Need to belong leads to tragic results

By Leonard Pitts

I just visited the Web site that fascinated Jeff Weise, the 16-year-old who shot up his high school on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota.

There, I learned that the tribes of humanity must be separated or risk destruction by assimilation. That Jews are a “fanatical religious-ethnic” group conspiring to control communications media. And that for all the dubious talk about a “Holocaust,” you never hear about the good things Adolf Hitler did.

I also read the posts that Weise left on the site’s bulletin board. I was particularly interested in the one asking if the group would accept him, given that he was a Chippewa Indian. Weise was friendless, his father was dead, his mother in a nursing home, so there was something poignant and needy in the asking.

In all, I spent half an hour on nazi.org. It gave me a headache.

Used to be easier to laugh this stuff off. Once, when I was in college, a man in a “White Power” T-shirt came into the bookstore where I worked. My friend Cathy, who was white, promptly plopped herself in my lap, pecked me on the cheek and asked loudly when I might be “home” for dinner.

Mr. White Power glared at us, then beat a quick retreat.

Thirty years later, it’s harder to respond to the apostles of organized hatred. Not just because the Internet gives them a reach no guy in a T-shirt could match but because many have refined their message, made it slicker, given it a patina of reason.

The people behind nazi.org, for instance, would want you to know they don’t consider themselves white supremacists. To the contrary, they are open to anyone — black, Asian, Indian — who believes blacks, Asians and Indians should confine themselves to their own countries — and that Jews are “vicious,” “parasitic,” “liars” and “hypocrites.”

I won’t subject you to a treatise on why these people are abhorrent. If you don’t already know, you need more help than anyone can give you in a few inches of newsprint. No, I am only here to note the sad incongruity of an American Indian boy asking admission to their ranks.

Perhaps when you heard that, you concluded that it spoke to the self-hatred that is sometimes inculcated among minority communities. But Weise’s complaint wasn’t that he hated Indians but, rather, that too many of his people were not “Indian” enough, that their culture was diluted by exposure to others. He was especially offended by those Native youth who are fans of hip-hop. He saw them as more black than Native.

It’s a painful reminder that building a society where different cultures are welcomed and interaction valued is a difficult task. Some of us see it as the onerous burden of a politically correct era, others, as a clear and present danger to the status quo. The latter intuit, correctly, that when one culture is exposed to another, both are likely to be changed.

The difference between those people and the rest of us is that we aren’t scared of change. We recognize that while change is a challenge, it is also a condition of life. The trick — difficult, to be sure, but also rewarding — is to hold on to what is good, yet incorporate what is new.

For some people, that’s an accomplishment beyond achieving or even attempting.

We don’t know what role Weise’s Nazi beliefs played in his decision to kill nine people before taking his own life. But it seems obvious he needed what the Nazis provided — the illusion that culture can be made orderly and change put on hold.

Yet what did his Nazi friends have to say after the massacre? That they would not “wring hands” over a “tragedy,” the last word in quotes to indicate that it wasn’t tragic at all. Makes you sorrow for the boy even in the midst of your anger at him.

Weise wanted so badly to belong to something. Obviously, he never did.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com