Registration is now open for the 7th International Conference on Hate Studies at Gonzaga University on April 20 to 22, 2023 Offered virtually and in-person and attended by people from all around the world, the conference, “is one of the leading interdisciplinary academic forums on hate, related social problems, and ways to create socially just and inclusive communities.” Our PJALS Executive Director, Liz Moore, will be part of the panel entitled “‘Formers’ Lecture Circuit and Community Dissent: A Case Study of Ex-Neo-Nazi Platforming” on Friday April 21 at 1pm.
The panel will focus on a conversation that was held by our organizational leadership with another university in October 2022. Around that time, a university representative contacted the PJALS Executive Director to garner support for an upcoming workshop on Seeds of Extremism and Healing Hate. As a part of this workshop, the institution was planning on hosting a “former” neo-Nazi speaker to talk about their personal transformation and journey through hate. This brought up several concerns that are important to highlight and reiterate as we continue the work of challenging hate.
First, this event had been attempted and subsequently canceled at an earlier date due to concerns about this speaker. Those concerns remained through this second attempt and persist today. We at PJALS were left uneasy about the apparent “endorsement shopping” as the request came to us and other organizations without mention of the previous cancellation and the concerns that led to that decision. We were left wondering: had anything been done to address the concerns raised before the previous cancellation? Had the event planners tried to reach out to those who were concerned or shift their programming plans in any way?
It’s not acceptable partner behavior to go “endorsement shopping” in order to try and drown out the voices of those who were worried the first time. Instead, we expect the event organizers to take the voices of our community seriously and thoughtfully, making changes to the plan that reflect these insights.
Secondly, we were concerned about the goal and approach of the event. A great emphasis was placed on empathy, which is necessary but completely insufficient to address white nationalist organizing and ideology. Analysis, strategy, and skill are also needed to counter these systems of organized hate. We were concerned that the focus on empathy without these other essential elements would set students up for failure, frustration, and even safety issues.
In contrast, there is a resource in a toolkit from Showing Up for Racial Justice’s (SURJ) entitled From Scarcity to Solidarity. This document discusses the “Great Replacement Theory” used by many hate groups to spread racist ideologies and countering them with campaign solutions grounded in multi-racial solidarity like “Affirm, Answer, Redirect” and “Build a Bridge” strategies.
Another contrasting approach is our own BOLD program. BOLD prepares volunteers to talk with voters about poverty and racism through a shared analysis and set of skills built through a five-week workshop series. We are using a “deep canvassing” approach, a tactic that is largely supported by research and technique.
In both of these strategic approaches, empathy is central but is only one of the essential elements. Finding common ground alone is not the solution; tapping into empathy and commonality is just one step of many.
In addition, the framework of “hate” used for this proposed workshop obscured the cultural, systemic, institutional existence of structural and ideological white supremacy and racism, only spotlighting the individual level. In this context, the micro-level (individual) experience becomes nearly meaningless without being situated in mezzo– (group) and macro-level (communities/governments) analysis and strategies.
We implored this hosting institution to ask themselves and their event team:
- What is the goal of this event for participants?
- If people come in rather uninformed about the issue, what is the main message they will leave with?
- How will that message inform their next steps to make a difference in their various roles as community members, people who may be in relationship with members of organized bigoted groups, members of professional associations, affiliates of this institution?
- Could this lead to people thinking they need to take significant personal risks in order to do outreach to those entrenched in organized bigotry?
- Are participants going to be supported and cared for if they find the event to be disturbing or unhelpful and if so, how?
Third, we were concerned about the speaker’s actual qualifications. We gathered that they had changed their perspective, but what analysis of white supremacy and racism were they prepared to offer? As a “former”, were they affiliated with an organization in their role as a speaker? Notably, there were and are a number of very problematic organizations working with “formers.”
We suggested that if this speaker wanted and wants to be of service, they may better choose to reach out to leaders in impacted communities and ask what they can do to help in small ways or if those people would want to discuss anything or want an apology, etc. Giving speeches cannot be equated with amends. Amends-making happens on victims’ and survivors’ terms.
We then asked: do they have the skillset to do that kind of amends-making without causing further harm? If not, we suggested seeking support in developing those skills to be a more appropriate alternative. It was and is problematic for them to be hosted in a position that provides them praise for having changed or to feel like they’re doing something for the movement towards racial justice and combating hate, particularly without really being responsive to those they’ve harmed who might have harder things to say to them.
In closing, it was and is the position of PJALS that we center and amplify the voices of victims, survivors, and those directly impacted by oppression. While we believe it is essential that those who choose to leave oppressive movements find healing and community when they leave, we do not believe that healing and community needs to, or necessarily should, come with a microphone and a role where they are centered or can continue to benefit from the harm they caused.