By MARC H. MORIAL
National Urban League
“Our sense of belonging and prosperity relies on freedom from violence. That freedom requires confronting the threat that armed violence poses to our democracy and the hate-fueled rhetoric that feeds it. Moreover, keeping voters and elections safe from political violence is necessary to advance free, fair, and secure elections and ballot access.”
There is a fire blazing in the United States of America.
That the fire is burning through classrooms, law enforcement, the right to speak, the right to assemble and the right to vote. It is the fire of hatred, extremism, and domestic terrorism. It is the fire of white supremacy.
This year’s State of Black America report, Democracy in Peril: Confronting the Threat Within, raises the alarm on extremist ideology taking root in the nation’s most vital institutions.
The mainstreaming of extremist ideology is an existential threat to American democracy, the rule of law, and decades of hard-won progress toward an equitable, inclusive, more perfect union. No longer limited to passing out photocopied leaflets on street corners or huddling in corners of the dark web, conspiracy-mongers and white nationalists openly spew their bile across social media and cable television. They weave it into the public policy they impose on their constituents. It corrodes the trust between police and the military and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
Members of the U.S. Congress and state legislators across the country have promoted a conspiracy theory centered on a cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic child abusers that includes fellow lawmakers, Hollywood actors and business tycoons.
The leaked membership of a violent, anti-government militia group that led the Jan. 6 insurrection included 81 people who either held or were running for public officer in 2022, 373 believed to be serving in law enforcement, and 117 believed to be active-duty military.
Restrictions on teaching the history of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement have grown so stringent that students planning a Black History Month in Alabama were not permitted to reference any events prior to 1970.
White supremacists committed 22 racially motivated murders last year, including the 10 who were shot in a Buffalo supermarket by an 18-year old under the influence of the “Great Replacement” conspiracy promoted by prominent media figures.
From sea to shining sea, this flame of hate and manipulation which gave currency to foreign interference in the 2016 election grew into a five-alarm wildfire after the 2020 election when conspiracy theories about voter fraud in major cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta, and in majority Black districts in battleground states fueled the greatest assault on voting rights since Reconstruction.
Hate crimes in the largest U.S. cities soared by 44% last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. Yet there has been a 22% decrease in the number of reporting agencies; some of the largest cities in the country, including New York and Los Angeles, did not participate, nor did nearly the entire state of Florida or most of California.
Even more alarming, the FBI has warned agents that white supremacist and anti-government militia groups may be seeking to infiltrate law enforcement including police and sheriff’s departments throughout the nation.
If hate groups can infiltrate law enforcement, then our democracy is truly threatened.
Lawmakers in 39 states introduced more than 400 bills intended to restrict, dilute and undermine not only the votes of Black people, but of Latinos, disabled Americans, students and the elderly. Another 150 bills introduced in 27 states would allow partisan interference in elections.
Many of those same lawmakers who spouted conspiracy theories about the results of the election to justify voter suppression are actively engaged in suppressing American history and the reality of systemic and institutional racism. Since September 2020, more than 200 local, state and federal government entities have introduced 670 bills, resolutions, executive orders, opinion letters, statements and other measures to suppress and censor books, knowledge, history and truth.
This movement may have reached peak absurdity when a group of Texas educators, in a delusional fit, proposed to the State Board of Education that slavery should be taught as “involuntary relocation.”
Earlier this year, Florida banned AP African American studies from being taught in its school, calling it “historically inaccurate.” Despite the College Board’s claim that Florida’s decision had no impact on its decision to revise the course, it subsequently removed the Black Lives Movement and a list of prominent Black authors from the curriculum.
Now is the time for us to put this fire out.
We can put this fire out by demanding a new set of voting laws that ban voter suppression, gerrymandering and vote dilution, called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
We can put this fire out by standing strong against the censorship of books, the suppression of the truth about slavery and discrimination, and suppression of the contributions of Black Americans.
We can put this fire out by banning assault weapons and insisting on background checks and red flag laws to prevent violent and unstable people from having access to guns.
We can put this fire out by enacting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to redefine and enhance public safety.
We have, as a movement and as a nation, the strength, the intelligence, the determination, the resilience, the energy and the aptitude, the foresight and the attitude to extinguish the flames of hatred, extremism and white supremacy forever.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through https://nul.org.