Creighton professor sees rise of white nationalist hate rhetoric

The U.S. attorney general announced initiatives to deter and report hate crimes in the U.S.
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 10:39 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Dr. Guy McHendry makes his living trying to understand how hate is communicated to the world.

And in the case of the racism-fueled murder of 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store, his gut response wasn’t much different from most other people.

“I think just profound sadness that, it’s again. And it’s again. And it’s again.”

In his research as an associate professor in communications study at Creighton University, McHendry has seen the rise of violent, extremist movements, seeking higher political profiles and recruiting more people, fueled by the ways they promote hate and racial conspiracies through social media.

“(They) have this really savvy awareness that a lot of their language is really unfavorable to a lot of people,” McHendry said. “And so The Great Replacement, or versions of it, are them trying to find ways to make at its core a very racist idea sound palatable, especially to moderate folks.”

In his trip to Buffalo to confront the situation and comfort the citizens, President Joe Biden spoke clearly Wednesday about what he saw.

”What happened here is simple and straightforward. Terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism.”

Biden’s words in Buffalo, McHendry said, are not in dispute.

“One of the hard things is that especially our nation post-9/11 through the war on terror is that our definition of terrorism have become really expansive,” McHendry said. “What you want is to prevent government power, being used in this kind of fluid moving sense so that you know anything can qualify as if a prosecutor or a politician wants to make that case. But that said, we know that white supremacist violence is a problem in the United States, that often its goals are to terrorize minority communities, and push them to live in fear and, I mean, that’s terrorism, right? So I think that’s a really important conversation we need to have with some immediacy and not something that we should toss down the road.”

McHendry also said he understands the fearful comparisons some make between white supremacists in the U.S. today and the Nazis during World War II.

”For the most part, our political operations have prevented that kind of a large spread violent campaign with the resources of the government,” he said. “But if you look at the last two decades, it has been very violent, a lot of those fueled by racist beliefs.”

So what are the answers?

McHendry said a well-defined policy to fight domestic terrorism needs to happen now, and with Friday’s announcement from the Department of Justice focusing on domestic terrorism and bi-partisan support for the Domestic Terrorism Act, the U.S. seems to be on that path.

As for us as individuals, if we see someone we know engaging in hateful rhetoric, McHendry says we should intervene.

“I would really say it’s important that if you see folks starting to use this kind of language, especially people you love, people in your family, that it’s not that they’re a lost cause,” he said. “One of the most meaningful things that we can do for those we love is if we see this is we can talk about it, we can engage with them and we can intervene. And it’s not an easy thing, right? We shouldn’t expect immediate results, ideas like expect somebody to go, ‘oh, you’re right, I’ll leave all these Facebook groups’ or whatever, but it is worth us doing that labor, because it will really help the larger community, and they need us.”

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