For most of my life growing up, one of the worst things you could ever call someone was a Nazi. If you needed examples of the height of human evil, Hitler, the holocaust, and slavery were where you went. And if you ever needed a clear, black-and-white villain in a story, a full-blown racist was always a good bet.
These were givens. Obviously celebrating Hitler’s vision for the world, or honoring the “good old days” of slavery in America, or degrading fellow human beings because of the color of their skin were all horrific examples of the deepest, darkest depths that human beings could plunge to. To associate anyone with any of these worldviews was to insult them as deeply as anyone could ever be insulted. It was to call them, essentially, the scum of the earth.
And yet there remains a group of people today who actually seem to be proud of being Nazis, racists, white supremacists, and celebrators of the “good old days” of the Confederacy. They stand in public, holding Nazi flags and flags long associated with racism and slavery, and they want the whole world to know that this is who they are.
How lost must you be to publicly declare that some of the deepest and darkest expressions of human evil are good? How lost must you be to tell the world proudly that you embody these things? One of the best fictional examples of white-supremacist ideology can be found in the Death Eaters of the Harry Potter series. Do the white-supremacists who marched on Charlottesville believe that it is actually good to be like the followers of Voldemort? Are they really proud of this?
No. Despite all their posturing, they don’t believe it’s good – and they’re not proud of it. Because this is not how evil works.
Evil is not a value in and of itself. Evil is an emptiness. Those who participate in deep evil never really, truly believe that what they are doing is good. They know it is evil. And because of this, they’re not proud of themselves. This is why you never see love or joy as a driving force in the any of these movements. Only hatred and anger. It’s because those who immerse themselves in evil have nothing to celebrate for its own sake. What is there to celebrate about being a racist, a Nazi, or a white-supremacist? What joy is to be found in putting on the pointy wizard hat of the KKK and to honor a long legacy of domestic terrorism and murder of innocent people?
There is nothing there to celebrate. Nothing of any value – only emptiness. Darkness.
Therefore, in order to ease their emptiness and try to avoid the obvious nature of the evil they are participating in, they must decide not to look at themselves. In fact, it is crucial that they never look honestly at themselves – because the moment they do so, they know they will become sick.
And so to avoid self-examination, all of the energy and the focus of hate groups is towards the outside. They do not celebrate who they are, because they cannot – instead, they tear down those around them. They degrade, threaten, insult, and do harm to some other group – so that they might continue to avoid themselves.
Have you ever noticed that people who are immersed in evil ideologies are essentially impossible to have a thoughtful conversation with? It’s because inherent to their way of life is a fundamental need to reject self-reflection. The reason Kim Jung-Un of North Korea does not allow a free press is the exact same reason that Neo-Nazis cannot have a real conversation with anyone who disagrees with them.
In the end, the hatred of hate groups that is so consistently directed outward is really a form of self-loathing. It is the way that bullies operate. Bullies are never joyful. They feel an emptiness. Perhaps they have been or are being abused and degraded themselves. And so to avoid their own emptiness, they pour hatred out on those around them, ironically degrading themselves even further through the process.
Those who orient their lives around things of value – healthy relationships, good pursuits that make the world more beautiful or benefit others – root themselves in things that are actually worth celebrating. Their attention is therefore drawn towards what they are standing for because it is inherently beautiful. It’s a joy to dwell on things that are good and life giving. And when this is a person’s experience, they see no point in tearing others down.
But when people orient their lives around things that are empty, dark, or evil, there is nothing for them to celebrate – only an emptiness to avoid – and so they run from this through violence against others.
The white-supremacists who marched on Charlottesville are, first and foremost, people to be resisted. Their violence – in words and actions – is fundamentally evil and destructive and must be actively worked against by everyone in whatever ways they can. Silence or complacency are not options – they are acceptance.
But these are also people to be pitied. These are some of the most lost, hate-filled, miserable human beings and they are living their lives running from themselves through the degradation of others. Imagine what it would be like to exist inside one of their heads. What a living hell.
We need to resist them well and effectively as a nation. We need to resist them so that they do not infect others with their poison, lies, and violence. Our first role is to protect our society from them – and may God help us to do this with power and persistence. But even as we pursue this, may God also help us to remember that despite all their hatred these people are still human beings. There is still an image-bearer buried beneath all of the filth – some wounded, bitter soul that might yet be raised from the dead. Somewhere. And so as we meet white-supremacists’ evil with moral force, may we not de-humanize them the way they de-humanize others.