The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Bryan F. LeBeau: When words become deeds

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  • Easter Sunday seemed like a good time to prepare my April column, feeling well rested and having returned from church filled with hope Christians embrace on this special day of the year.
    But, it has been a tough week in many ways, none the least of which was the shooting at the Jewish Community Center and nearby retirement center in Overland Park.
    What made it all the more difficult was the headline in the Kansas City Star related to that event, “Hate is Hard to Handle.”
    Indeed it is.
    It seems so obvious in hindsight.
    How could we possibly have missed it — the fatal outburst of a shooter with decades of spewing hatred toward Jews, blacks, and others?
    Here was a man who founded not one, but two neo-Nazi organizations, stockpiled weapons, spent three years in jail for his actions, and continued to peddle his anti-Semitic and racist propaganda at every opportunity.
    Federal, state, and local officials knew him well.
    The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hundreds of hate-groups across the nation, had an extensive file on Frazier Glenn Miller (Cross, if you prefer). Yet no one acted, or it seems, even thought it was necessary.
    Miller made no secret of his beliefs to anyone who asked — even to those who didn’t — in a newspaper he distributed while living in southern Missouri, in his autobiography “A White Man Speaks Out,” and in a “Declaration of War” he mailed to authorities and white activists across the country.
    But, as one public official who knew Miller personally, said, “He always used his words but was never violent himself. I don’t know how to stop that.”
    Even a brief visit to the Southern Poverty Law Center website will make it apparent that Miller is far from alone in his views, as reprehensible as they may seem to most of us. Yet only a very small fraction of those of like mind have ever harmed another human being, unless one counts the harm done by words, which can be considerable.
    Fourteen years ago, when on trial for his neo-Nazi activity, Miller wrote to the presiding judge apologizing for his actions, offering to provide evidence against his comrades in arms, and promising, “I give you my word, I’ll give you no more trouble.” And he didn’t until now, which led to another headline in the morning newspaper, “When Do Words Become Deeds?”
    That brings us back to another morning headline, this time for the Star’s editorial: “As a Community, We Must Move Beyond Silence.”
    Who can quarrel with the editors’ recommendations for more diligent monitoring of such hate groups, that we keep weapons out of their hands, that as a community we denounce hate speech, etc.
    Page 2 of 2 - I think we have heard such urgings before — on too many occasions — which is not to say they are bad ideas.
    But, in the end, how are we to know when the hateful thoughts of such individuals, who are protected under the law, will turn fatal?
    I’m left with the thought, how can we ever know what hate lies in the hearts of those around us and what prompts them to act on that hatred to harm others? Until we do, until we can somehow figure out how it got there and how to erase it — the “pall” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said was cast over our nation this past week will never go away.
    Bryan Le Beaus is a historian and provost at the University of Saint Mary.
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