On Saturday, Nov. 19, the leader of the white nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute, Richard Spencer, addressed his faithful at the Ronald Reagan building, blocks from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
His words did not veil their references to Nazism, sometimes quoting, “the original German.” He claimed that America belongs to white people. Calling for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” he led the 200 plus attendees as they raised their hands in the Nazi salute and exclaimed “Hail, Trump!”
The Museum responded with a beautiful concise statement condemning their hateful rhetoric. Like a recent Elie Wiesel competition, the Museum’s statement pointed out that the Holocaust did not begin with guns or deadly gas or with concentration camps—it began with words. Words like “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said; “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” Frightening? Absolutely.
But whom did their statement reach? The powerful statement reached the Museum’s constituency, which is well aware of the dangers of such talk. It was essentially preaching to the choir. The members of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, to which the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Holocaust Commission belongs, have been working on their own statement to issue, but the real question is who SHOULD be the audience for such statements of condemnation? The answer is the American people. All of them.
Why is the legitimate press not ringing bells of alarm? These inflammatory and dangerous words should be put before ALL Americans, in hopes that they will respond with a resounding, “NO! This is not true! These are not our values, not the principles of our country!”
As an organization whose mission is to “help students apply the lessons of the Holocaust—the dangers of discrimination, peer pressure, unthinking obedience to authority, and indifference—to the moral decisions they make in their own lives,” the Holocaust Commission hopes that all caring citizens will shine a light on the current climate of hatred that has grown more powerful in our country in the past months. The aim is not political, but to help us be more civil; to help lead us back to a place of respect for all Americans. We strive not just for tolerance, but acceptance. There can be no moving forward together without it.
– Elena Barr Baum