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On guard against white supremacy • St Pete Catalyst

That a 3-year-old must grow up without his father is only one of the many heartbreaks of the Tops supermarket massacre in Buffalo.

But as shocking as last Saturday’s racist reign of terror was, the slaughter of Black men, women and children by white supremacists is neither new, nor rare.

It’s times like these that we think again of the nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, NC, who were murdered in 2015 by a stranger they welcomed into their midst for Wednesday night Bible study.

And though their story has been woven into Civil Rights history, we must also remember each of the four innocent children who lost their lives when Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was callously bombed by the KKK in 1963. The names of those young girls were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair.

It would take years to bring the KKK thugs to justice for that heinous crime carried out in the name of a misguided creed that sacrilegiously co-opts the Christian cross for shamelessly unChristian conduct.

Manuel Sykes is Senior Pastor at Bethel Community Baptist Church.

While Black families across the nation talk and weep about last weekend’s act of terror and worry about where a similar manifestation of hate could strike next, Bishop Manuel Sykes of St. Petersburg’s Bethel Community Baptist Church has taken steps to protect his congregation and dispense advice on how to navigate a world in which white nationalist terrorism is rising.

“A shepherd should protect his sheep,” Sykes told me this week.

“I made my decision immediately. We just don’t plan to go out like that. We have active shooter drills. We have people who are now carrying. They have concealed weapons permits and they are going to be positioned so we shouldn’t be taken by surprise. It’s time for us to protect ourselves. We’re not going to stand idly by and be victims. I don’t subscribe to, ‘Oh, the Lord is going to protect us.’”

Sykes, who is armed with a gun himself, added that Bethel Community, which operates a Christian school, has begun locking its doors during the week.

But white supremacists don’t only target Black people. Their hatred expands to Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, non-white immigrants and the LGBTQ community.

Until this week, I had been unfamiliar with the so-called “great replacement theory,” and so hadn’t grasped the full horror of the anti-Semitic chant, “Jews will not replace us,” by the hate-filled mob in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. The replacement theory hews to the belief that a plot exists to replace “native-born” whites. The hypocrisy of this ridiculous and hateful conspiracy theory is its indifference to the brutality and displacement that this country’s genuinely native people have endured.

Congressman Ted Deutch, who represents Florida’s 22nd District, was eerily prescient about the danger posed by white supremacists when he spoke during a Sept. 18, 2019, House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism hearing.

Deutch addressed the “mounting threat” during the hearing on “Meeting the Challenge of White Nationalist Terrorism at Home and Abroad.” He listed what were then several recent deadly attacks: El Paso, Texas, which targeted Hispanic people; the Chabad Synagogue of Poway, California; the Al Noor Mosque in the Linwood Islamic Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand; and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Deutch noted that those tragedies had been preceded by, among others, a white nationalist terrorist attack at the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec City in 2017, the 2015 carnage at Mother Emanuel AME Church, and in 2011, two attacks by the same person in Norway that cost 77 people their lives.

“While these acts of violence may appear nonsense and random, the terrorists allegedly responsible for them demonstrably drew inspiration from one another. They share an ideology that asserts, among other beliefs, that white people and white identity in Western countries are under siege by massive waves of immigration from non-white countries,” Deutch said.

“White nationalists claim they are protecting the white race and will use any means necessary to defend it against this supposed dispossession,” he warned.

The internet, he added, “serves as a platform for white nationalists to spread this twisted ideology and even to broadcast these attacks.”

All of this was said almost three years before the Buffalo shooter posted his 180-page manifesto and live streamed his rampage.

Sykes called the gunman, who wore body armor for his assault on people going about their daily lives, a coward. “It’s cowardice at the highest level and people throughout history who have been oppressors are generally cowards,” he said. “And then you have the copycats.”

He wants his church to be prepared for any eventuality and has told its members to use their cell phones to take photos and send messages of anything that appears unusual. “We can use that ability and not be caught off guard,” I explained.

The pastor has his own theory about the recent rise in white supremacy. “I know it all started when President Obama became president,” he said. “I just want to say to African Americans that they have just as much right to be on this planet, to be in restaurants and places of social gatherings as anyone else. Don’t make anybody make you uncomfortable.”

Nonetheless, he tells those he speaks with to go out in groups “of at least two or more” to protect themselves.

“Camp sites, more than anywhere else, those kinds of places, if you go, go in a group so that you can be prepared to defend yourself if needed,” he advises.

“I tell my son and my other children, use your sixth sense. If you feel strange, get out of there, because that is the last and only warning you’ll get.”

Those are chilling words.

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