Sunday marked the 56th anniversary of the horrific 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL that claimed the lives of four beautiful and innocent young black girls. Former Vice President and presidential contender, Joe Biden, addressed the church on Sunday saying, “Hate is on the rise again, and we’re at a defining moment again in American history. Hate only hides. It does not go away. If you give it oxygen, it comes out from under the rocks.”
Biden is absolutely correct in his observation. Although he didn’t mention Trump or other prominent Republicans by name, they’ve been guilty of giving the hate a whole lot of oxygen and done their best to coax it out from under the rocks.
Who can forget AL Rep. Mo Brooks infamous quote about undocumented immigrants, “I’ll do anything short of shooting them.”
What about Trump insinuating that undocumented immigrants are rapists, drug dealers, and murderers? Or, referring to African nations as “s-hole” countries?
In fact, Trump won’t even allow Bahamians into the U.S. after the complete devastation of their homes by Hurricane Dorian unless they have the right papers. Does he not understand that most of these survivors lost literally everything they owned? Or, is his cruel stance motivated by something much darker?
That’s coaxing hate to come out from under the rocks. Plain and simple.
This is why hate crimes are surging and why White Nationalists have come forward publicly. It’s why racists like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer sought highly public platforms to spew hate speech and white ethno-nationalist propaganda. They felt like modern conservatives were their allies because their xenophobic, hate-tinged rhetoric wasn’t too far removed from their own.
That’s how Heather Heyer died in Charlottesville.
Hate is on the rise because Republicans, as a whole, continue to give it oxygen. They have traded in their grave concerns over fiscal responsibility for a platform that deeply divides America. Whether it’s immigration or LGBTQ rights, they’ve made it abundantly clear that could care less about civil rights, diversity, or inclusion.
This is why what Biden said at the church memorial is so prescient. It’s why so many of these recent mass shootings have been perpetrated by white males who adhere to bigoted, extremist ideology, but also just happen to be huge fans of Trump and others of his ilk. It’s not a mental illness, it’s hatred. Sadly, as the Republican Party continues to do the bidding of the NRA, many more shootings will surely follow. Right-wing extremism isn’t fake news- it’s real and it’s deadly. Republicans have a moral responsibility to quit giving it oxygen, but in the Trump era, they seem to be complicit, apathetic, or impotent.
To combat the rise of hate, we desperately need champions like Sen. Doug Jones who prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the Birmingham church bombing. Jones also put away Eric Rudolph who was responsible for the Olympic Park bombing. Rudolph was another right-wing extremist known for his anti-gay and anti-abortion views. Sen. Jones’ entire career has been about standing up to hate and that’s why Alabama needs him now more than ever before. His campaign slogan is “One Alabama” for a reason.
As citizens, we have to do our part and continue to fight against hate speech. We can’t ignore it or trivialize it. Hate speech incites violence and it must be called out for what is. It’s not a joke. It’s not okay. It’s not something we should tolerate from our President or our Congressmen or anyone else.
Hate is on the rise and it’s up to us to stop it. It’s just like Biden said, “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.”
Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.