America’s Problem Not Times Article

Alexandra Reinecke, Editor-in-Chief

The New York Times published “A Voice of Hate in America,” a feature story about white nationalist Tony Hovater, on November 25.

Including quotes by Hovater like “[Hitler was] doing what he thought was right,” and casual observations of Hovater’s purportedly average existence –“He prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan”– the article penned  by Times correspondent Richard Fausset has garnered understandable public ire.

“Let me explain to some of you why this is trash,” tweeted democratic presidential press secretary Symone D. Sanders.

A great majority of liberal America agrees.

I cried after the November 2016 election. I sleep in a Clinton t-shirt. I’m pro-choice, pro-nationalized healthcare, pro-progressive taxation, pro-science, and pro-gay and minority rights. The Political Compass places me square on Noam Chomsky’s forehead–an inch left of Bernie Sanders. I’ll champion a fair, kind, and equitable America until doomsday, and likely in Birkenstocks.

Regarding “A Voice of Hate,” however, I’m forced to take a stance contrarian to liberal America’s responsive outrage. Fausset’s so-called ‘edgy’ article isn’t a cause for concern.

But America’s response is.

Writer Julia Philips defines persecution as an attack staged “by a large body of people, generally those who represent ‘society,’  against a smaller one generally comprised of those who have either rejected, or for one reason or  another, fall outside of the social ‘norm.'” Fausset is that smaller body. The larger one? An America defensive enough of the perceived normalization of white nationalism evidenced within its borders to attack rather than commend a journalist brave enough to highlight that repugnant reality.

Western history is a history of the fiery rebuke of provocative thought, of persecution for political, social, religious and ideological dissent. Fausset’s opinion, however admirable the attempt, isn’t original. He derives from a line of tyrannized critics – like Galileo and Martin Luther – as old as civilization itself.

And it is imperative that it is in this light that we see him.

This is by no means to call Fausset’s article blameless, or even decent. Is The Atlantic‘s scathing responsive satire “Nazis Are Just like You and Me, Except They’re Nazis . . . despite what you may have read in The New York Times,” exponentially more effective? Probably. Does the article lack adequate historical context into the murderous past from which people like Hovater derive? Yes. Would Fausset have better captured America’s white nationalist normalization through the presentation of its facts, rather than through borrowing from its playbook? Certainly.

These arguments, however, concern the article’s execution, not its intent. I won’t defend Fausset’s clearly poor, even reprehensible execution.

I will however, defend the intent that stands at the core of his article’s purpose, and at the core of journalism’s purpose, generally. I will defend the same intent Fausset clarified in his public response. “I was thinking about an album [called] . . . “What Makes a Man Start Fires?” wrote Fausset in his November 25 response. “To me, that question embodies what good journalism should strive for.”

Strive after that question Fausset does, often ineffectively. But sometimes he succeeds.

Highlighting the reality of our national racist normalization he aimed to capture, “He [Hovater] said the election of President Trump helped open a space for people like him”. His describes Hovater as “the Nazi sympathizer next door,” an example of the dangerous “time [in which] the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux.”

While his accompanying failures are much more glaring – statements like “He declared the widely accepted estimate that six million Jews died in the Holocaust was “overblown,” and “On the party’s website, the swastika armband is formally listed as the “NSDAP LARP Armband” often seem to normalize rather than to highlight the danger of normalizing – his intent is both journalistically admirable and morally sound, and it is for that intent, however horrendous the botched result, that we should give him his due nod.

On November 26, in the article’s comments, reader Stephen A. Silver of San Francisco, expressed that he was “disturbed” by the profile.

Author Cesar A. Cruz is noted for defining art (and therefore, writing) as responsible to “comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.” It is such neglect from which commenting reader Stephen A. Silver of San Francisco – and a national majority – were “disturbed.”

Most would expect Fausset to regret that Silver and other readers were “disturbed.” Fausset is the only person who can confirm or challenge such a claim. I can tell you emphatically, however, that he has lost no sleep over public outcry.

It was just his idea.