by William Deatherage, Executive Director
Note: For the sake of broadening the lessons we can learn from this scenario, and to further prevent smear campaigns against all parties involved, I have omitted all names from the descriptions of this altercation.
“Non draco sit mihi dux.” The Benedictine phrase, roughly translating to “Let not the dragon be my guide” holds great relevance in a day and age when truth seems so hard to find. We live in a time when hate disperses love, evil is disguised as good, and falsity obscures truth. Despite this, many scholars claim that we live in perhaps the most peaceful time in human history. But make no mistake. A war is brewing. Its warning signs are around us, and the Catholic Church is moving into the crosshairs of a very ugly battle in the United States, whether we like it or not.
Racism is tricky. Every day, allegations of discrimination pop up at an alarming rate. It appears that no one is innocent from harboring some sort of ill will towards a minority group. In a culture that touts love, acceptance, and mercy towards all, it’s almost like we make a sport out of rushing to condemn others as “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” (etc.) at the first chance we get. The same media that once broadcasted Pope Francis’s famous “who am I to judge?” quote has taken a sharp turn away from his wisdom. This was aptly demonstrated earlier this week at the March for Life, when pundits and commentators were quick to judge a high school boy, but were slow to retract their accusations, even once fuller evidence disproved them.
Before I go any further, I must mention two things. First: racism is very difficult to prove for certain. It resides in a person’s inner conscience, making it highly unreasonable to accuse them of harboring such a maleficent and detestable world view based on a single experience. We must always remember that racism, sexism, homophobia, (etc.) are very serious charges that, if true, imply sins of the greatest severity that contradict God’s law to love one another. Sure, we can draw some assumptions based on patterns of behavior, but when a few seconds of footage is published, it seems like media outlets everywhere somehow gain the ability to read minds, or even souls. The second point I would like to make is that I am a Mexican American in a predominantly white college. I also grew up Catholic in a very secular state. I have served on civic advisory boards that specifically promote diversity, and I have even engaged in diplomacy with different cultures. Because of this, I would hope I have a decent understanding of minority relations.
By now we’ve heard the story (and hopefully seen the video) a thousand times. Here’s the sparknotes version:
- Short video clip comes out showing a Native American Elder performing a song at the Lincoln Memorial. In the video, a white student wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap stands in front of the Elder smirking.
- In interviews, the Elder claims that the student and his cohorts surrounded him, mocked him, and began shouting demeaning phrases, such as “Build the wall!” during his performance.
- Social media explodes, condemnations are quickly issued on Twitter, and schools threaten expel the students.
- In between this time and the next segment, the students receive hundreds of death threats, insults, and derision from the national media.
A few hours later, more footage surfaces, totaling over a couple of hours. Here is the sparknotes version of that footage, as well:
- MAGA cap wearing students are harassed by a group of protestors who identify themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites. They are recognized by some as an extremist hate group who believe that African Americans are descendents of the Israelites. The African American protesters shout obscenities, racial slurs, and demeaning remarks at the students.
- The students retort with school cheers.
- The Native American Elder inserts himself between the two groups in an effort to allegedly promote peace between the opposing forces. He walks up to one of the students, banging a drum near his face.
- The student smiles as others question the situation out of confusion.
- All in all, there has yet to be a sliver of evidence that shows any students surrounding the Elder, who willingly inserted himself into the crowd. Likewise, there is no evidence of students chanting “Build the Wall” or “Trump 2020” as was initially claimed by the man.
- Day by day, since the altercation, even more statements from the Elder have been debunked as false.
Before we delve deeper, let’s take another pause. I cannot say for certain that these kids are not racist, just as I cannot attest that any of the writers on this website are not racist. Again, racism is deeply rooted in conscience. It is not our place to immediately label people as such, though it is perfectly acceptable to label actions as racially insensitive or demeaning. A key aspect of Catholic Social Teaching is the ability to separate the person from the action during evaluation of wrongdoings. This is an integral part of my analysis, as I will be disregarding any background information brought to light about the students or any seemingly “racist” behavior witnessed at their school. We must also recall that the media did not care about the students’ backstory or history before issuing their judgments. It was only after the initial clips surfaced that they began scrambling for information. This, combined with the Elder’s seemingly blatant slew of misinformation is what concerns me above all. But again, I must stress that I simply seek to evaluate this one situation, the media’s response to it, and why I think this will lead to a war of pen vs. pen: nothing more, nothing less.
I’d like to address and refute three statements I have heard many commentators repeat:
- The kids instigated it. Their expressions show disrespect to the Elder and are an implicit display of racism.
No they didn’t. Perhaps they could have handled it better, but the same can be said about nearly any social altercation. Their expressions reflect confusion and bewilderment. Mine probably would too. In fact, I cannot even say for certain that my response would have been as measured. No insults were hurled by any of the kids (as far as the video shows). If anything, these kids remained quite calm, especially for an age group that is characterized by intense emotion. They should be commended for not responding with hate, and should not be punished for an Orwellian “face crime.”
- It does not matter if they were guilty or not. They were wearing MAGA hats and should be ashamed. MAGA hats are symbols of racism.
I have yet to hear a valid argument for the alleged “racism” of President Trump. Rude? Arrogant? Disrespectful? Possibly. Even xenophobic might hold some merit. But racist? As a Latino who owns a MAGA hat, I have yet to hear any logical arguments that would put the President on par with the likes of segregationists. In fact, I would say that characterizing President Trump as a racist is a grave disservice to the victims of actual hate crimes, which have indeed plagued our nation’s past and left wounds that are still healing. Furthermore, I have heard some commentators liken the MAGA hats to Klansmen vestments. I cannot even begin to express my disappointment at this statement. To equivocate Trump supporters to Klansmen is not simply a disrespect to his voters, but is perhaps a far greater insult to all who died at the hand of this malicious group. The fact that good citizens will believe this false equivocation is a testimony to the concerns of fear mongering that I will raise later.
- Because of their racism, they deserve no forgiveness. Their careers should be over.
Tolerance, love, and compassion are all words that were crammed down my throat when I was young. Growing up Catholic in Portland, Oregon, I saw none of such qualities demonstrated to me by activists. Let’s say for the benefit of the argument that these kids were indeed in the wrong. Let’s say that the headlines broadcast mere hours earlier that day before full footage was shown were correct. Since when is it tolerant, loving, or merciful to end the livelihoods of high school kids for acting in a stupid manner? Should they be punished? Yes. Lectured? Certainly. Suspended or even expelled? Possibly. But broadcast for the whole nation to see, ruining their futures? For a foolish mistake? The word “tolerant” does not seem to depict the punishment well.
I began this post with the notion that a war is coming and that the Church better prepare for it. To be clear, this is not a crusade we should be excited about, rather it is an unfortunate conflict that we are being sucked into. Many Catholics I’ve spoken to are afraid to use political terms with theology. However, I assert that application of faith is a pillar of the Church, who is called to make an active difference in the world. Additionally, Americans suffer from a habit of conceding that “both sides are wrong.” As uncomfortable as this may seem, this is rarely the case, and it usually leads to a great distortion of how things usually play out.
Before calling out certain political stances, I must draw attention to previous articles where I have, indeed, criticized far-right Catholics and the problems of exclusivity in general. Additionally, I cannot stress enough that most leftists do not exhibit the behavior below. I have never met a student who seeks to promote the travesties I reference below. However, part of polarization is extremism, and extremism can prove a powerful force. I will condemn the actions of right-wing Nazis and Klansmen in a heartbeat. Today’s spotlight, though, falls on the far left media. The Church ought to avoid both extremes. Here are my concerns:
1. Intimidation Tactics: The far left media is encroaching on freedom of speech through intimidation tactics in an Orwellian manner. The same could be said about the far right in years past (the 1950s were rife with social pressure and anti-Russian witchunts, ironically), but this trend of virtue signaling and identity politics has taken a sharp left turn recently. A trend I’ve noticed is the increasing ad hominem attacks against individuals who disagree with the mass media’s opinion. Essentially, disagree with CNN, and you’ll be labeled a white supremacist. The logic of “All Trump supporters are racist” does not flow excellently, and it seems more effective as a fear tactic, rather than a reasonable statement. Media and mass manipulation are becoming one, and it is certainly not in favor of the Church.
2. Targeting of Catholic Activists: The far left media is trying to scare us from being politically involved. Think about it. The March for Life hardly received any media coverage, except for this one instance. Meanwhile, New York makes headlines for its decriminalization of abortion a couple days later. It is apparent that the far left does not want people to know of the March’s existence, unless it suggests that conservative Catholics are really a bunch of racists. And the choice to publicize a high schooler? A student, of all people? The Elder’s narrative certainly didn’t match up with the facts, and it only adds further suspicion of his motivations to speak out. All Catholics should feel immense fear at this intense distortion of facts in favor of an alternative story. A few months ago, I covered the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. At that point, I thought the media hit a new low that would be impossible to approach. Little did I know that a short time later, they would go after a high school student. Between this and the Kavanaugh hearings, what young Catholic would ever want to step into the realm of politics, let alone March in a parade if it will destroy their future?
3. A Brave New World: The far left media is attempting to build its own model of ethics, and it appears to be quite faulty and inconsistent. It is interesting that many comments read, “these kids should respect their elders” when the same camp has quickened the demise of respect of authority, property, and the family. Over the course of the last couple decades, Judeo-Christian culture have vanished from the media’s favor. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it also means that a new narrative must replace the old one. However, this new system of ethics appears to be rife with contradictions: A society of tolerance without tolerance of oppositional thought. A society of truth built on relativism. A society of morality without any moral backbone. How the Church will fare in such a society is up to us…
Often when I watch the news, I feel fear. I fear for my friends, my Church, and my country. But even stronger than this fear is a feeling of powerlessness. So many innocent people are dragged into the spotlight of politics when they never asked for such fame. All I can do is watch the spectacle and wonder if anyone I know or love will be up there. I sometimes wish I could take up their cross.
I may be powerless alone, but together as a Church we are a force to be reckoned with. We cannot just pray for people. We must stand up for them. In all honesty, the March for Life is often a bittersweet experience for me. While I adore seeing thousands of young Catholics march to save babies, I cannot help but ask why it is only on this one day that we gather to advocate for such pressing issues. Perhaps it is only fitting that this incident occurred when and where it did. Perhaps it should serve as a reminder that we must look after the people and values we cherish constantly, not just in one march.
To defend truth is to defend the faith. We cannot blindly follow trust or follow anyone. That includes the media, President Trump, money, or any of our earthly heroes and desires.We cannot be sheep to anyone except for Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is the truth. This truth is being threatened every day by politicians and mass media empires who wield pens and keyboards mightier than any sword could be. Our shield is our reason, and I encourage all Catholics to take up arms of knowledge to counteract the falsities that plague our daily lives. However, this battle will not be won by hatred, fear, or anger. It requires patience, love, and an energy that requires immense courage and dedication. I, for one, will not be silenced. I will not be intimidated. I will not be stopped. The war is coming. Bring it on.