Friday, April 01, 2005

Mainstreaming extremism

One of the more troubling realities about white supremacists, as I've written at length, is their seeming normalcy, and how it plays a key role in their ability to worm their way back into the mainstream of American culture.

An instructive example in how this works recently cropped up in Montana, where an avowed white supremacist is running for the school board in Bozeman:
White separatist Kevin McGuire has qualified to run as a candidate for the nine-member Bozeman School Board.

Four candidates filed papers as of Thursday's deadline to run for three open seats in the May 3 election, according to Lori King, assistant to the assistant superintendent for business.

McGuire, an activist with the National Alliance, which advocates creating a whites-only, non-Jewish society, responded to the Chronicle by e-mail, saying he was running to encourage school programs that "foster a sense of racial identity, pride and belonging."

"Our children are taught about the histories and cultures of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews and Native Americans but any sense of White racial solidarity or White racial pride is condemned as White racism; and that is not right," McGuire wrote.

"I stand against the homosexual agenda currently in our school system which not only preaches acceptance of homosexuality but actively encourages it."

Thirty-nine people, including a Bozeman teacher, signed McGuire's petition to be a candidate as he walked up and down South Third Avenue and nearby streets.

As Wulfgar says, this candidacy is a ripe opportunity for progressives to stand up to the growth of these kinds of forces. More to the point, I think they'll have a lot of support. It seems highly likely to me that McGuire will be trounced at the polls: I know my way around Bozeman a little, enough to sense that people there recognize that people like McGuire are blots on their communities.

Of course, it probably won't help McGuire that the voters who signed his petition are now saying they were bamboozled by his nice-seeming appearance:
Benjamin Bennett said he had a "horrible, sinking feeling" when he read Friday that a young white separatist had qualified as a candidate for the Bozeman School Board.

"I feel so taken for a ride," said Bennett, 33, an advertising agency owner.
Bennett was one of 39 people, living in some of the most liberal voter precincts in Bozeman, who signed the candidate's petition for National Alliance activist Kevin McGuire.

Bennett said three or four Sundays ago, McGuire and a buddy wearing a cowboy hat and long coat appeared at his doorstep. McGuire was soft-spoken, looked nice and neat, and seemed timid.

"I was impressed that somebody so young was trying to be on the School Board," Bennett said. "I asked why he decided to run. He said, 'I want to try to help the School Board evolve and do things for children.' ... He never said, 'I intend to educate children against homosexuals and Jews.'"

Another petition signed who was taken in by his "nice appearance" was the one schoolteacher on the list:
Rick Hannula, a Chief Joseph Middle School teacher, said he had asked questions before signing McGuire's petition. McGuire gave him the impression he was an engineering student at Montana State University, although MSU's registrar said on Friday that McGuire is not and has never been an MSU student.

"He said, 'I want to make some changes in the community,'" Hannula said. "I asked, 'Any other agendas?' He said, 'Well, I just want to make some changes.'

"He definitely was less than honest, by omitting what his agenda was," Hannula said. "I felt almost violated, used."

That is, unfortunately, exactly what these folks are all about: white supremacy itself is a profound kind of charlatanism, after all.

But even though McGuire will lose, his whole campaign will have accomplished exactly what it set out to do: Create an image of white-supremacist ideology as a normative part of the community, lending it an air of legitimacy it might otherwise not have.

Inch by inch, it worms its way in. What that means, of course, is that communities have to remain constantly on guard. After the campaign -- and during it -- will come a recruitment drive. They'll keep beating their drums. And as always, the answer is not to silence them, but to outdrum them.

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