White supremacy and its many cousins (white nationalism, racism, etc.) have been making high-profile comebacks in recent years. Feeding on insecurities, hatred, and racial pride, the movement lures mostly white men into small bands dedicated to “maintaining” or “protecting” the supremacy and way of life of white people through intimidation, hate speech, and sometimes violence.
It’s tempting to think nothing is being done to limit the activities and effects of white supremacy and racism. With all the indications of systemic failures and abuses, we can even conclude that all our institutions and institutional leaders are at least indifferent, sometimes complicit, or even actively supportive of anti-Black aims and agendas. Seldom is justice “swift.” Even less seldom do we see justice unfolding in public view. Our understandably urgent hearts wilt a little each time we see steady media coverage of another act of racist terrorism followed by a long media silence regarding law enforcement action. We forget what Dr. King so eloquently taught us: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Then, by God’s grace, as if out of nowhere, like a sunrise peaking from under the violet cover of night, we get glimpses of what the Bible teaches us: “The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame” (Zeph. 3:5). That’s how it felt to read to recent articles about legal victories against white supremacist groups.
Two Encouraging Stories
The first was the story of Taylor Dumpson, former student and first African-American female student body president at American University. Ms. Dumpson just won a $725,000 judgment against Andrew Anglin, publisher of the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. The Daily Stormer incited a “troll storm” against Ms. Dumpson shortly after she was elected student body president in May 2017. After bananas with racist epithets were hung from nooses around campus, Anglin doxed Ms. Dumpson and encouraged followers to harass her. They did, causing Ms. Dumpson to fear for her life and suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
But quietly, beneath public notice, Ms. Dumpson’s attorneys pursued justice against Anglin, The Daily Stormer, and their financial supporter, Moonbase Holdings. And they won, making three successful cases totaling nearly $20 million in damages against the white supremacist outfit. By God’s grace, some of these groups are starting to get hit in the pocket book.
Others are starting to see sentencing and jail time. That was the focus of a second story featuring U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen. Cullen had responsibility for the Federal prosecution of James Fields, Jr., the white supremacist who drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of protestors in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer and maiming several others.
But soon after taking over the Fields prosecution, Cullen directed his team to pursue prosecution of four men seen repeatedly on video beating, choking and stomping women, priests and others at protests. The group called itself the “Rise Above Movement” (RAM) and was based in Southern California. Cullen resorted to a 1960s-era statute designed to curb anti-Vietnam protests to prosecute the four men for crossing state lines to riot and incite violence. It was the first time the statute had been used to charge and prosecute a violent white supremacist organization. The article quoted Cullen, a Trump appointee, as saying:
I could care less about politics. Hate crimes and violence by white supremacist organizations that qualify as domestic terrorism are way up. Prosecuting them is common sense. It’s the right thing to do.
While efforts to add hate crimes charges failed this time, the four members of RAM received sentences ranging from 27 to 37 months.
A Couple of Reflections
We have a long way to go in pushing back white supremacist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist and other forms of bigotry and hatred. Though these groups remain small in absolute numbers, the digital age has enlarged their reach and influence. Besides, the issue has never been total numbers. The issue has always been the terror and violence they inflict on others. It only takes a handful of hateful people to terrorize an entire community or to make hatred socially permissible, even justifiable in the minds of those they corrupt. So we have to keep pushing against these dark forces.
At the same time, stories like this help us pause to recognize we’ve come a long way too. One of the successes of the Civil Rights Movement was the creation of the will and the apparatus for legally prosecuting such people and groups. Prior to the CRM, we had no real voice and no real rights to be protected. As one Supreme Court Justice infamously remarked, “A black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” That’s the legally compromised situation we’ve come from and we’re still reaping (albeit slowly and sometimes in small doses) the benefits of those hard-fought legal cases championed by the likes of Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and others. We need to keep using these strategies and build on the victories we’ve inherited from those who’ve gone before us.
Finally, we must “keep hope alive.” Jesse has his issues, but he could drive a truth home with a simple but important phrase. Life is too short and too hard to live without hope. Hope is the currency of an otherwise broke people in a monied economy. Hope is the medicine used by a people battered and tortured in anti-Black world. Hope is the poetry of people squeezing blues and gospel out of arrhythmic clanging shackles. We don’t always see progress with our natural eyes, but hope allows us to see and walk by faith. No matter what’s going on, we always have reason to:
sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Ultimately, our hope, just like our singing, finds its inspiration in a God who himself is the one who actively bends the moral arc of the universe toward justice. It’s no lifeless force or fatalistic design that does so. It’s the true and living God who is at work. We have this truth to keep us: “For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off” (Ps. 37:28). God’s justice sometimes sneaks ahead quietly, but it is certain.