There are none on my social media feeds arguing for understanding of hate speech and rallies, and so it is with some surprise that I read of contacts having to engage with those calling for stories from "both sides," or an understanding of "both perspectives." This isn't a divorce hearing, or political debates around bridge tolls: this is a matter of violence, and a terrorist organization's absurd belief that melanin dictates not just worth, but humanity (and religion and sexuality, but skin tends to be the primary focus). I find myself asking how one can see the assault of Dre Harris, or hear of the murder of Heather Heyer, and call for compassion and understanding of their attackers.
A video of Christian Piccioloni suggested that the answer may be related to my subject of study: material construction of the body, or how terrorists have chosen to present themselves visually to the public. "The imagery of white supremacy has changed over the last three decades," Piccioloni says. "It's gone from what you would consider your normal racist to something that's more mainstream. Suits and ties, fashionable haircuts, and clothes that would never identify them as Neo-Nazis until they open their mouths. And that was a concerted effort..."
According to Piccioloni, Neo-Nazi organizations are knowingly manipulating cultural
understanding and literacy in order to infiltrate social spheres where their radicalism would be less tolerated. They recognize that people are taught to view nice clothing as a sign of authority, or at least respectability; that society continues to forward the idea that one's morality and quality of character is reflected by the care they take in their personal appearance. But bodily texts are transient, easy to manipulate, and therefore easy to utilize for subterfuge.
It is upsetting to see the haircut one admires, or the suit they just purchased, on a man carrying a torch and shouting racist slurs. It is disturbing to realize that the face that smiled so warmly at you at the PTA meeting, across the conference table, in a restaurant, snarled savagely at a terrorist rally. It is unsettling to realize that vehement hatred and the potential for violence lies behind a face that is so familiar - but this doesn't make it less true. There is fear of guilt by association because they look just like us, and instead of shunning their rhetoric and their violence some may call to understand and compromise, because the visual line is so vanishingly thin - but they should, now more than ever. Now more than ever it is important to remember that the clothes do NOT make the man, and their words and actions speak volumes - but so can ours.