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KALAMAZOO — His online handle is Marsxiv. That’s all online readers know, other than the fact that Marsxiv is a strong believer in white supremacy.
At a time when strident racism has been largely deemed socially unacceptable, unashamed bigotry thrives in the comment sections of Internet websites. Internet anonymity has removed one of the strongest barriers to incivility and breeds the type of language that otherwise would ruin reputations and end careers.
Do these comments reflect a reversal of racial progress? Is that progress an illusion while racism thrives underground? What kind of harm are such statements causing? Could there be any value in such venting? And what, if anything, should a free society do about it?
“A lot of people are angry and they’re looking for a venue to vent,” said TImothy Ready, head of Western Michigan University’s Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations.
So what types of people are behind anonymous online attacks? The white homeowner who smiles at his black neighbor? Minorities trying to make whites look bad? People of any race just looking for a thrill?
In a response to a Gazette e-mail asking Marsxiv to describe himself, he said he was born in a Lebensborn, which were maternity homes set up in Nazi Germany for mothers and children who were deemed to be racially pure Aryans. Both his father and grandfather were part of the Nazi SS, he claimed.
He said he came to the United States in the late 1950s and has worked as a police officer and for the federal government around the world in military and civilian intelligence.
More of what he wrote isn’t suitable for publication in print, but it continued in the same vein.
Don Burdick, the Barry County resident, has similar views. In a recent five-page letter, he wrote that
Some of what he wrote also can’t be published.
In an interview, Burdick said he’s “absolutely not” a white supremacist.
“I’m more of a separatist,” he said. “According to the Holy Scriptures, God commands us to remain separate, and society kind of thumbs their nose at those directives. ... When we intermingle, we destroy God’s work.”
Burdick said it’s particularly hard for white males to offer their uncensored views of the world: “White males are the most discriminated group today,” he said. “We used to be in the majority.”
As Burdick’s comments suggest, Ready of WMU theorizes that many of the racist comments online come from older white men who are dismayed by the demographic changes and cultural shifts in America over the past few decades — changes underscored by the recent economic downturn.
“Their wages have gone down dramatically,” said TImothy Ready, head of Western Michigan University’s Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations. . “For many white men, there’s a feeling of major loss of opportunity and status.”
The irony, said he and Jaime Grant, executive director of Kalamazoo College’s Center for Social Justice, is that those white men are feeling the same sort of anxiety as people of color.