By JIM McKEEVER
A few summers ago, as our Sunday morning running group mingled and stretched before our weekly long run, the subject of Ultimate Fighting or Mixed Martial Arts came up.
I think there had been a highly publicized fight on TV the night before.
One runner, whose well-muscled physique indicated a serious dedication to weight-lifting (unusual among distance runners), shook his head and said something like, “I think all those guys were beaten by their fathers.”
I bet he’s right. Of course there are other factors that lead to men having or developing a liking for violence — genetics, poor coping skills, bullying, overexposure to violence in person or videos glorifying it, etc.
If it’s a learned behavior, it starts early.
I don’t mean the adolescent aggression common in contact sports. The satisfaction of a hard tackle or an effective body check is something that most of us outgrow at a certain point in life, because we know at the time it served a purpose in an athletic contest.
In college I could never understand why a particular acquaintance of mine would hit the campus bars on weekends, basically looking for a fight. He was intelligent, a good athlete and had a wicked sense of humor. And not safe to be around.
He was far from being the only guy on campus who seemed to enjoy it, whether alcohol was involved or not. It was depressing. What was I missing? Is not enjoying fighting a “man card” violation? The men I associate with now are not anything like that, and I doubt they ever were.
Where am I going with this?
The hyper-violent and fatal Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, of course.
That horrific display wasn’t a beginning, but a spike along a continuum of violence that has left an indelible stain on our history.
All one has to do is take a hard and honest look at our nation’s past — especially at white-on-black violence and murder — to know what men are capable of. There’s no shortage of well-researched books and fact-based documentaries that hammer that point home.
More than 150 years after the rise of the KKK and its celebration of violence and murder, right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are front and center. White hoods have given way to body armor, military fatigues and a range of weapons. Were they all beaten by their fathers? Bullied? Are they genetically predisposed to violence? Easily manipulated by a racist authoritarian leader?
Of course, some will go into full “what about” mode and point to Black Lives Matter protests in some cities last summer and beyond. But there’s a huge difference between violence and property destruction. Yes, there were some bad actors and looters at those protests, but no one was attempting to prevent a peaceful transfer of power in American government by threatening to kill the vice president or members of Congress.
Conspiracy theories to the contrary, the Jan. 6 mob was led by supporters of the former president, threatening and committing violence and destruction, assaulting police officers (killing one of them — Blue Lives Matter?) and desecrating a national treasure.
Arrests of more than 300 insurrectionists notwithstanding, right-wing mob violence will continue.
These violent actors, mostly white men, see themselves as the embodiment of patriots, martyrs and aggrieved victims — a lethal combination. They feed off of each other.
Even that pathetic 17-year-old misfit who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters with his AR-15 style rifle last summer in Kenosha, Wis. is hailed as a hero in that world.
There have been warnings of further violence to come, as conspiracy theories about the “stolen” election won’t die. Expect more trouble this month when the trial of Derek Chauvin begins.
Chauvin is the former Minneapolis Police officer who knelt on the neck of African-American George Floyd for more than eight minutes last May after responding to a $20 dispute at a convenience store. Floyd’s death, and that of many other African-Americans at the hands of police, sparked last summer’s protests.
There likely will be more protests in Minneapolis that start out peacefully, and then get ugly — perhaps when the Proud Boys and other right-wing sympathizers arrive in their puffy camo glory.
When they do show up — to do what? Defend the honor of former Officer Chauvin? — just remember that this is the mob that attacked cops and used the “n word” against Black police officers as they tore through the Capitol, broke into offices and smeared excrement in the hallways. The same crowd that had special “MAGA Civil War” T-shirts printed for the occasion.
So what do we do about these guys who’d love nothing more than to punch us in the face? Or, perhaps, use a gun or other weapon on us to make them feel like real men?
We can’t do much about their propensity for violence, but we can deter some from acting on it. Our weapons:
Keep spreading truth to counteract lies that incite violence.
Keep a cell phone handy at all times, especially at politically charged events, and be ready to hit “record.”
Encourage people to turn over to authorities the names of violent offenders seen on cell phone videos, and in photos and video shared by photojournalists. The Jan. 6 mob did one thing well — incriminate themselves with their cell phones. Many of them were identified by friends and acquaintances (and one ex-girlfriend) who were disgusted by what they saw.
As the song says, teach your children well.
Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency.