leader of the group purchased an ordination on line, which took his home off the tax rolls because it was the church parsonage. The group also qualified for all the other tax breaks of a church. Of course their church status set them above civil authorities and only under God’s rule. They did conduct regular services and sacraments. One Sunday when I came to unlock the door to my office and looked down the street I saw several squad cars of various agencies with lights flashing as they had come to arrest the pastor and his daughter. Long story for another time. Some of us have been aware of these groups and watching them for many years. Think back to the OK City bombing.
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