Recently, CNN profiled a former neo-Nazi who now rejects white supremacy. Years ago, the woman (identified only as “Samantha”) inexplicably found something appealing “in the white power activists who presented themselves as intellectuals,” and she soon “became a dues-paying member of a white power fraternity called Identity Evropa.”
This is a common route to extremism, which is why progressives get just a little annoyed when racist ideology is presented as edgy intellectualism or a valid point of view.
In any case, Samantha worked for Identity Evropa to test new applicants — of which there were many — to see if the newbies were sufficiently “fluent in white power ideology.” And she focused especially on women, who were told the fascist movement was “a great way to be family-oriented.”
So what eventually drove Samantha out of Identity Evropa? Was it the deranged hatred toward Jews and racial minorities? Was it the violence that often culminates in the actual loss of life?
No, she left because — to absolutely no one’s surprise — angry men who despise blacks and Latinos usually loathe women as well. Apparently, a guy who is willing to attack total strangers based upon the color of their skin may not be the most respectful toward the ladies. Hey, who knew?
Samantha’s male peers in Identity Evropa tried to persuade her to stay, telling her that her body “could hold a lot of Nazi semen and make many Nazi babies.” Despite such smooth talk, she left, and today she receives death threats from her former pals. According to CNN, there are “other women who, like Samantha, spent about a year in the alt-right before quitting, unable to take the abuse anymore and fearing for their safety.”
Indeed, “the alt-right is far more hostile to women than previous iterations of the white supremacy movement,” with many experts insisting that its “not even possible to have an alt-right movement without the underlying misogyny.”
Now, we can all be happy that Samantha is no longer a Nazi. But in reading her story, there is one crucial element missing.
You see, Samantha only left the alt-right because she was being oppressed. In other words, she was fine with dehumanizing ethnic minorities. Hell, she enthusiastically promoted hatred toward non-white people. Only when women became the object of scorn and derision did she say, Whoa, not cool.
Samantha, and many right-wingers like her, possess an almost total lack of empathy for anyone who doesn’t share their background. Such individuals will alter their repugnant views only when — or if — it affects them personally.
Science backs this up. Researchers have found that liberals and conservatives display equal levels of empathy. However, liberals are far more likely to have empathy for all people. But conservatives tend to have empathy primarily for their own group.
In one study, researchers found that Americans who felt more connected to “people like themselves” tended to support Trump’s ban on travelers from Muslim countries. They also displayed “less empathy toward immigrants.” The opposite was true for those Americans who placed less importance on their own group.
One could also look at how the conservative movement still largely views gay people as deviants, sinners, or debauched weirdoes who deserve second-class citizenship at best, and capital punishment at worst. Yes, a few libertarians and younger Republicans aren’t down with the whole virulent homophobia thing. But for the most part, the GOP is just fine with gay Americans having fewer rights than straight citizens.
The exceptions, as you can guess, tend to be those Republicans who have gay family members. Oddly, they often change their minds when it affects their loved ones.
The most infamous example is that loveable war criminal, Dick Cheney, who was “a leading Republican at a time when his party was campaigning on forbidding gay marriage.” During this time, Cheney “voiced support” for his daughter Mary, a lesbian.
How about that? He voiced support for his daughter.
Should we applaud now?
It is highly unlikely that Cheney would give half a damn about gay Americans if his daughter weren’t a lesbian. And the man clearly didn’t care about, say, Iraqis to the same extent.
An indifference to the rights of others — or in extreme cases, to the very humanity of others — continues to vex the conservative movement. What can one say about people who justify jamming kids into cages, in large part because those kids speak a different language? And why should we celebrate people like Cheney or Samantha, who will definitely, absolutely do the right thing… provided that they have some kind of personal stake in the outcome?
Perhaps it is simply asking too much to consider, even fleetingly, how our actions affect people who don’t look, act, or worship the exact same way that we do.
But is it really that difficult?
Featured image: Identity Evropa member James Allsup confronts a protester at Washington State University in 2016 (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)