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Hope amid hatred this July Fourth

Our national holiday this year is marked by hatred and hope.

The murders in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church were a frightening reminder of how much hatred exists in our country. A week before the massacre, The New York Times reported that a study of 384 law enforcement agencies found that 74 percent believed the greatest terrorist threat facing us comes from domestic extremists, not the Islamic State group or al-Qaida.

Militias, neo-Nazis and “sovereign citizen” groups (who reject federal, state and local authority) make up the bulk of this domestic threat. These groups harbor racist elements; the most overtly racist are neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, which have a big presence online.

It was at the website of one of these white supremacist groups that the Charleston killer filled his head with racist blather about African-Americans “raping our women” and “taking over our country.” These racist tropes date back to the days of slavery. Yet they remain potent recruiting slogans for vengeance-minded fanatics who need someone to blame for their sorry, bitter lives.

The outpouring of grief around the country combined with renewed debate about flying the Confederate flag repudiated any message the killer was trying to get across. 

Hatred, access to guns and mental health issues may all have been factors, but what is it with this young, white, male demographic? From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, from John Hinckley to Dylan Klebold to Adam Lanza to Dylann Roof, these violent killers have predictable profiles. Are there studies being done on them? How can we identify these loose cannons before they go off?

Roof was able to buy the Glock he used to kill the nine Charlestonians with birthday money. The very day pundits were discussing that lethal purchase, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill repealing Wisconsin’s two-day waiting period for handgun purchases, calling it an unnecessary “time tax.” How twisted by ideology do you have to be to dismiss a two-day waiting period for handguns as a “time tax”?

President Barack Obama delivered his stirring eulogy in Charleston a day after federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act were sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court and on the day the high court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. No wonder Obama spoke with such passion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy grounded his marriage ruling in the rights to individual liberty, due process and equal protection of the laws. The four liberal justices voted with Kennedy, reminding us again why we take pride in liberalism. Thus did a determined minority of gay men and lesbians — subject to criminal sanction, medical torture and rejection by families as few as 50 years ago — obtain redress and state recognition of their relationships. 

I spent June 26 tuning in to TV and websites to take it all in. I watched excerpts of the Charleston eulogy, crying in sorrow, and then switched to coverage of the marriage ruling, crying with happiness. 

At the end of that historic day, the beautiful image of the White House swathed in bright rainbow colors was transmitted worldwide. It was an unexpected, celebratory symbol of hope that closed a period of national tragedy. 

May the rainbow continue to be our beacon as we fight hatred with love and learn to respect the diversity and contributions of all our people.

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