As I read about the events in Charlottesville this weekend, I was struck by Ohio resident Samantha Bloom’s response upon learning that her son, who drove his car into a crowd of leftist protestors, had attended a Nazi rally.
In an interview Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio, with The Associated Press, Samantha Bloom said of her son James Alex Fields Jr., “I just knew he was going to a rally. I mean, I try to stay out of his political views….”
Bloom was informed by The AP reporter that the rally was indeed organized by white nationalists. “I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” she said.
“He had an African-American friend so …,” she said before her voice trailed off.
And yet. Below is a photo of James Fields at this weekend’s rally:
Fields is holding a shield distributed by Vanguard of America, a white supremacist and antisemitic organization that promotes ethnic cleansing and a white state. His high school history teacher says Fields was fascinated with the Nazis, and seemed to be a Nazi sympathizer. A Facebook page purported to be Fields’ includes pictures of Nazis, symbols of white purity, and an image of Trump on a throne.
Is Bloom in denial, or was she actually ignorant of her son’s views?
Based on both news reports and pictures of the event, this weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally was made up almost entirely of white men in their 20s and 30s. Every one of these young men has parents. Do they know about their sons’ views? Do they approve of them? Do they feign ignorance? Do they overlook warning signs and convince themselves, like Bloom, that their sons are good people who wouldn’t hurt a fly?
Bloom told the AP reporter who interviewed her that she had thought Fields was attending a Trump rally—and that “Trump’s not a white supremacist.” The problem with this, of course, is that Trump spent his entire campaign demonizing racial minorities and using rhetoric that is almost undistinguishable from that used by white supremacist leaders like Richard Spencer or Jason Kessler, who organized this weekend’s rally. It is because of Trump that these groups are coming out of the shadows.
When a young white man who hears his parents praising Trump is approached by a white supremacist group with indistinguishable rhetoric, is he wrong to conclude that such an association would be met with approval, or at least understanding? The social pressure not to join a white supremacist group weakens and frays. And then, when that same young man spouts white supremacist rhetoric at Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, are his parents to be blamed for assuming it’s “something to do with Trump”?
Trump has fundamentally broken our nation’s de facto system for preventing overtly white supremacist organizations from growing beyond the fringe. Mothers like Bloom, who convince themselves that their sons’ white supremacist activities are “something to do with Trump” and thus neither white supremacist nor anything to worry about, are evidence of this reality.
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