What If We Just Accept Violence As the New Normal?

I’ll begin by confessing a bias… I read the Smerconish.com Newsletter daily (along with 4 newspapers) and watch his Saturday show weekly. While I do not always agree with his perspectives, I admire his persistent commitment to offering opposing viewpoints. I learned recently that we both share a great concern about uncontrollable violence in our country. Viewers listened in to an excellent discussion documenting improvements in our country and all over the world. But count me as one of the 4 out of the 5 voting viewers who believe that we are headed for darker days. Our democratic government is not functioning as our founders believed that it would. They hoped that the three branches of government would offer checks and balances and that the public would choose leaders that may debate or disagree, but also maintain a commitment to act in the best interests of our country. Enough said…


In the examination of concerns related to violence, is there a priority? Mass shootings, suicides, domestic/family conflicts, deadly encounters with law enforcement, and uncontrollable protests are all setting new records. In this analysis, I will focus on violence associated with Anti-Semitism, which has persisted for more than 100 years, has led to the deaths of millions, and continues to show malignant growth. Hearing this, many Americans may think only of the Holocaust, but it might surprise you to know that fewer than half (43%) have any idea that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process. The most violent attacks on Jews in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Kansas City made front page headlines, but are only the tip of the iceberg of hatred. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was established in 1913 to track and publish data related to antisemitic violence. The ADL’s 2021 report documented 2,717 incidents of violence with a 34% increase over 2020 averaging over 7 per day. Unfortunately, too many Americans seemingly accept these violent acts as “just the way things are today” while our elected officials are unwilling to even put it on the agenda.


Antisemitism is religious discrimination similar to racial discrimination: Both are based upon a foundation that Jews and Blacks are biologically defective. The Ku Klux Klan, America’s Jim Crow laws, and the Holocaust are well-known historic atrocities based upon the racist mindset of inhumanity. It’s also interesting to note that all three hold the deepest roots in our country.


Re-visit America a century ago and gander at the Roaring Twenties and Ballyhoo Age. These eras are largely remembered as enjoyable– and in many ways they were. The victory of World War I stimulated the American economy. Industrial advancements made working-class life easier with shortened work hours and more free time to socialize. The 16th amendment of 1913 created income tax yet stirred little opposition due to generous exemptions and deductions. Fewer than 1 in 100 Americans actually paid personal income taxes and the average rate was about 1% of net income. However, the bulk of prosperity was limited to white Protestants. While discrimination and racism were nothing new, what this era witnessed was unprecedented. Bigotry was widespread, albeit impartial with an equal hatred for European immigrants as well as anyone who was Oriental (term used to identify all Asians), Black, Catholic, or Jewish.


Two events drew the world’s attention to American anti-Semitism in 1915 and set the stage for what was to come. D.W. Griffith’s blockbuster three-hour film “Birth of a Nation” represented the Ku Klux Klan as saviors of the Old South after the Civil War, but pardoned blacks were viewed as lazy, and Jews as carpetbaggers who took financial advantage of America during Reconstruction. The other event was the case of Leo Max Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent in Georgia who was given the death sentence after being accused of murdering his 13-year-old female employee, Mary Phagan. There was no actual evidence to support the all-white jury’s guilty verdict, so the Georgia Governor commuted the death sentence. His action sparked a violent mob, calling themselves the “Knights of Mary Phagan”, to walk into the jail and lynch Frank without resistance from local law enforcement. When the investigation was re-opened many years later, Leo Frank was pardoned posthumously. The KKK was founded in 1865 as the Civil War ended, but its members had become much less active until the events of 1915 rekindled their interest. Many of the mob members who hung Leo Frank started identifying themselves as the Ku Klux Klan, seeking unity with existing members and inspiring momentum to form new groups in almost every state. Swelling membership was estimated at 4 – 7 million people in the 1920s. A quick search will show just how far the evil Klan tentacles reached into our Congress, Supreme Court, and the Office of the President during this historic period.


After 1925, the Klan’s revival lost momentum and millions of dollars in revenue when their national leader, David Stephenson, was convicted of the kidnap, rape, and murder of a young woman on their first date. Assuming that his high-ranking position within the Klan would assure his innocence, he was infuriated by the guilty verdict that was handed to him. As an act of revenge, Stephenson released records that exposed rampant Klan graft and corruption in connection with elected officials and Republican party leaders. However, the whirlwind of hatred and violence did not diminish with the Klan’s decline.


A vocal group of scientists and academics had been advocating for the eugenics movement prior to 1900. Eugenics was elevated by Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race in 1916. The fundamental premise of eugenics was that America could only survive if “defectives” were to be eliminated and not allowed to reproduce while being replaced over time by selective breeding of the brightest and whitest. The study of eugenics found its way into public schools and higher education curricula. Exhibits were common at county and state fairs since selective livestock breeding was routine and a logical practice for humans. The 1933-34 Chicago World’s fair provided an exhibit titled “Pedigree-Study in Man” to address the need to perpetuate the best human traits. One of these exhibits contrasted the quality of the Roosevelt family to a more degenerate family named “Ishmael.” (7)  If there was any doubt about the support for eugenics, the Buck v. Bell supreme court decision in 1927 supported the right to sterilize a feeble-minded 18-year-old Carrie Buck. The vote was 8 to 1 with the opinion written by Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes. His ruling stated, “…society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…” Two of the eight justices that voted with Holmes were former President William Howard Taft along with the first Jewish member of the Court Louis D. Brandeis. While the case revolved around intelligence, the verdict set the stage as a legal basis for “cleansing” the American Society of other undesirables. Justice Pierce Butler was the only justice to disagree but saw no need to write a dissenting opinion.


Due to their history of oppressing the Jewish people, it is not a stretch to assume representatives from Nazi Germany both attended and were influenced by the World’s Fair eugenics exhibit. Yet there is abundant evidence to connect Germany with the American eugenics movement. Harry H. Laughlin earned his Doctor of Science degree from Princeton University and became the leader of the eugenics movement. He authored the “Model Eugenical Sterilization Law” for compulsory sterilization for inferior humans. Laughlin became famous after dozens of states passed laws based upon his model, so he was invited to address the Reichstag of Nazi Germany. This house of legislature voted in 1933 to adopt the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring based upon Laughlin’s model of purifying the human breeding stock at all costs. After helping to justify the Holocaust, he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Heidelberg in 1936 for his work in racial cleansing. Laughlin later presided over the Pioneer Fund for American distribution of two German films praising the success of anti-Semitic eugenics. (9) As Americans witnessed the inhuman treatment and murder of Jews in Europe, they lost interest in eugenics.


We are living in a time when hatred and violence must stop being inflicted on our Jewish neighbors. I’m calling out news media and historians, to tell the truth about America’s past partnership with Nazi Germany in the Holocaust. While his production is still in the works, we know the respected historian Ken Burns will tell it like it was with an extensive examination in the upcoming The U.S. and the Holocaust” PBS series.   I hope that knowing the truth will show us the potential consequences of doing nothing and serve as a call to action.


Dr. Don Clardy is a tenured professor at Baker University with 40+ years in higher education and numerous academic publications. More recently, his writing interests have turned toward current, controversial issues to spark independent thinking by those who choose to read his narrative work.

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