The Face of a Monster

A recent story in the New York Times has drawn more criticism than any I have seen for a long time.  I would recommend you read the story, but I will give you the Cliff Notes version, just in case.

Times reporter Richard Fausset was given the assignment after the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, to interview at some length one of the participants in the rally, a man named Tony Hovater who lives in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. The purpose was to try to understand … what causes a man to turn into a monster, and how do we recognize one? Fausset spoke with Hovater a number of times, and also his wife, got a feel for their lives, and the controversy arises because he did not go at Hovater guns blazing in a storm of fury, and further, he did not portray Hovater as a monster of the recognizable sort.

I might have passed over the story, had I not seen no less than three stories in other publications about the controversy.  Without reading those stories, I decided to check it out myself and then read about the controversy.  As I read the story, which I found quite informative, I thought I understood the disdain many might have, for the approach was almost as if to normalize this neo-Nazi, white supremacist hater.  It did annoy me, though at the same time I realized that if the reporter had gone into the first interview with the approach of planning to shred Hovater, he never would have gotten to first base.  A journalist must operate with an open mind, else he will not be a journalist for long.

The story portrays Hovater as a fairly average 29-year-old suburban middle class male, a welder by trade, recently married to the woman he loves, living in a small house with dreams to upgrade, to someday have children, and all the other normal things, even grocery shopping and dining at Applebee’s.  They even have cats! But then there is this whole ‘other’ side to Hovater.  The side where he is adamant that the races are better off separated, although he insists he is not racist. The side of Hovater that posted on Facebook a picture purporting to show what life would have looked like if Germany had won World War II: a streetscape full of happy white people, a bustling American-style diner and swastikas everywhere, commenting “What part is supposed to look unappealing?” And after Charlottesville, Hovater wrote that he was proud of the comrades who joined him there: “We made history. Hail victory.” In German, “Hail victory” is “Sieg heil.”

The original story ran on Saturday, 25 November, and the criticism was swift and harsh, so on Sunday, 26 November, the Times posted a response explaining and justifying their stance, and apologizing where appropriate.  In the words of Shane Bauer, a senior reporter at Mother Jones and a winner of the National Magazine Award, “People mad about this article want to believe that Nazis are monsters we cannot relate to. White supremacists are normal ass white people and it’s been that way in America since 1776. We will continue to be in trouble till we understand that.” I agree with Mr. Bauer. For me, the value of the story as written is that it shows we cannot recognize the monsters.  They walk and live among us, they shop in the same grocery stores we do, and their kids play on our kids’ soccer teams.  Their wives sit side by side in the hair salon and they work next to you, but you may never know it.  No, it is not right to normalize hate, but it is important for us to understand that there is no universal face of hate.

Still, I also understand the criticism, for at some point I found myself thinking … “hmmmm just an average Joe?”.  And I did bristle at what I first saw as an attempt to normalize white supremacy, racism, bigotry and hate.  So yes, I understand the criticism … but, I think it was far overdone, the outrage unhelpful and even counter-productive.  A few examples …

“How to normalize Nazis 101!”

“I’m both shocked and disgusted by this article,”

“Attempting to ‘normalize’ white supremacist groups – should Never have been printed!”

“Instead of long, glowing profiles of Nazis/White nationalists, why don’t we profile the victims of their ideologies?”

The Times, I think, handled the criticism in the best possible way, apologizing if people found the story offensive, but explaining the rationale …

“We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.”

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy

No media outlet, no reporter, no blogger gets it right all the time.  The more we try, the more opportunities for failure, but also for success. After much thought and pondering, I think the Times story is spot on.  As I said, we need to understand that there is no universal face of evil.  Remember Ted Bundy?  Everyone thought he was a great guy … until … he turned out to be a serial killer, confessing to at least 30 extremely brutal homicides, even keeping the heads of some in his home.  He had a job, a seemingly normal life, yet he referred to himself as “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”.

What the Times’ story did was show us that there is no ‘face of evil’. We cannot pick them out of a crowd.  We may chat with our neighbor over the fence daily, yet not know that he is spending his weekends planning neo-Nazi rallies.  I applaud the Times, both for their approach and for their sensitivity when under fire.

Lastly, Mr. Fausset published a second story about his meetings with Hovater, about trying to find the reason for his stance, for his ideology of hate.  Turns out, he began to change course for the same reasons that many are frustrated today:  the political system and its inner workings. “The first time I thought about how a system will protect itself, and its own interests, to protect what it is they really want.” Fausset was looking for an answer to the question: “What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as “America’s Premier White Civil Rights Organization”? Where was his Rosebud?”  And in the end, he does not feel he found a definitive answer.  Nor do I, but I think we need to continue asking the question.

 

 

 

48 thoughts on “The Face of a Monster

  1. Pingback: Updates and Nonsense … | Filosofa's Word

  2. Hi Jill.
    The reporter has suffered a similar fate that BBC reporters get from both sides for the crime of not blindly following their preferred doctrine.
    The extreme Right (Alt Right etc) doesn’t need to be illustrated, it does that itself.
    I have witnessed narrow-minded spitefulness and hate amongst people on The Left out of political belief and the same thing in a casual manner by folk who consider themselves liberal in outlook. They will both tell you it’s not personal and then tie themselves up in knots. I have encountered folk who consider themselves free and open minded because they do not have a religion or a theistic belief but in their manner of saying why and responding to the views of any theist show themselves to be against as narrow minded and intolerant as any fundamentalist.
    As you know I have used violence of language against extremists and am thus extreme myself and thus tie myself up in my own paradox.
    Of course all extremes can be stifled.
    It’s called a Police State.
    And everyone behaves as the government tells them to and no one steps out of line or voices any independent opinions, and if they do they get locked up; no trial, because the stability of the State is paramount. And if anyone thinks that would only apply only to the ‘deserving’ cases, then dream on.
    Maybe if we were all able to visit Berlin in May 1945 and walk amongst the ruined buildings and broken people would we see where the extremes lead us.
    In the meantime seek out Dialogue.
    All the best
    Roger

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  3. Excellent post, Jill. I am very sad about the news of the USA vote at the UN. The monstrosity is in the minds and hearts of people – the dark side of human nature which we all carry within us. When it gets the upper hand and we consent to its validity, then it directs our choices and actions. For this reason, neo-Nazism and hate know no national borders.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks John! Don’t ruminate too much over the UN vote, as there is more to it than that … I may yet write a post about it, but the U.S. has been voting against it for years now, for it would require a ban on free speech that is otherwise protected by the 1st amendment. And … 51 other nations have abstained, so it is not quite what I thought at first. While you know that I am against Nazism or hate of any sort, one must be cautious not to start up a slippery slope and open doors for banning speech, for it can so easily go too far. Sigh. Nothing is ever simple.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t know either, until I did some research today. I learned long ago never to simply take something I’m told at face value without doing my own research. And I, too, think there must be some reasonable limits on freedom of speech, but one must tread very carefully. And with the climate right now, I am not willing to risk giving the administration or Congress a reason to curtail any of our freedoms, especially free press or free speech, for that would be equal to handing the fox the keys to the henhouse! Hugs!!!

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            • Here’s a quote directly from our 1982 Charter Of Rights (now part of our constitution) about freedom of speech and the press/media:
              “Even though these freedoms are very important, governments can sometimes limit them. For example, laws against pornography and hate propaganda are reasonable limits on freedom of expression because they prevent harm to individuals and groups.”

              So we have this type of limit built in.

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              • I keep telling you … you guys are more sensible! Our Supreme Court decided long ago that pornography should be treated as free speech. Ol’ Larry Flynt has been gloating ever since! And they wonder why rape and teen pregnancies are such big problems here? Sheesh. Do the math. And besides … you guys have Justin Trudeau, who is so much easier on the eyes than Trump! 😀 😀 😀 Sorry … just had to toss in a bit of humour!

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                • Our two countries are much alike in many ways, but our foundational national psychology is very different. Your present constitution was framed with the idea that States Rights were paramount to a central authority and then personal liberties were also included later in the same way – they cannot be limited by governments. This psychology arose from your struggle against the tyranny of Britain and their government officials. Many of our founding citizens were the United Empire Loyalists who arrived in Canada after your Revolution. When our Fathers of Confederation sat down to draft our first constitution (British North America Act 1867) the overriding concern was “Peace, Order, and Good Government”. It wasn’t until the 20th century that PM Diefenbaker passed a law protecting personal rights – and those freedoms and rights weren’t enshrined in our constitution until the Canada Act 1982 replaced the original BNA Act of 1867. For Canadians, law and order have always taken precedence over individual liberties. These historical interpretations are mine, Jill.

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                  • Thank you, John, for some very valuable insight! We southern cousins know far less about your history and political system that you know about ours, mainly because we arrogantly tend to thing that we and we alone matter. Law and order should take precedence over individual liberties, but not to the exclusion of. My opinion only. But, we tend to think of our liberties as having no boundaries, ad my opinion is that my rights end where they infringe upon another’s.

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                    • Our thinking about limitations on personal liberties are very similar, Jill. Another illustration of our national thinking differences is how each of us settled our western territories. In the U.S., settlers moved in and law and order followed – hence the Wild West. In Canada, a governor, surveyors, mounted police/troops, and a judge moved into the new territories first and organized them. Then the settlers were allowed entrance to work parcels of land already surveyed – no Wild West. This likely explains why gun control was always a priority in the Canadian experience… “Peace, Order, and Good Government.”

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                    • Yes, indeed! Government was an afterthought here, and would likely not have come about at all, except things weren’t working out so well under the rule of states. But then … things aren’t working out so well now, either, come to think of it.

                      You are quite right … where there is fair and equitable law and order, why would citizens even need guns? Sometimes I think people in this country like to scare themselves, rather like people who ride roller coasters. They seem so easily frightened simply by telling them that Muslims are terrorists. Or Mexicans are rapists. Or Obama is coming to take their guns. Scared people do stupid things sometimes.

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  4. What this story and all the comments and feelings expressed on it tell me is this, we who believe in a progressive / tolerant / celebrating differences in cultures, and in a kinder nicer future where people will help each other and the basic needs of all are met have to keep speaking out against those who try to prevent that future. ( long sentence that sounded far more fluid in my head ) We have to fight the drag of those who would stop progress and we must work as hard for the future we want to share with the rest of the world. Those against the better natures will fight hard, so we must fight back harder. Speak up, write, and put the thoughts out there. Even among friends and enemies. Never shy away from addressing it because you will offend someone, however do make sure you are safe. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Scottie! And I can relate to the long sentences that sound better in the head than on paper! I have an editor who goes nuts when I do that! Yes, the fight is too important to give up … I, for one, will fight as long as I have breath, for I have never understood how people can feel superior to others. Thanks again … HUGS!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am with you on this. We need to understand we can’t judge books by covers – or blurbs on the jacket for that matter written by other people. If you see what I mean. I remember a front page story on a local paper here featuring the buzzed headed picture of a spotty teenage male. The story was about an attempted robbery at knife-point. Obvious conclusion – wrong. The spotty youth had chased the offender (who was caught) away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I see exactly what you mean. It is so easy to jump to what we think is the ‘obvious’ conclusion, and I’m not proud to admit I have done the same. We all need to remind ourselves to decide on a persons character based on his/her actions, not anything else … not skin colour, not tattoos, piercings or hair colour, just what they do and how they treat others. But … sigh … there are some who will always jump to conclusions and be judgmental. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were born with a lettering system on their forehead so that at a glance you could tell what was in their heart? 😉

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  6. Hatred can come out in anyone for a variety of (often ridiculous) reasons. Nazism is just one dimension of what hate looks like. Those that foster hate will offer you dystopian visions of life if you don’t kill off those that would get in the way of a Utopian future. In Nazi Germany, ordinary people were hypnotized into this belief. The same is happening in America now and your leader is encouraging it every step of the way.
    This thought wave is insidious and corrosive on the impressionable minds that absorbs the hatreds blindly, without objection. This mind state eventually becomes the deadliest weapon of all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are quite right, and such is the essence of much of my writing these days. I began to see this all the way back in 2015, with some of Trump’s rally rhetoric, but when I mentioned it, I was hushed, told I was seeing monsters where there were none. I think the monster is in plain sight now, though some still seem incapable of seeing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Chilling, but I agree…necessary. We all have this thing about the ‘other’. To White Supremacists, the ‘other’ is anyone of colour, or perhaps anyone who supports anyone of colour. To us on the left, the ‘other’ is the Neo-Nazi, the KKK. They’re bad people and we want them out of our lives, physically and emotionally, so the more unlike us they appear the better. Lots of tattoos and skin-heads? Great, they’ll be easy to recognize and stay away from…
    But the ‘other’ is really just a different side of ‘us’ and what we should be doing is asking why the emotional and philosophical divide is so wide, and what can be done to decrease it. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Jill – since you’ve brought up the subject of Nazism, here’s a bit of “news” for the blog:
    The United States is one of three nations that voted against a U.N. resolution condemning Nazism late last week.
    The resolution called to combat the “glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
    It was approved by the U.N. Human Rights Committee on Friday, with 131 countries voting in favor, 48 counties abstaining from voting and three countries voting against the condemnation: the U.S., Ukraine and Palau.

    via NEWSWEEK; Trump Administration Doesn’t Care About Nazis: The U.S. Voted Against U.N. Resolution Condemning Nazism
    A Green Road Daily News | November 27, 2017 at 8:55 AM | Categories: General News | URL: https://wp.me/px2ln-89f
    Let’s consider what those stats say: 131 countries voted against “the glorification” of Nazism, 48 countries abstained and only 3 voted against the resolution, one of which is THE USA. Another, Palau which for obvious reasons usually votes with the US on UN resolutions. The third: Ukraine. Incidentally Poland obviously did not vote, or voted for the resolution. Food for thought.

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  9. And conversely, ugly or different does not imply monstrocity. Such a dilemma, the fine line between discernment and judgment. During thispast election I discovered many whom I thought previously to be likeminded friends turned out to have brutally different views, some to the extent I can no longer keep company with them as long as they cling to such ideologies and attitudes. Someone I once worked with had a brother who was John Wayne Gacy’s last victim. He was a DEACON of the church. I can no linger tolerate hearing the casual statement of trust in anyone simply because “they are a Christian’. It was actually when I realized how deeply and blindly engrained are Christian beliefs, the very ones I was brought up in, that I began to understand the extreme devotion of other major religions, all of whom have instigated violence in the name of defending their own God. I no longer identify with any particular religion but try to appreciate the similarities that promote live, forgiveness and unconditional love. The rest is mythology. Thanks for another enlightening post Jill.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your insight! And you are so right when you say, “conversely, ugly or different does not imply monstrocity”, though far too many judge a person with tatoos or a different style/colour hair, piercings, etc. We really need to stop judging the book by its cover. I, too, have given up many friendships in the past 2 years, had friends scorn and leave me for my political views. My conclusion is that we can never really know another person … perhaps we don’t even fully know ourselves. Thanks again!

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      • We won’t even go into the fact that there are no really good or evil people in this world. We all come into it with a clean slate (or if you believe in reincarnation witha a plan for growth) but we all have light and dark within. Life circumstances and our environment really affect which of these opposites we honor most. Most ‘monsters’ have monstrous life history. So sad, so perplexing..

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        • I would agree that most who turn into true monsters have a past that, at least in part, explains a lot. But what puzzles me is those that come from good families and never appeared to have strife in their life, yet evil becomes a way of life for them. What was the catalyst?

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          • Well, if one can believe the fact of ‘normal family life’ without extensive research, it remains a dilemma. It would be an interesting statistic to delve into. I think many times a notmal set of parents by today’s standard might also apply to thise who do not parent at all, leaving the child’s influence up to extraneous sources, also to which they are happily oblivious.

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            • Good point! Who defines ‘normal?’ And based on what criteria. But then, might I pose this, also. I know a number of people who grew up in abusive homes, but the rose above that and became hard-working humanitarians. Why? How? Does genetics play any role? I have no answers, just, obviously, many questions. 😉

              Liked by 1 person

              • Free will would be my ultimate hypothesis. We still MAKE our own choices. And there are SO many greater philosophical idealogies and queries when it comes to human life and the very essence of existence. Yin wothout yang. Darkness and Light. Love and fear. Without these opposing forces we would simply ‘be’. And if one is to believe in the idea of an original force/Creator, then that state of being would be unconditional love, which is where we came from. Why then, would we leave such a perfect bosom if not to experience that which does not exist in that state? Mind blowing possibilities….

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  10. I think the controversy is great – really shows that people want to be able to tell if people are “evil” or not. But the truth is, there is no way to tell just by looking. Whether we like it or not, hatred sometimes looks just like us.

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