A documentary was made by HBO's Vice News Tonight about the events that took place in Charlottesville Virginia last weekend. The video features the ugly words and behavior of the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists that showed up with torches and weapons chanting, "Blood and soil", "Jews will not replace us," and "White Lives Matter" to "protest" the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
On Facebook people have shared the video insisting that it is a "must watch". Others inferred that it was everyone's "duty" to watch and withstand the horrific emotional and physical violence on display as if the choice not to watch contributes to the problem.
On Facebook I wrote:
"Please keep in mind that the Vice video about the Neo Nazis in Charlottesville may be extremely triggering for people who experience the violence of hatred in small and big ways everyday of our lives. I started watching it and had to stop but I can't "unring the bell" and the few images I saw are haunting me, depleting my energy and making me want to shut down completely. So yeah."
Anyone can watch the video if they want. If it is helpful to them to do so that's fine. But sharing the video ultimately spreads the hatred and violence the video hopes to condemn. It is in fact an unintended act of violence.
On Race Bait a podcast I produce with Paul Traynor (also my co-host) we interviewed reformed Neo Nazi Christian Picciolini. He is the founder of Life After Hate a Chicago-based group 'dedicated to combating right-wing domestic extremists". (Recently the group had a $400,000 grant rescinded under the Trump administration.)
One of the most striking things Mr. Picciolini shared on the show was similar to what he recently said on NPR, "I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they're searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose."
There is a fine line between exposing a truth and contributing to propaganda. We don't need to see video of a woman or child being tortured and abused to know in our hearts that the abuse is wrong and horrific. I don't believe that the video enlightens anyone that already knew that white supremacy and Neo Nazi ideals are horrific. And it's a gamble to share it in the hopes that people who didn't know it will see what's expressed in the video as wrong. Keep in mind that regardless of the intention of the filmmakers the content in the video can be turned into a recruitment video in the blink of an eye.
And I wonder if there isn't something titillating about that documentary. Is there some kind of satisfaction similar to the pay off audiences' feel when watching a horror film? Does the video let people turn away from the urgent self-reflection that is needed in order to be an ally?
I know it re-traumatizes since I've barely been able to function. I am in the business of anti-racism and I was inactive for days. Remember when driver's gawk at an accident on the road it slows down traffic and sometimes brings it to a stop.
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