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Even in Small Town America, Hatred Exists

Posted by Erin Bechtol

by Ruth Ann Angus

On a summer night in August, a few dedicated women quickly brought together interested people to hold a candlelight vigil called “Outshine the Darkness” outside of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, California. The tribute to stand in solidarity with the good people of Charlottesville, Virginia and to mourn the death of Heather Heyer began slowly at sunset when slightly more than 100 people gathered in front of the church. Before long, hundreds more joined in until the group swelled to over 1000. There was music, there were speeches, there was song, and, as darkness descended, the candles were lit.

Organizers of the Women’s March San Luis Obispo posted in an article on their Facebook page the following comments: “We mourn the violence, and yes we will cry, we will pray, and we come together in love. But love is not enough. They have taken off their hoods and many of you have opened up your eyes to the reality of white supremacist terror. . . . They’ve taken off their hoods and they’re counting on you to put up your blinders. We need you to stay vigilant, for this fight is yours. . . . White people, I don’t need you talk to your black friend about racism. I need you talk to your white friends about racism!”

Between the Women’s March, the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club, and a variety of other individuals, this small town on the Central Coast of California staged a peaceful, nonviolent action. But they were not to go unscathed because of it.

Looking back several years, I recalled the guy. He came to our Rotary club, which at the time was the only club entirely devoted to environmental causes. His name was Daniel and he seemed to be very serious about the problems of climate change. One could even see him “in the lion’s den,” so to speak. But something about him caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. I tried to be welcoming. I figured it was just something with me – after all, one doesn’t always like everyone. Then a friend asked me what I thought about the guy and I realized I wasn’t the only one who thought something was amiss.

Rotary has a method for membership where it is required for someone to sponsor a new person. Our club being small had us interested in just about anyone who might be willing to join, so any one of us would naturally agree to sponsor someone who showed up with that intent. In the case of Daniel, no one was offering. He continued to attend meetings and it became more and more evident that he had issues which he voiced in no uncertain terms. Our board met and we voted not to seek his membership. The job of telling Daniel that we felt he did not fit in fell to our then president, a young man who had much experience working with people from the prison system and so had the skill to do the task well. I was glad it hadn’t fallen to me because, in truth, I don’t like this blackballing system of membership.

And then we forgot about him. Until the other day when his face turned up on the evening news as he was being arraigned on charges of making online death threats against the organizers of the “Outshine the Darkness” rally. Daniel’s post referred to the organizers as “subhuman pieces of s—” with threats to “kill you and you’re going to like it.” Shades of Charlottesville.

An investigation revealed many racist and inflammatory posts such as writing that Europe was in the middle of a “stage four Muslim infestation,” and “racial integration efforts are fundamentally criminal.” His environmental thinking was also posted when he wrote that “perhaps it is necessary to eradicate Islam/polygamy from the human experience before the animals will get a break.”

The charge against Daniel was lodged as a misdemeanor. The Assistant District Attorney of San Luis Obispo County felt that in light of the circumstances this was the appropriate charge, and Daniel was released to go free on $50,000 bail until his court date. One has to wonder. . . .

My Rotary friend emailed me the day after the news report saying, “Weren’t we lucky we got rid of him?” Lucky? I suppose so. But I couldn’t help thinking even in small town America, hatred exists. Heather Heyer said it all before her untimely demise, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Don’t let the feelings fade. Outshine the darkness.

Ruth Ann is currently working to organize a Campaign Nonviolence Action and create a nonviolent city in her community!

Photos are from Women’s March SLO FB page by Brittany Anzel App.

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