November 30, 2016
The tone, ideas and agenda emerging from the recent “alt-right” meeting in Washington, DC should be a cause for alarm for all Americans. These self-proclaimed white nationalists, whose ideas and gestures echo the Nazi movement during the interwar years in Europe, have infused their rhetoric with a uniquely American emphasis on white power, calling for a return to a mythical “lost” nation that has been torn apart by multiculturalism, immigration and globalization. Previously relegated to fringe Internet communities and blogs, the “alt-right” has exploded onto the national public sphere, aiding in the legitimization (and in some cases activation) of a dangerous discourse of racism, antisemitism, prejudice, racial stereotyping and ethnic hatred.
Actions follow words. Since the beginning of this election cycle, we have all witnessed the surge in hate crimes and antisemitism, vicious name-calling, offensive graffiti, physical attacks on ethnic minorities and immigrants and demands for new laws legalizing ignorant and hateful speech. “Alt-right” did not invent anything; they are, by all measures, a new form of white supremacy. Like the Nazis, they prey upon and intensify existing social fissures, prejudices and intolerant attitudes in our nation. The unprecedented negative and polarizing political campaign and election has only served to advance and sanction their destructive ideology. Still, the fact that both the rhetoric and the violence are not new to us does not mean that they are not dangerous or should not be met with a firm and renewed commitment to combat racial, ethnic and religious divisiveness at all costs.
Since World War II, despite the repeated cry “Never Again,” ethnic wars, racism, and religious hatred have destroyed and displaced tens of millions of people. The staggering number of displaced people and refugees around the globe demands that we work together toward a world where every law-abiding person is safe and free to develop to his or her fullest human capacity. In an essay written after the Holocaust, Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, explains the importance of protecting the world’s cultural diversity:
Our whole heritage is a product of the contributions of all nations. We can best understand this when we realize how impoverished our culture would be if the peoples doomed by Germany, such as the Jews, had not been permitted to create the Bible, or to give birth to an Einstein, a Spinoza; if the Poles had not had the opportunity to give to the world a Copernicus, a Chopin, a Curie; the Czechs, a Huss, a Dvorak; the Greeks, a Plato and a Socrates; the Russians, a Tolstoy and a Shostakovich.*
We are only as strong as our cumulative contributions; we are one world, one people, one human race; and later generations will judge us by how well we nurtured the diversity and multiplicity of our human experience.
The faculty, staff and students of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) condemn “alt-right’s” recent pronouncements and firmly denounce those responsible for the surge in hate crimes across the country. We call on all local and national political leaders to join us in disavowing them and stopping their hate-filled agenda. We believe in a very different vision of a democratic America, one that insists upon diversity, tolerance, economic opportunity and social justice. We reject racism, antisemitism, prejudice, ethnic hatred and violence in both words and actions. These recent events have strengthened and renewed our commitment to the CHGS’s mission of educating and empowering all citizens to combat the intolerance and oppression that inevitably lead to violence, suffering and atrocity. The continued existence of these tragic elements in our society underscores the urgency of our work, now more than ever.
*Raphael Lemkin, “Genocide,” American Scholar 15 (1946), 228.