Friday July 03, 2020
‘Former Neo-Nazi Says Trump Uses Language of Neo-Nazism’: The Headlines NPR Can't Hear
Yesterday on “Morning Edition” I heard a story that was the best of journalism and the worst of journalism.
It was the best of journalism because it was an interview with a man, Christian Picciolini, who was once a neo-Nazi, and who is now the founder of a group that tries to prevent such racist extremism. In divisive times, we‘re getting insight from someone who’s not only been behind enemy lines but was once the enemy himself.
And he didn't disappoint. The other day, Donald Trump (the president of the United States, remember) retweeted a video in which, right at the beginning, someone shouted “White Power!” and NPR's reporter, Noel King, asks Picciolini about the phrase. He talks about the ways it was used in his former circles (as greeting, sign-off, philosophy) and she asks if it was ever used positively. No, he says. Then, maybe anticipating where she's going, he parses the difference between “Black power!” and “White power!”:
“‘Black power’ is used as a cry for equity and a cry against white supremacy. ‘White power’ has always been used as kind of a bludgeon and not as anything other than that.”
He keeps doing this. He keeps clarifying. And he keeps coming back to the larger point. She asks a convoluted question about whether Trump intentionally retweeted someone saying “White power!” and he doesn't lean in and dissect that unknowable moment but pulls back:
“This has been a pattern. This hasn't been the first time that the president has tweeted something that has come from a white supremacist or that has had a white supremacist message—whether it's talking about a conspiracy theory that's connected to white genocide or whether it's using pejorative language to describe other people. What is intentional, I believe, is the goal to instill fear. We‘re seeing a lot more language that is racist, especially with the use of social media, and he is emboldening that kind of language through his tweets.”
The most infuriating part to me—the worst of journalism—is how shocked she is that neo-Nazis mention and retweet Trump. Then she asks the same about Pres. Obama and George W. Bush and says, “Oh, wow! ... So it really is, in your experience, only since President Obama that U.S. presidents have become part of the discourse.” It’s like she doesn‘t see the difference between Obama and Trump here. Both of them are just “causing divisiveness,” as it were. But jus as she collapses distinctions, Picciolini raises them again. Obama was, he says, a focal point for their fear and paranoia. Trump? He’s their hero. “He was saying so many similar things that I was saying 30 years ago and that the movement said.”
Get that Noel King and NPR? Former neo-Nazi says president of the United States uses language of neo-Nazism. That's your fucking story.
Picciolini also says things will get worse, particularly if Trump loses the election, since many in the movement think this is their one shot, with this president, to get a world they want. That's the warning he wants to deliver. I doubt NPR heard it through the waters they continually muddy.