Two unusual stories about race ran last week. One of them was about white nationalists and got massive readership (which is what I'd call anything with 2,900 comments). The other, about a press conference of conservative black clergy and academics, got ignored.
Which leads us to questions about what kinds of news is popular, that people (in newsrooms, especially) want to hear about and what kind of news isn't so wanted.
The first article confirms most peoples' suspicions about white nationalists; the second features black speakers saying President Donald Trump isn't really a racist.
The first article, titled "The road to hate: For six young men, Charlottesville is only the beginning," came out in the Washington Post. It says in part:
Last weekend’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which ended with dozens injured, a woman struck dead by a car, a president again engulfed in scandal and another national bout of soul-searching over race in America, was a collection of virtually every kind of white nationalist the country has ever known. There were members of the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads and neo-Nazis . But it was this group, the group of William Fears, that was not so familiar.
The torch-lit images of Friday night’s march revealed scores like him: clean-cut, unashamed and young -- very young. They almost looked as though they were students of the university they marched through.
Who were they? What in their relatively short lives had so aggrieved them that they felt compelled to drive across the country for a rally? How does this happen?
I am glad the Post is trying to unravel this puzzle, because many of the major players in Charlottesville -– for those of us who don’t track these groups -– seemed to come out of nowhere.
From New Orleans, one man journeyed 965 miles. Another arrived from Harrisburg, Pa. -- 247 miles. Another drove all night, more than 20 hours in all, from Austin -- 1,404 miles. One more traveled from Dayton, Ohio -- 442 miles.
The article then does short profiles of each of the men.
One man from Indiana was constantly mocked and called a hillbilly much of his life. Another is an unemployed 21-year-old who feels that minorities get all the jobs. Another was a member of a metal rock band whose eyes were opened after a trip through Rust Belt and Appalachian territory. The poor whites there were just as desperate as were the minorities in the ghettos, yet there was no program to help them, he felt.
Another wanted the right to join an all-white college fraternity and not be called a racist. And another was beat up by black kids when he was young. And yet another had served time in prison where he felt that whites experienced racism far worse than did any other group.
All the interviews were quite illuminating with excellent quotes. But there was one thing missing. Other than a quote by a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman likening these alt-right folks to disaffected Muslim youth who become ISIS radicals, there wasn’t one mention of religion, pro or con.
I started trying to locate these young men on the internet and on Matthew Parrott’s blog, there is a photo of a Russian Orthodox monk and several articles on “Christian-Anarcho Nationalism in the USSR.”
While reading an Al Jazeera piece about alt-right groups, I found a fascinating observation about one of its leaders in that he found Orthodoxy -- both Greek and Russian versions -- as the kind of Christianity best suited to his movement, perhaps because of its emphasis, in some nations, on national identity. If other white nationalists are interested in Orthodox churches, that’s a fascinating trend someone should mine. And the same article showed several members at prayer.
Back to the Post piece, I’m betting that at least some of these men had faith leanings of some sort. I’m surprised the reporter didn’t go there. If some are intensely secular or anti-religious, that would be a story as well.
Speaking of where reporters don’t go, here's a piece from the Christian Post about an Aug. 15 event at the National Press Club featuring black clergy. Here’s a short excerpt from a second article I had mentioned before:
WASHINGTON -- A group of conservative black pastors and intellectual leaders on Monday defended President Donald Trump amid criticism of his initial response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
While some, like Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, have claimed that there is a "direct line" between the events in Charlottesville and the choices Trump made in his 2016 presidential campaign, conservative African-American clergy members, scholars and political activists decried such an argument in a Monday press conference at the National Press Club.
Now, the press club is a respected venue in the District and everyone in the media knows where it is and how to get there. How come there was no mainstream media coverage of this event? CBN mentioned it in passing and the American Family News Network had a piece but that was about it. In other words, it was "conservative" news.
Race was certainly the issue du jour that day, so why did this go unnoticed? Was its message unpopular?
I criticize the first piece for not saying enough about religion but faith seems to be an issue the press likes to avoid, if possible. For here (in the second article) was a group of black professionals, many of them in some kind of religious ministry, wanting to talk about race, but few cared to hear their voices.
Is there only one story line being told about Charlottesville and beyond? Or are there many -- but we're only getting to read one?