“Poor in spirit” means an inner emptiness and humility, a beginner’s mind, and to live without a need for personal righteousness or reputation. It is the “powerlessness” of Alcoholics Anonymous’ First Step. The Greek word Matthew uses for “poor” is ptochoi, which literally means, “the very empty ones, those who are crouching.” They are the bent-over beggars, the little nobodies of this world who have nothing left, who aren’t self-preoccupied or full of themselves in any way. Jesus is saying: “Happy are you, you’re the freest of all.”
.. The higher and more visible you are in any system, the more trapped you are inside it. The freest position is the one I call “on the edge of the inside”—neither a “company man” nor a rebel or iconoclast. The price of both holding power and speaking truth to power can be very great. You ricochet between being offensive and being defensive, neither of which is a contemplative or solid position. Further, you are forced to either defend and maintain the status quo to protect yourself and the group or to waste time reacting against it.
.. The “poor in spirit” don’t have to play any competitive games; they are not preoccupied with winning, which is the primary philosophy in the United States today. Jesus is recommending a social reordering, quite different from common practice. Notice also how he uses present tense: “the Kingdom of God is theirs.” He doesn’t say “will be theirs.”
.. That tells us that God’s Reign isn’t later; it’s now. You are only free when you have nothing to protect and nothing you need to prove or defend. Trapped people have to do what they want to do. Free people want to do what they know they have to do.
This week has reinforced my belief that it’s not only unethical to punch Nazis, but also ineffective. Punching a Nazi–literally or in effigy–may be satisfying, but if anything, it reduces the number of people who are empathetic to progressive causes. It’s a reactionary doubling-down on rhetoric that indicates that Nazis are so far beyond the general population that we–in the moderate-to-radical left–would not welcome them even if they tried to re-integrate themselves. One of the most chilling developments among post-Trump activism is the way liberals cling to the Nazi-punching rhetoric inspired by the protestor who punched Richard Spencer on Inauguration Day. It isolates neo-Nazis even more deeply in their narrow, self-justifying ideology–and it isolates anti-racist activists from their moral high ground, which was, “we’re all seeking to be recognized as human.” If you want your enemy to love you (or at least respect you), you have to illustrate that you are willing to love (or at least respect) your enemy.
.. The journalist quoted MJ Sharp, “rebels love talking about the past.”
MJ understood that the violent rebels he approached “were nostalgic for a mythical home and aimed to rewind history to a time that never really existed in the first place.” MJ described this as a sense of “dreaming of home”–and those who dream of home are deeply homesick.
.. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, are homesick. For all their violence and their rallies, they don’t really know how to get home, aren’t even sure what home they’re trying to get to, they just know this moment doesn’t feel like home. The stability of this country relies on the mainstream envisioning a future white supremacists can come home to. The vast majority of Americans must remind white supremacists that the past is not the only place to find comfort.
.. Anabaptists are uniquely situated activists–they have the legacy of pacifism, but also the legacy of ostracism, shunning, and doubled-down factionalism. And they have the legacy of white supremacy. And the historical memory of homesickness. Anabaptism in America has all the tools to be bridge-people, to be allies and peacemakers.
.. We need to create a way for white supremacists to come home without violence. We need to envision and offer de-radicalization.
.. Michael Sharp recalls the message that MJ and his Congolese companions tried to deliver to rebel leaders (fighters who had moved into the Congolese forests during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide):
“You… you’re over 50 years old, it’s too late for you to take over Rwanda. But your children are growing up uneducated in the bush. Don’t you see that your children, who are the future of Rwanda, when they go back they’ll be the slaves of those who are there! Because they are illiterate!”
.. they persuaded at least 1,600 Rwandan rebels to lay down weapons. The left–the mainstream–has to use every pacifist bone it can muster to create a message like this, a message white supremacists can hear.
To the older ones: it’s too late for you to get what you dream of, but if you want your children to get that dream, you have to teach them something different. And to the younger ones: You can get back home, but this road will not lead you there.
.. It’s tempting to respond to white supremacy in reactionary ways. But pacifism–true creative nonviolence–is proactive. It sees what violence dreams of, and morphs that dream into something nonviolent, thriving, and interdependent. For Anabaptists to be allied with anti-racism, we must do the work of building exit-ramps from white supremacy. We have to develop the template for re-integration.
David Duke is still around, but as a charismatic figurehead he has mostly been displaced by the likes of 39-year-old Richard Spencer, 26-year-old Matthew Heimbach and 29-year-old Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet.
.. Some seem to be reactionaries, essentially trolls who may or may not truly believe the anti-Semitic and racist bile that they meme and share to get a rise out of the politically correct left. If youthful rebellion in the 1960s meant embracing free love, peace and equality, then today — at least for anti-anti-Trumpers — it is about promoting hatred and structural inequity.
.. It is a flawed system, after all, one whose recent financial crisis irreparably scarred millennials’ economic prospects. Most anti-establishment millennials have drifted toward leftist populist alternatives, but some have sorted into the opposite (and more violent) extreme. For right-wing populists, the key flaw with the system is not that it allows the rich to hoard all the money, but that it privileges undeserving minorities at innocent whites’ expense.
.. Just as “socialism” is not a toxic word to people who came of age after the Cold War, perhaps aligning with Nazis no longer seems as inherently, reflexively evil for those so far removed from World War II.
.. Millennials overall are more racially tolerant than earlier generations — but that’s because young people today are less likely to be white. White millennials exhibit about as much racial prejudice, as measured by explicit bias, as white Gen Xers and boomers.
Assange’s mother believed that formal education would inculcate an unhealthy respect for authority in her children and dampen their will to learn. “I didn’t want their spirits broken,” she told me. In any event, the family had moved thirty-seven times by the time Assange was fourteen, making consistent education impossible. He was homeschooled, sometimes, and he took correspondence classes and studied informally with university professors.
.. But, in the Bunker one evening, Gonggrijp told me, “We are not the press.” He considers WikiLeaks an advocacy group for sources; within the framework of the Web site, he said, “the source is no longer dependent on finding a journalist who may or may not do something good with his document.”