For nearly 50 years, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. harbored an intense loathing for Jews, and also for blacks, Hispanics, Asians — anyone who he deemed outside of and inferior to his own white race. But mostly it was Jews he hated. When he slithered into the Kansas City area in April 2014 with guns and ammunition, he was on the hunt for Jewish victims. He ended up killing three Christians.
For the past two weeks, this white supremacist has pontificated in a Johnson County, Kan., courtroom, acting as his own defense in his trial for murder. The jury, judge and all associated with the court deserve our sympathy for enduring Miller’s rambling, offensive screeds and suffering through the conspiracy-addled videos he entered as evidence.
Having witnessed much of this courtroom farce, I would like to dismiss Miller as a mere lunatic, an outlier, a throwback to a bygone era of intolerance. Unfortunately, I cannot.
On more than one day, after enduring Miller’s bile, it was disconcerting to head back to the office and hear readers — in emails and voice messages — spew virtually the same words about black people, Hispanics and especially immigrants. That’s a sadly illuminating downside of having race and immigration as your beat.
I’ll offer one comparison, although I could offer hundreds. Here’s Miller, speaking in court: “An anti-white government is replacing us with third world people, people of color.”
Here’s a reader protesting a column critical of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, via email: “You attack a great man because he wants to protect this country from the Sanchez’s, Jose’s, and other wet backs. You are no better than the (blacks) in this country attacking me because I am white and had something to do with slavery. Maybe we should just close our southern boarders and build guard towers and give orders to shoot any one who attempts to cross. A half ounce of lead goes a long way in carrying the message that we are tired of this crap.”
This man, who signed his name “American Patriot,” somehow felt compelled to add, “I am not prejudice (sic) and only use the language for effect.”
Of course, it would be unfair to conflate the cold-blooded violence of a fanatic with the amped up vitriol of an ordinary citizen. After all, when you confront a spouting citizen face-to-face and point out the faulty assumptions and inaccuracies he’s absorbed, you’ll often find a willingness to be kinder and fairer than the persona he adopted to get in your face. America, I’d like to think, is not filled with proto-brownshirts.
On the stand, Miller made a revealing admission. As a young man, he had been taught to hate Jews by his father. There is an old lesson here. People learn to hate. Someone shows them how to do it, whom to do it to.
Perhaps people can unlearn too. But how do we make that happen?
Grimly, one way is through the sick work of people like Miller. Consider the reaction to white supremacist Dylann Roof’s slaughter of black parishioners of Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C. In the wake of that outrage, not only was the Confederate battle flag repudiated as the racist totem that it had become, but Americans were forced to confront their delusions about the progress of racial justice in our society.
A similar dynamic is at play in the killings of unarmed black people by police officers. Thanks to the ubiquity of video cameras, it’s hard to deny the persistence of what often amounts to deadly bias.
New information, in the best cases, leads to new thinking. Unfortunately, new thinking is too much for many Americans to handle. So many love to cry that they are unjustly shamed by “political correctness.” This supposed injustice, which aims to change the standards of acceptable speech, is in reality a struggle over ideas and beliefs — and it’s not just a tool of the left. Assert that “black lives matter,” and somebody will point out that you must say “all lives matter” or else you’re a racist.
Yet each of us, Miller included, has the right to feel and believe exactly as we wish. He could have kept on tap-tap-tapping away on his computer, posting on white supremacist websites as a keyboard Nazi until he died.
But he acted out, murdering three and inflicting terror on a whole community. The wish is father to the deed, as the saying goes. We’re horrified by the deed, and yet some seem to tell us we don’t have a right to challenge the wish.