The Status Quo Isn't Working: We Need to Evict Hate and Extremism from Bucks County
“I do wonder if disrupting the status quo, disrupting business as usual, is something we need to do more often. Whatever we’ve done until this point has not been enough,” said Lela Casey.
Political anti-nazism/anti-fascism graffiti in Athens, Greece. We need to chase extremism out of our communities.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Art Lawson, rather than Art Larson, as the man who made antisemitic remarks at a school board meeting. I apologize for the typo/error.]
Hate has a home in Bucks County. So does extremism. So does QAnon and growing conspiracism.
We need to acknowledge this.
We also need to recognize what’s happening locally is part of a far-reaching, far-right political project, and that our resistance locally should be seen as part of a larger nationwide, if not global, anti-fascist and anti-racist movement.
“It’s more vital than ever to continue tracking the spread of antisemitism and white nationalism, as conspiracism, bigotry and ultranationalism continue to be a rising threat in the United States and beyond,” Ben Lorber, a research analyst with Political Research Associates, told Waging Nonviolence in September.
We’ve seen the mainstreaming of far-right fanaticism Lorber mentioned right in Central Bucks School District, as well as throughout Bucks County.
For many folks, this ignorance and extremist hate reached a pinnacle at the Nov. 9 Central Bucks School Board meeting where two men used their three minute-speaking slots to evangelize their bigotry against the LGBTQ and Jewish communities. First, Ed Mackhouse regurgitated a lie about a rape at a high school in Virginia. The sexual assault was actually not by someone “identifying as transgender and going into the girls’ bathroom under the guise of that,” explained Buta Biberaj, the Commonwealth attorney who prosecuted the actual cis-gendered boy responsible for the sexual assault. But Mackhouse repeated the lie that the perpetrator was a transgender youth, thereby potentially inciting violence against transgender students in the district. So at best, he is another unwitting victim of right-wing misinformation. At worst, just another local bigot. (See: The Right’s Big Lie About a Sexual Assault in Virginia)
Then Art Larson used his time to vomit anti-semitic conspiracies that echoed the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the fabricated, racist text that Hitler used to help usher in the Holocaust. What this had to do with district education or school health policy is anyone’s guess.
However, I am not sure which is worse: These two men’s hateful speeches, the fact that that people applauded, or that Republican school board candidates refused to stop, or at the very least admonish the hate, and instead targeted their vitriol at outraged parents?
Lela Casey, a local parent of three kids in the district, told me she felt her stomach sink, then a knot and tightening of her stomach while listening. She couldn’t sit silently. She jumped up and said, “You need to stop!”
Apparently that was more offensive to the right-wing school board members than transphobic lies and hate, and anti-semitic tropes. They threatened to remove her from the meeting because her speech was unacceptable.
“I think people are using school boards now as a forum to proliferate hate,” said Stephanie, another local mom who didn’t want to giver her last name because of a fear of a backlash.
She’s right. And both her and Lela separately agreed that the school board meetings have been building toward this moment. “They have been slipping in this casual anti-semtism for months now,” said Lela, noting the offensive comparisons of masking to the Holocaust.
“I’ve lost faith in the district and its leadership,” Stephanie added. “This school district is condoning these behaviors and I’d go a step further and say this school district is reflective of these behaviors.”
This type of hate and bigotry has always been here though. Jerel Wohl was a CBSD school board member for seven years before stepping aside in 2017. He actually dealt with anti-semitism and bullying and boorish behavior from another school board member. Let’s just say the support he received from his colleagues when he mentioned it ought to have been much, much better.
“The scary part, the horrifying part, is that other people don’t think that these were outrageous, bigoted comments,” said Jerel of this month’s meeting.
He says rejecting hate and anti-semitism should be a bipartisan issue, and hopes it turns out to be moving forward. Otherwise, he worries about how not just the community, but the country can peacefully exist.
“The community does need to stand together, and needs to go to these meetings, and it needs to make it very explicitly clear - like a demand - saying this is not acceptable, this does not represent the community, and these people applauding do not represent the community,” Jerel added.
However, just a week after the CBSD school board meeting The Intelligencer’s Chris Ullery reported that Republican Doylestown Township Supervisor Nancy Santacecilia distributed a racist, bigoted election mailer that attacked the Bucks NAACP and the Rainbow Room, an invaluable and life-saving LGBTQ+ youth center. In fact, Emily Kaufman, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said one part of the letter echoed the white supremacist Great Replacement Theory, an idea mainstreamed with Republican audiences by Fox News Host Tucker Carlson.
Now, let’s broaden the lens a bit to get a fuller picture of how the horror show in Bucks County is actually a microcosm for the entire country.
Friday Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted, and not only that, far-right lawmakers want to reward him with an internship.
In Texas, teachers were instructed they needed to teach “both sides” of the Holocaust. Never mind the school district’s response of being outraged that this was leaked — not of the reprehensible and ignorant policy.
New polling data states that 40 percent of Oregonians believe "America must protect and preserve its white European heritage," and support for white nationalism is rising.
Or this …
I could go on, and there are plenty of other examples in this newsletter of how fascist and extremist forces are infiltrating all of our institutions.
Be the Change
One thing Lela told me that really stuck was, “I do wonder if disrupting the status quo, disrupting business as usual, is something we need to do more often. Whatever we’ve done until this point has not been enough.”
As we can all see, she’s right. It hasn’t been enough.
The point is not to fill you with despair. The point is to remind everyone how urgent anti-fascist education, organizing, and activism is locally if things are going to change nationally. We need nonviolent social change desperately and we need to agree that non-cooperation with hate and extremism is essential.
Our community resistance must be diverse, creative, cogent, interfaith, multi-generational, and grounded in the nonviolent best practices of the historical movements that came before us — from the abolitionists, to the suffragists, to the civil rights movement, to the peace movement, and all the other progressive movements these same right-wing forces would disappear from school curricula.
We all have different lives, responsibilities, and availabilities, but regardless each and every one of us can still contribute something.
What are you willing and able to do to help evict hate and extremism from Bucks County, or from where you live? And if you need help finding a way to get involved, reach out to me.
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Thanks for reading! I look forward to your feedback and suggestions. And most importantly, keep organizing!