Monday, July 27, 2009

Professor Jessie Daniels: The Complete Interview

Jessie Daniels PhotoJessie Daniels, PhD, is an author and professor at Hunter College in New York City.

Recognized as a national expert on white racism, she was featured in Elizabeth Thompson’s award-winning documentary (Nashville Film Festival, 2000) "BLINK," about a supposedly reformed white supremacist.  Dr. Daniels is a frequent contributor to the blog Racism Review.

     She is the author of two books, White Lies (Routledge, 1997) and Cyber Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).

     Shortly after the horrific hate crime and execution that took place at Washington, DC's United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Crusader's Corner interviewed Dr. Daniels for the June 19, 2009, article How We Can Conquer Hate: An In-depth Analysis.

     Because of the length of that article, I had to leave out a lot of good comments from the people that I interviewed.  Here is the entire e-mail interview between Crusader's Corner and Dr. Daniels.

Crusader:  After 9/11, many Muslims and people from the Middle East fell under the law enforcement radar in the United States.  Many who had absolutely no connection to terrorism were interrogated and/or arrested. Here we have an elderly Caucasian convicted felon (von Brunn) who has clearly been espousing hate for decades, yet no one was keeping an eye on him on the day of the Holocaust Museum incident.  Your thoughts?

Dr. Daniels:  Clearly, who is - and who is not - regarded as a "terrorist" or a "threat" to national security was greatly influenced by the events of 9/11.  And the fact that 19 hijackers were from the Middle East (most were from Saudi Arabia, by the way) gave people in the U.S. a strong association.  But, it is quite simply wrong to equate "Middle Eastern with "terrorist. 

     What most people tend to forget is that prior to 9/11/2001, the largest incident of domestic terrorism was the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh - a Caucasian, and like von Brunn, a white supremacist.

     It's unfortunate that law enforcement has been distracted by the false equation of "Middle Eastern" with terrorist, but we have to remember that this shift in focus was led by the federal government under Bush with his creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

     The Bush DHS had an explicitly "Other" (read: Middle Eastern) focus when it came to addressing terrorism.

     I'm hopeful that this is changing under President Obama as indicated by the release of the DHS report from Napolitano recently, which urged a renewed focus on "domestic terrorism."  I certainly think that von Brunn qualifies as a "domestic terrorist."

Crusader:  Had you known about von Brunn prior to the museum incident?  If so, does it surprise you that no one in Law Enforcementland was watching him?

Dr. Daniels:  No, I wasn't familiar with von Brunn specifically because he was not the focus of my research (and I leave 'tracking' to the experts at ADL, Wiesenthal and SPLC).

     To your second question here, no, I'm not at all surprised to learn that Law Enforcement wasn't watching von Brunn.  As the FBI spokesperson said at one of the press conferences recently, they interpreted his website (and by extension all hate speech online) as 'protected speech' under the First Amendment so they took no action to monitor him or his website.

Crusader:   According to Time, on the day before the museum incident, Rev. Jeremiah Wright is quoted as saying, "Them Jews ain't going to let him [Obama] talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office . . . They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. . . . I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."

     Your reaction?                               

Dr. Daniels:  A number of people in the news, primarily at FoxNews, have made a great deal out of Rev. Wright's statements. I abhor anti-Semitism in any form and think it should be condemned, even when it comes from a member of the black community.  That said, I think it's wrong to equate Rev. Wright's statements with the actions of von Brunn, which is what a lot of people are doing when they bring this up in this context.

     There are many ways that 'hate speech' is implicated in the death of the guard, Mr. Johns, at the Holocaust Museum -- von Brunn's hate speech, the hate speech of right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly that give space to such violence -- and this hate speech is almost exclusively generated and distributed by white people.

     Raising the issue of Rev. Wright's statements is a red herring to deflect from the Caucasian problem that connects von Brunn, McVeigh, Limbaugh and O'Reilly.

Crusader: Should websites (and pages from social networking sites) espousing racism, anti-Semitism, and other hate be banned or barred in any way shape or form, or is it better to know thy enemy?

Dr. Daniels:  In my view, any website that espouses racism, anti-Semitism or other hate should be removed (either by law enforcement or by the ISP) and the publisher of that hate speech should be held accountable.

     While I strongly believe that the U.S. should adopt laws that are more in line with other democracies that regulate hate speech, I'm realistic enough to realize that this kind of change may take long years to accomplish.

     In the meantime, most of the ISP (Internet Service Providers) and hosting services that provide the server space and Internet connections that make publishing hate online possible are actually in violation of their own TOS (Terms of Service) agreement.  If other people - other customers - get upset and demand that the hosts or ISPs no longer publish the sites, that's a step in the right direction.

Crusader:  For whatever reason, von Brunn's website is no longer active (although cache pages can be viewed via various search engines).

Dr. Daniels:  Right, not surprising. See my comment above about the ISP/hosting service.  My guess - and it's just a guess - is that whatever service was hosting his page suddenly took notice and decided that they didn't want to be in the business of publishing such hatred. 

     It could also be that his website received so much traffic over such a short period of time that it caused the server to crash.          

     Either one of these is a likely scenario for why his website is no longer active.  

     A third option could be that von Brunn failed to pay his last bill for the service. I understand he was struggling financially.

Crusader:  Have you read any portion of von Brunn's book, "Kill the Good Gentiles"?

Dr. Daniels:  No, I haven't. I might read it at some point for research, but I read the book written by Wm. Pierce, von Brunn's mentor.  That book, "The Turner Diaries," was a blueprint and inspiration for Timothy McVeigh. I don't imagine there's much that's new in von Brunn's book.

Crusader:  What are some of the best ways to educate people about hate?

Dr. Daniels:  That's a good question and one I've spent most of my adult life trying to answer.  There are the 'professional' ways - the sorts of things that I do like research and write books and articles, or teach as a college professor.  All of that work for me is in some form or another about unlearning intolerance.

     And, I think there are all sorts of ways that people can educate each other about hate that have a less 'professional' focus - blogging, for example.  Part of the reason that Joe Feagin and I started our blog was to educate people beyond our usual audience of college students and the few people that read academic articles and books.

     I also use a lot of documentary films to educate about hate, and today, it's possible to make a short film for very little money. I wish more people would do that.

     And, of course, what's perhaps most important is for everyone to use those occasions - the books, articles, classes, films - to talk to people in your daily life, in one-on-one conversations. Ultimately, it's in those conversations that people's thinking gets changed.

Follow-up Q&A:

Crusader:  If government or private web hosting services regulate what they believe to be "hate speech" from the Internet, can't that backfire and lead to other controversial or unpopular views being suppressed?

Dr. Daniels:  There's always the possibility that there will be unintended consequences for any effort to address hate or hate speech.  I don't think that our fear or concern about those unintended consequences should stop us, as a society, from addressing hate and intolerance.

Crusader:  Also, wouldn't it be a dangerous thing to push hatemongers into the closet?  Isn't it better that they be in the open so we know who they are and what they believe?

Dr. Daniels:  This is often referred to as the "light of day" argument, in other words, the most effective means of fighting hate speech and hate groups is to "expose" them to the "light of day." And, quite frankly, I'm not persuaded by this argument for a variety of reasons.

     First, the notion that exposing hate speech will stop it assumes that all the (potential) listeners are immune from hate or opposed to it. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.

     Second, there's little evidence that this is an effective strategy for combating hate speech.  In fact, "exposing" hate speech is little different than "broadcasting" and it does little to improve the public sphere or the discourse in a democratic society.

     I think it's important that we in the U.S., like those in other democracies, find a way to take seriously the right to be free from exposure to hate speech (guaranteed by the 14th Amendment - which assures equal protection under the law) and balance that with the right to free speech (guaranteed by the 1st Amendment).

     Right now, the U.S. is really out of step with other democratic nations in our approach to hate speech.  I discuss efforts to combat hate speech online in great detail in Chapter 9 of Cyber Racism.