Charlottesville riots

Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

The terrorist set out to massacre Muslim believers as they gathered for Friday prayers in their mosques.

He covered his weapons with names of others who committed similar mass murders and military leaders that he claimed fought for the same cause.

The terrorist left behind a hellish manifesto built on themes common among radicals who hate immigrants, especially Muslims, and weave in virulent anti-Semitism themes, as well (BBC explainer here). He claimed to have “been in contact” with sympathizers of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people — most of them children — in 2011.

1. Religion story of the week. The gunman’s motives may have been pure hatred, with no twisted links to any world religion, but it’s clear that the New Zealand massacre is the religion story of the week — because of the faith of the 49 victims and the faith statements of millions of people that are offering prayers and help in the wake of the attack.

The gunman labeled his own motives, as seen in this New York Times report:

Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. …

In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes. Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.

The Washington Post noted:

The 74-page manifesto left behind after the attack was littered with conspiracy theories about white birthrates and “white genocide.” It is the latest sign that a lethal vision of white nationalism has spread internationally. Its title, “The Great Replacement,” echoes the rallying cry of, among others, the torch-bearing protesters who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Also this:

Video on social media of the attack’s aftermath showed a state of disbelief, as mosque-goers huddled around the injured and dead. Amid anguished cries, a person could be heard saying, “There is no God but God,” the beginning of the Muslim profession of faith.

Please help us spot major religion themes in the waves of coverage that this story will receive in the hours and days ahead. Meanwhile, with Bobby Ross Jr., still in the Middle East, here is a tmatt attempt to fill the rest of the familiar Friday Five format.

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Amazing grace: KKK leader transformed by baptism, repentance and other vague stuff

Amazing grace: KKK leader transformed by baptism, repentance and other vague stuff

What an amazing religion story NBC News offered the other day about sin, repentance, forgiveness and a Christian pastor showing some genuinely amazing grace to a KKK leader.

Well, it would have been an astonishing religion feature, if only the newsroom team had included a reporter or a producer who recognized that Christian faith was at the heart of this story of human hatred that was baptized -- literally, in this case -- in love. 

It's hard to leave religion out of a born-again story like this one, but the NBC team did its best.

So here is the dramatic, but faith-free, headline on top of the report: "Ex-KKK member denounces hate groups one year after rallying in Charlottesville." And here is the faith-free overture:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nearly one year ago, Ken Parker joined hundreds of other white nationalists at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That day, he wore a black shirt with two lightning bolts sewn onto the collar, the uniform of the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi group.

In the past 12 months, his beliefs and path have been radically changed by the people he has met since the violent clash of white nationalists and counterprotesters led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32.

Now he looks at the shirt he wore that day, laid out in his apartment in Jacksonville, and sees it as a relic from a white nationalist past he has since left behind.

So where is the faith element in this born-again story? Well, Parker had some contacts with opponents of the alt-right that left him somewhat shaky, in a good way. He began to think twice about his beliefs.

Then this happened:


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Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Debates about Confederate monuments remain in the news and there is little sign that this story is going away anytime soon.

In fact, it could broaden. For example, there are now questions here in New York City (where I am teaching right now) about the majestic tomb of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, because of anti-Semitism. As president, Grant repented of his actions. Meanwhile, defenders of Gen. Robert E. Lee insist that he repented of his sins against the Union and took strong stands for reconciliation.

This brings we to the think piece for this weekend, which probes deeper into discussions among Episcopalians about Lee and his faith. Earlier this week I praised a Washington Post report that paid careful attention to voices on both sides of that debate in Lexington, Va., where a parish is named in Lee's honor, on the edge of the campus of Washington and Lee University.

That headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?" A key paragraph:

Church debates about the name have focused on the fact that Lee chose after the war ended not to continue -- as some Southerners wanted -- an insurgency, and instead to move on, “to try and rebuild and reconcile and repair damage he had no small part in creating,” said David Cox, a historian of Lee, a former rector and current member of the parish.

An independent journal for Episcopalians, The Living Church, took the discussion of some of these issues further with an interview with Father Cox. The byline on "Drowned Out by Outrage" will be familiar to longtime GetReligion readers, since Doug LeBlanc was the co-founder of this weblog nearly 14 years ago.

So who is Cox? He is the author of "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee," which was published in April by Eerdmans. Here is a passage that sets the tone:

When members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville in a torchlit parade and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Cox said, “that had nothing to do with Lee.”

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Southern Poverty Law Center gets sued by Christians and Muslims and hardly anyone covers it

Southern Poverty Law Center gets sued by Christians and Muslims and hardly anyone covers it

he Southern Poverty Law Center has had a pretty nice week, getting $1 million from George and Amal Clooney and another $1 million from Apple in the wake of the Charlottesville riots. And from JP Morgan, another $1 million.

But it appears that some of that money may need to go for a legal defense fund now that a conservative Christian organization is suing it for including its name on a hate group list (and on a hate map pictured above). And not only that, but a Muslim is suing the SPLC as well. 

What’s amazing isn’t so much the lawsuit from the Christians, which isn’t unexpected. It’s how, more than 24 hours since the story broke, mainstream media coverage of this story just hasn't happened. Considering how some of the best-known liberal groups or personages just dumped $3 million on the SPLC quite recently, don't you think a lawsuit against it would be news?

As for media -- this is one of those "conservative" news topics -- that have stepped in, Fox News began it this way:

A prominent evangelical ministry has filed a federal lawsuit against the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), saying it defamed the Christian organization as an “active hate group” because it endorses the biblical view of homosexuality.
The clash marks the latest chapter in a growing feud between those who embrace historic monotheistic beliefs, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and progressive activists who have begun targeting mainstream Christian groups that hold traditional beliefs about sex and other issues. 

By the way, Fox is one of the very few media organizations that covered Maajid Nawaz’s lawsuit against the SPLC in June. I looked up who else covered it and I found more conservative-leaning outlets: The National Review, Breitbart.com and the Washington Examiner.

Yes, there was a pre-lawsuit profile by the New York Times magazine. Other than that, there was a lot of silence from the other MSM.

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Klanner-turned-Catholic priest story raises question about (wait for it) repentance

Klanner-turned-Catholic priest story raises question about (wait for it) repentance

Just when you thought things couldn't get any more exciting in the aftermath of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., where a protester was mowed down and killed by a white-supremacist, there comes a story that I can't imagine anyone anticipated.

An active, currently serving Roman Catholic priest admitted he had been a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and burned crosses on people's lawns, before entering the priesthood. The priest, Father William Aitcheson, has now taken a leave of absence from his role as an associate pastor at a parish in the Arlington, Va., archdiocese.

While it didn't make front page news in The Washington Post -- of which more here shortly -- it was the lead item on the local NBC-TV station, WRC. Their story, buttressed by an online version, was a very basic account:

A Virginia priest took a leave of absence on Monday after he admitted that he was previously a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Father William Aitcheson, a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, burned a cross on an African-American couple's lawn in College Park, Maryland, in the 1970s. 
Aitcheson, 62, wrote about his past Klan affiliation Monday in The Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocese's newspaper. He currently is an associate pastor at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

The WRC-TV story offers an intriguing insight into the genesis of this disclosure, but then tapers off:

Aitcheson wrote in the essay that images from violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, inspired him to speak out. But a reporter's inquiry may have played a role. 
The diocese said in a statement issued Wednesday that a "freelance reporter, who introduced herself as a parishioner" contacted the diocese and said she knew that Aitcheson's name matched that of the man convicted of cross-burnings. 

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In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

It is a, well, mantra here at GetReligion that we don't analyze the reporters who write a given story as much as we discuss the story itself and the outlet that produced it. But I'm going to plead for an exception here, and I believe with good reason. More on that in just a moment.

First, the facts: Acrimony surrounding President Donald J. Trump's reaction/tweets/statements concerning the tragic events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a protester was killed by a car driven by an alleged white supremacist, has caused a number of business leaders to rethink any association, however cursory, with the current administration. Two of Trump's business-related advisory groups have folded as a result.

This leads us to a New York Times story on "The Moral Voice of Corporate America," in which reporter David Gelles uses 2,718 words (subheads included) to explain what's going on. Well, almost, since I believe some crucial voices are missing.

Four paragraphs in, we learn how corporate America has found its voice:

In recent days, after the Charlottesville bloodshed, the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, called on people to “come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us — tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan said, “The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”
Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, criticized Mr. Trump by name for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville, and called for healing. ...

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Connect dots: After Charlottesville, journalists should cover anti-Semitism as distinct from 'racism'

Connect dots: After Charlottesville, journalists should cover anti-Semitism as distinct from 'racism'

The past week once again underscored for me the connectedness of earthly phenomena -- including, most decidedly, what's happening in the news business.

Comments made in Washington -- or Bedminster, N.J. -- reverberated in Panmunjom. An ugly and disconcerting clash in Charlottesville produced global bulletins, with good cause.

So excuse me if this post strays from my assigned GetReligion role, which is to focus on analysis of international stories and trends, and instead zig-zags between the foreign and the domestic.

Call it connecting the dots -- in a very personal way.

The week saw a plethora of screaming headlines (and shouting cable talking heads) going on about the threat of nuclear war with North Korea and -- incredibly -- the threat of U.S. military intervention in hapless Venezuela. And then, at week’s end, came Charlottesville, the consequences of which will surely keep the news media engaged for some time, or at least until the next all-engulfing story comes along.

President Donald Trump finally got specific Monday about the underlying cause of Saturday’s clash between an assortment of alt-right white supremacists and their fellow travelers, and a large number of counter demonstrators, one of whom was killed when a man identified as a white supremacist and new-Nazi sympathizer is alleged to have driven his car into the crowd of counter demonstrators.

North Korea surely has potential consequences that are far greater formore people in Asia and elsewhere than do Venezuela (a non-story born out of another thoughtless remark by our commander in chief) and Charlottesville.

But I'm going with Charlottesville here, because, as I was told in Journalism 101, all news is local and personal. And I happen to be an American and a Jew and what I learned a half-century ago in journalism school remains true.

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Question for journalists: Where does this hellish Charlottesville story go next (other than Trump)?

Question for journalists: Where does this hellish Charlottesville story go next (other than Trump)?

So you are a journalist and you think there is more to the Charlottesville tragedy than political word games. Where to you think this story will go next?

Oceans of ink will, of course, be spilled covering news linked to President Donald Trump and what he does, or does not, say about that alt-right and white supremacy. Political reporters will do that thing they do and, in this case, for totally valid reasons. Please allow me to ask this question: At what point will major television networks -- rather than sticking with a simplistic left vs. right strategy -- spotlight the cultural conservatives who have been knocking the Trump team on this topic from the beginning?

In terms of religion angles, our own Julia Duin wrote an omnibus piece that this this morning and I would urge readers to check it out. Lots of people in social media urged pastors to dig into issues of hate and race in their sermons. Now I'm looking for coverage of that angle. Has anyone seen anything? Just asking.

The latest report from The New York Times -- "Far-Right Groups Surge Into National View in Charlottesville" -- raises some very interesting issues about this event. I came away asking this question: Who were the marchers and where did they come from (and get their funds)? Once reporters have asked that question, they can then ask: Who were the counter-protestors and where did they come from (and get their funds)? I think both angles will be quite revealing, in terms of information about the seeds for the violence.

I thought the following was especially interesting:

George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists, said that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. ...

The counterprotesters included members of the local Charlottesville clergy and mainstream figures like the Harvard professor Cornel West. As the rally erupted into violence Saturday morning, the First United Methodist Church on East Jefferson Street opened its doors to demonstrators, serving cold water and offering basic medical care.
Dr. Hawley said he believed the far-left activists, known as antifa, were welcomed by the white nationalists. “I think to an extent the alt-right loves the antifa because they see them as being the perfect foil,” he said.

That drew a response from one of the local organizers -- Laura Goldblatt, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia:

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Were many journalists right when they blamed 'white Christians' for Charlottesville riots?

Were many journalists right when they blamed 'white Christians' for Charlottesville riots?

On the face of it, the riots in Charlottesville didn’t have a religious component. Yes, there were pastors marching in protest against the white nationalists, but so were lots of other people.

Then, everything went very wrong very fast. What I saw next, mainly on Twitter, were people demanding that white clergy nationwide condemn the white nationalist protest in their Sunday sermons. I was fascinated by how some media – who wouldn’t be caught dead implicating certain other groups when one of them does an act of violence – decided that all white Christian clergy have to answer for the violence in Charlottesville.

Do you think I’m painting with too broad a brush? Read this NBC News opinion piece blaming all of Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan and – by extension – the events in Charlottesville. 

I saw a lot of lecturing at evangelical Protestants – who are reminded nonstop that 81 percent of them polled as voting for Trump last year – that they are responsible for what happened this past weekend. Much of this came in the form of opinion pieces ranging from an essay on Fox News’ site by a white Southern Baptist seminary professor to an essay in the Washington Post’s Acts of Faith section – written by a black clergyman – telling white pastors to speak up.

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