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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Robert Crosby: Be grateful for people who embrace extremism and then reject it

Robert Crosby

By Robert Crosby

Charlottesville Virginia 2017. White supremacists and counter-protesters were marching. The supremacists were shouting “Jews will not replace us.” This echoed what Nazis were shouting as they marched in the 1930s. It was being repeated here in America!

But it was not new.

For centuries whispered rumors of Indigenous and slavery uprisings to replace their white masters justified racist violence, affected reconstruction, and the creation of the Ku Klux Klan.

In Germany in the 1920s and ’30s, Hitler promised to “Make Germany Great Again” with his ultranationalism and xenophobia about Jews, Romani and gays. Before World War II there was a fascist movement in the United States called “America First” supporting Germany.

In Milton Mayor’s study called “They Thought They Were Free,” he interviewed many Germans right after the war. They talked about their good neighbors who were Nazis as many being interviewed were. Many of them still believed that Hitler was a good man! Shortly after the war I spent a summer at a Methodist Church camp with two former Christian Hitler youth movement members. Both Rolf and Werner still revered Hitler!

About Charlottesville, President Trump said, “There are good people on both sides.” Liberals were aghast at such a statement.

However, the president was right!

Fascism creeps into the fabric of society on the backs of “good” people who have been naively swept up in ultranationalism and xenophobia.

I was born in 1928, in the decade when there was a resurgence in the north of the KKK extending to Washington state.

In our small town in Pennsylvania my “saintly” grandfather and the minister who had baptized me began a chapter of the KKK. My dad and mother were members for a year. My grandfather had written a book called “Twenty Pathways Leading to Judgment.” A chapter called “Prejudice” was very tribal. It was about not being prejudiced toward other people in the church! There is nothing about societal prejudices that were and are huge! The history of tribal morality runs deep even in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Even though they were quickly out of the KKK, it wasn’t until I was about 13 years old and learning from an eighth-grade teacher that my parents began to realize how misguided they had been and how naïve. Once aware, Dad encountered and stood up to the influence of McCarthyism and white supremacy in our community. My Sunday school teacher, considered to be the wealthiest man in the church, turned out to be one who was funding the fundamentalist pastor who was the primary source of the conspiracy information being given to the House un-American Activities committee which President Truman called “The most un-American group in America.” When my Sunday School teacher brought literature to the church to distribute which claimed that even our pastor was probably a communist, my eighth-grade educated steelworker dad resolutely confronted and stopped that activity. Using his own personal authority, he simply put any nonchurch literature into the coal furnace that heated our church.

Years later in Wausau, Wisconsin, I joined the John Birch Society, which was a new manifestation of McCarthyism, and brought about its demise in a year. One member who did a 180-degree turnaround was a member of the church where I was an assistant pastor. He also was the physician who delivered my daughter. These were good people! My grandfather was a good person. The pastor who baptized me was a good person! Again, it’s on the backs of “good people” that tyrants come to power. This seems very true of Christians in the United States. They latch on to a cult leader who says the right words and they’re gone, lost in fascism and they don’t know it.

I am grateful that both of my parents were members of the KKK and that they did a complete turnaround. Their membership has helped me understand “good” Germans who fell under the spell of Hitler and Mussolini.

Also, I believe that I understand, while strongly disagreeing with, Americans who support white supremacy, and Americans who support the fascist directions of some of our political leaders today toward nationalism, the fear of those who are different in skin color, religious belief, or ideology, and the cultish belief in the great leader who will make their country great again!

I’m grateful that I was able as a young person to get inside of this phenomenon and I’m grateful that my parents were open learners – good people who at one time supported what I call evil, and good people who spent most of their lives opposing that evil.

Robert P. Crosby, of Spokane, is an ordained United Methodist clergyman who founded LIOS-the Leadership Institute of Spokane/Seattle and created and led a graduate program from which over 1,500 persons graduated and which is still alive today in Seattle.