Political Discussion in the Polarized Age of Trump
By Nate Thayer
March 20, 2016
Recently, I posted a short primer on white supremacist tattoos and their meaning after a Donald Trump for president worker was interviewed by U.S. TV network PBS who failed to note the racist and neo-Nazi symbols prominently inked on her hands.
One tattoo featured the symbol “88” which refers to one of two things: the 88 words of a phrase in Volume 1, Chapter 8 of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and the numeral “8”representing the eighth letter of the alphabet (H), and hence “HH”–or “88” standing for “Heil Hitler”.
33 year-old Trump for President campaign worker Grace Tilly’s second tattoo featured a derivation of the “Celtic Cross”, one of the most common fascist symbols used by the modern Neo-Nazi and white power movement. Variations of the “Celtic Cross” depicting a cross within a circle are widely used by white nationalists in the U.S. and Europe. It serves as the logo for the largest Internet community of far right political adherents, the website Stormfront.org, as well as the Ku Klux Klan and other white racialist and fascist groups throughout North America and Europe. This modern appropriation of the Celtic Cross symbol has its origins in Norwegian Nazi partisans during World War II. More recently, German and Italian courts have banned the use of the symbol for those reasons.
Writing about these facts, which are not in dispute by anyone, save for perhaps a vocal contingent of Donald Trump supporters, elicited some shrill and angry responses.
“A Celtic Cross is a symbol of white power?” objected Eileen Dowie, an Irish Catholic from Boston. “This is a total lack of responsible reporting.”
“What ‘total lack of responsible reporting’ are you referring to, Eileen Dowie?” I responded. “I would be most interested…”
“I don’t care if some skinheads have hijacked the Celtic Cross. Don’t report a falsehood, stating it’s a symbol of white power,” wrote Ms. Dowie. “These are what the ancient cross of the Celts stood for: Hope, Life, Honor, Faith, Unity, Balance, Transition, Temperance, Ascension and Navigation. You are inciting hate.”
“Jeesh, Eileen Dowie. I have no idea who you are or why you are so unpleasantly hostile, but let me say this: I did not report a falsehood nor is it accurate to suggest that I am ‘inciting hate.’ The fact is that the ‘Celtic Cross’ is a very prominent symbol used by white supremacists in the U.S. That is what the young gal meant when she inked that tattoo. You might not like it and I might not like it, but facts are facts,” I responded.
That was the last message from me as it became clear Ms. Dowie was not in the mood to listen or engage in a discussion, which is a requirement for two or more people to have what can be defined as a conversation. But that didn’t stop her from stalking me with 9 more hours of one-way, not reciprocated ranting.
She then embarked on a much darker narrative about why writing objectively about the topic must be motivated by some hidden, nefarious political affiliation of the author which he simply a mouthpiece for. “I know why you are–you’re attempting to incite hate. This is just more attempts to decimate Christianity,” she continued.
“If you were a responsible reporter, you should include the true meaning of the cross. You report it as being a Celtic Cross. Jesus Mary and Saint Joseph! I wonder how many Celtic Cross tombstones will now be defaced,” Ms. Dowie wrote. “On the gravestone at Milton cemetery where my grandparents and uncle and nephew are buried, there is the Celtic Cross on the tombstone. I guess it’s their tattoo. And if you think I’ve got my Irish up now, if anything happens to that tombstone…well you get what I’m saying,” she wrote in a threatening tone.
Then she ratcheted up the conspiracy theory fueled partisan intransigence swirling within her fertile mind and injected her own racial, ethnic, and class intolerant views into the one-way dialogue. “Nate, isn’t Thayer an English last name? We Irish know what you think of us. At least you won’t catch me cleaning your (sic) Brahman bathroom or whitewashing your picket fence. My calling you a (sic) Brahman is my way of showing an aspect I feel you have missed. It’s obvious to those of us who recognize your obvious hostilities against the freedom given Irish Catholics. You think we should be locked forever in servitude to your (sic) Brahman ways. Perhaps you are angry that your ancestors had no real courage or ability to win against the Celts. I may start my own blog using your comparison of our beloved cross and the symbol of hate you irresponsibly attached to it. That’d take quite a chunk of voters in Massachusetts away from Hillary Clinton.”
The above is a meaty stew of the ingredients of intolerance and political polarization in the Era of Trump. Welcome to the norm of discussion on issues of common import in the Age of Trump.
Putting aside the historical revisionism regarding conflicts between Brahmins and Celts, her “hijacking” of the popular usage of Brahmins from its historical antecedents is ripe with irony given the topic of her objection of usage of the Celtic Cross as it has evolved in contemporary politics.
In Hinduism, the Brahma is the Supreme Being, the primal source and ultimate goal of all beings. Brahmā in Buddhist scripture refers to the eternal perfect being, and the highest stage any person can achieve. The Buddha Dharma—or enlightenment—was and is defined as becoming Brahman. Nirvana, the Buddhist state of ultimate happiness, is equated with Brahma. The original meaning of Brahmins, in other words, has nothing to do with the modern-day fisticuffs between Ms Dowie’s people and the Brits. She has appropriated Brahmins from the ancient Hindu religion original meaning.
“You say that facts are facts. Then report facts and not falsehoods. If some racist organization chooses to use a symbol, that doesn’t change the symbols origin and original meaning,” she yelled at me over the internet. “The hijacking of a symbol does not change the meaning of the symbol.”
Well, actually yes it does, Eileen, as evidenced by your comment immediately above. The original meaning of symbols have been appropriated routinely through history, changing their meaning.
For example, the Swastika.
The Swastika is an ancient religious and sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism dating back to the 2nd century B.C. The name swastika comes from the Sanskrit word Svastika, meaning “lucky or auspicious object”.
Prior to World War I and, most notably, during the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany, the Swastika was adopted as a symbol of fascism and the popular meaning of the Swastika was changed forever. It is still seen in architecture and religious symbolism throughout the Hindu world today, but, of course, its global significance is irrevocably attached to the rise of fascism in the 20th century.
And it is now widely used as a symbol for contemporary fascist political groups and the white power movement.
That is one of scores of examples of the evolution of the changing meaning of religious, cultural, a political symbols in popular usage.
Ms. Dowie has a specific problem with the contemporary usage of the symbol of the Celtic Cross.
She wrote that the widespread use of the Celtic Cross by white supremacists is “like turning it into a symbol for something else.”
Yes, that is true.
But she then continued “It’s irresponsible to say that the Celtic Cross is a symbol of white power,” demanding that I censor the evidence showing otherwise because she didn’t like the fact that it was true, not because there is any evidence that indicates otherwise. “Retract your Celtic Cross reference. Call it what it was.”
It is not the purpose of objective journalism to censor what things are for what things once were.
What Ms Dowie is really objecting to isn’t that my article was incorrect, but rather that she is opposed to anyone publishing that it is correct, preferring that contemporary history be censored because she did not like it, agree with it, or want to hear it.
Ms Dowie is one ingredient in the potpourri of intolerance that passes for American political discourse transiting from the discredited fringe to acceptable mainstream debate since the ascendency of Trump: Facts don’t matter. The volume of shrill anger is seen as the preferred litmus test of who wins rather than the merits of a discussion or debate.
Ms. Dowie is, if one distills her objections to their essence, unhappy that she has been relegated to share the bleacher seats of Donald Trump’s fan club with her Riff-Raff comrades of the organized hate groups who preach racial and religious intolerance.
But, not without import or irony, her rhetorical arguments are exactly the hallmark she shares with the modern-day fascism she objects to for soiling her religious and ethnic historical reputation, which itself is a revisionist version which she—and many—prefer to be prettied up to make it more palatable. She has found the nuances of historical evolution too confusing to intellectually process.
This is quite instructive of the mind-set of religious and racial intolerance which, when combined with a cultural inferiority complex common to national identities on the ropes, the disenfranchised, or those which have emerged on the wrong side of hegemony and oppression, such as miss Dowie’s Irish Catholics.
Eileen Dowie refused to accept that religious and cultural symbols from her ancestors homeland have been adopted by white nationalists and neo-Nazi’s.
“Because some idiot radical hate group has decided to use it as a symbol of hate, many Irish people could be hurt. That’s why I am not OK with the article. It’s irresponsible and not what the cross stands for,” she wrote.
A commentator on a news story regarding the issue of the appropriation of the Celtic Cross by far right-wing hate groups, had a much more sensible response to the reality that the Celtic Cross is now a widely used symbol of proponents of hate. “I am so very saddened to see the Celtic cross used in such a disgustingly destructive way. We humans observe signs and symbols in order to make judgments and decisions. I am of Celtic background and I live in England in a community where Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists etc. live together. We shop together, we all go to the cinema together, we live in our streets together, we work together,” she wrote. “I went to the town centre recently and I had my silver Celtic cross earrings on. I passed an elder Muslim man in the street and he saw my earrings and a look of fear came over his face. I haven’t worn them for a while, as he was genuinely afraid, and now I know why. These appalling apologies for human beings that are actual psychopaths that give themselves the grandiose name of ‘white supremacy’ are narcissists. I am so very saddened that the Celtic cross is being used in this way and that I now feel I cannot wear my earrings for fear of alarming others. I smiled at the gentleman and he half smiled back, so maybe he understood in that brief moment I would not hurt anyone. Look into the history of the Celtic Cross, please do not think that it has anything to do with these idiot psychopaths. Oh, where have we got to in this world, human against human?”
Denying truths does nothing to change those truths one finds objectionable. Confronting objectionable facts is a short-term unpleasantry, but ignoring them or denying they are true only contributes to them taking root to metastasize.
In 2012, Wade Michael Page, an army veteran and white supremacist went to a Wisconsin Sikh Temple and shot 6 people who were attending to their religious observances. Page was covered with tattoo’s symbolizing racial and religious hatred.
Page’s tattoos are now banned by U.S. army policy. On his left shoulder was a Celtic cross–a cross within a circle. Also inked on Page was a tattoo of the Celtic cross with the numeral “14” in the middle. “14” is a common neo-Nazi and white supremacist symbol referring to the 14 words in the slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The number and cross weren’t the only writing on Page’s body. There was inked on his hands the letters “W” and “P” representing “White Power”.
And Eillen Dowie, there was, in addition to the Celtic Cross with the slogan calling for an all-white nation, tattooed on Page’s back a Celtic knot—the same Celtic knot which is used on the original symbol of the Celtic Cross.
And, oh yeah. On his upper right arm was tattooed “9/11”