by Chitown Kev
One of the most predictable reactions to the terror attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has been the deluge of commentary on Southern racism. I've reacted to some of that commentary much as Dr. Dubois reacted to questions about "Southern outrages" over 100 years ago. More often, I breathe the heaviest of sighs and throw sideeye at the laptop screen. As Adam K. Raymond of New York magazine reminds us, even if one limits the field of white supremacist terror attacks to black and/or mixed-race churches in recent memory, the American South has some company.
July 16, 1993 — A group of eight skinheads is arrested after the FBI uncovers a plot to bomb Los Angeles’s First AME Church, kill its congregation with machine guns, and assassinate Rodney King in an attempt to ignite a race war.The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains a database of what it admits to be "a fraction" ofreported hate crimes and incidents. I can't help but note that a number of 2015 reported racist hate crimes and incidents occurred in California (including multiple racist hate crimes in the Bay Area), Connecticut, Maine, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Maryland.
August 13, 1993 — Three men use a burning cross to set on fire a Fort Dodge, Iowa, church with a mixed-race congregation.
March 26, 1997 — A 23-year-old man is the nation's first arsonist prosecuted under the federal Church Arson Prevention Act after he burnt down a black church in Henderson, Nevada.
November 4, 2008 — Hours after President Obama’s first inauguration, three white men in Springfield, Massachusetts, doused the partially constructed Macedonia Church of God in Christ in gas and set it ablaze.
I was assaulted and called a "nigger" by a probable skinhead over 20 years ago in a Chicago -el station (an incident that I did not report and that I, quite frankly, barely remember).
This coming Friday marks the 16th anniversary of the murder of former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a 21-year old white supremacist terrorist and native of Wilmette, Illinois (a wealthy Chicago North Shore suburb). At that time, CNN reported:
SKOKIE, Illinois (CNN) -- Three Chicago-area police departments were looking Saturday for the driver of a blue car they believe is the link among several drive-by shootings, including one that killed a former college basketball coach.At that time, I was a resident of East Rogers Park. As that muggy Friday evening (yes, it wasmuggy) turned into Saturday morning and as news of the drive-by shootings in West Rogers Park and the murder of Coach Byrdsong in Skokie began to dominate the news, I doubt that many Rogers Park residents felt safe that July 4th weekend; after all, Rogers Park was (and is) easily the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Chicago and one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the country.
Minorities were targeted in each incident Friday night, all occurring within 12 miles of each other.
Six Orthodox Jewish men walking home after Friday services were shot and wounded in the first incident, in northern Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. A man and a 15-year-old boy were reported in serious condition, and two men in fair condition, after four separate incidents; two more men were treated and released.
Later, former Northwestern coach Ricky Byrdsong was hit in the back with a .22-caliber bullet near his home in suburban Skokie.
"Ricky Byrdsong was walking in an area near his home with family members, when he was fired at least seven times," Lt. Barry Silverberg, detective commander for the Skokie police department, told CNN on Saturday.
Byrdsong, 42, was taken to Evanston Hospital, where he died during surgery at 12:42 a.m. CDT (1:42 a.m. EDT) Saturday morning.
Police said a vehicle matching the one witnesses described from the previous shootings was later involved "in a traffic dispute" in suburban Northbrook, and the driver fired a number of shots at four Asian males in another vehicle. None were injured.
Seemingly overnight, Rogers Park became a target-rich environment for a white gunman that obviously had it in for racial minorities.
Benjamin Nathaniel Smith's acts were "acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law" that were intended to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" and that occurred "within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S." a.k.a domestic terrorism (at least as defined by the FBI nowadays).
These 1999 white supremacist terrorist acts were not committed by someone born and raised south of the Mason Dixon Line or with Midwestern white blue-collar roots:
Smith was born and raised in Illinois. Until two years ago, Smith, his parents and two younger brothers lived in the fashionable Chicago suburb of Wilmette.Benjamin Smith's terrorist rampage continued into downstate Illinois and into Indiana. From Wikipedia:
He attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, considered one of the finest public high schools in Illinois.
In his senior yearbook, his name is listed as one of the people who didn't pose for a portrait. But in his class statement, he declared, "Sic semper tyrannis," which roughly translated means, "Thus ever to tyrants."
That same phrase was said to have been shouted by John Wilkes Booth before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
One neighbor from Smith's youth was shocked to learn of the news of the shooting spree. "I didn't realize it was one of my neighbors until I was told it was the Smith son. Wow, it's scary that the kid next door could do this," he said.
On Saturday, Smith traveled to Urbana, Springfield and later Decatur, where he shot and wounded an African-American minister. On Sunday, July 4, Smith traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, where he killed Won-Joon Yoon, a 26-year-old Korean graduate student in Economics at Indiana University, who was on his way to the Korean United Methodist Church.Benjamin Nathaniel Smith later shot himself during a police chase and died July 4, 1999. After his death, it was revealed that Smith was associated of the avowed white supremacist and convicted felon Matthew Hale and the so-called "World Church of the Creator." Hale's statement after Smith's suicide speaks for itself:Indiana University graduate student Won-Joon Yoon, murdered by white supremacist terrorist Benjamin Nathaniel Smith July 4, 1999.
Matt Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator, described Smith as "a pleasant person who believes in his people, who believes in his people, the white people, I can't say anything bad about him."And remember: Matthew Hale is no undereducated man with a ZZ-Top like beard bearing a Confederate flag; he is a highly articulate law school graduate (from Southern Illinois University) with absolutely no remorse for multiple acts of white supremacist terrorism committed by his associate, Benjamin Smith.
The church leader said he suspects the shooting spree may have been prompted by the rejection Friday of Hale's license to practice law in Illinois because of his views on race.
"I strongly suspect that the denial of my law license set him off," Hale told CNN in an interview. "Why? Because of the timing involved and because I know he was very passionate about me getting my law license. He had testified for me at the hearing I had on the matter."
(Currently, Matthew Hale is serving a 40-year prison sentence for soliciting the murder of federal Judge Joan Lefkow.)
Yes, it's critical to fight the hydra of white supremacy and white supremacist terrorism whenever and wherever it rears its' ugly head.
But it's also important to remember that white supremacy and white supremacist terrorism is not bounded by geographical region or age or educational (un)attainment.
At least I know that I can't afford to forget that.