Pete Simi lectures on the culture of white supremacy

Professor Pete Simi spoke to the audience about the core beliefs of white supremacist groups and the use of social media to create a culture of violence. Photo by Cassidy Keola, staff photographer

The fall semester has brought up conversations about white supremacy and with it, events educating the campus about the topic. On Oct. 1, sociology professor Pete Simi, spoke to a group of about 50 students, faculty and staff about the culture of white supremacist terror at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law.

The event was organized by Michael Mermelstein, a law student and the president of the Jewish Law Student Association.

“Before the semester started, a friend of mine came to me with a really upsetting article that alleged a member of our legal community was a member of a hate group,” Mermelstein said. “But aside from that, it sort of started a big conversation around issues of white supremacy and really sparked concern around the student body.”

Simi spoke to the audience about the core beliefs of white supremacist groups and their use of social media to create a culture of violence. He said the groups believe in a biological and cultural superiority, white victimization, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. There are many names for white supremacist groups, such as white nationalists, patriots, alt-right and white separatists. Simi said that confusion around the names of these groups is the point.

“White nationalism sounds less threatening and more legitimate,” Simi said. “It’s troubling to think it’s the term (media) have been promoting.”

White supremacist groups use social media, such as 4chan, Twitter, BitChute, Instagram, Wire and many others as a way to communicate.

“Dark humor is a big part of the culture and it’s their defense mechanism. They send memes around and make jokes about horrifiying images of lynching and say, ‘Oh, it’s just a joke,’” Simi told the audience.

Towards the end of the event, Simi showed the audience a recruitment effort video of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group that formed out of Iron March, another hate group. The video shows men in masks practicing shooting at targets and burning flags, including the Black Lives Matter flag and the flag of Israel, to loud techno music.

“What affected me the most is the propaganda and how aggressive and romanticized it’s painted out to be,” said Rebecca Malkin, a law student and secretary of the Jewish Law Student Association. “To make it look cool and attractive to people that are ex-military or feel lost and it is a group to support them. The video of men in face mask with techno music in the background with guns and burning flags, was the most shocking thing and makes it feel a lot more real and concrete. Seeing that is scary.”

The rise of white supremacy has been made easier by the use of social media and political polarization and “the Trump effect,” said Simi.

“Advertently or inadvertently, (Trump) picks up some of the language, energizing a lot of people,” Mermelstein said. “To be able to counter that narrative by having these sorts of events is important.”

Mermelstein told The Panther plans are moving for another event with Simi during the spring semester.

“The political state we are living it right now, it’s important to address these issues when they arise and not to sit back and wait until they become violent,” Malkin said. “We should confront it, starting by educating ourselves about these groups and uniting against hate and white supremacy.”

Malkin is currently in talks with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) about putting on an event, either by November or at the beginning of next semester.

“We are going to put on an event here about anti-Semitism and strategies of addressing it, approaching it and constitutional concerns surrounding free speech and when that becomes hate speech and when it becomes illegal,” Malkin said.

Simi spoke at another event hosted by the Cross-Cultural Center on Oct. 2 called “Recognizing White Supremacy,” where Simi was joined by Don Han from the Orange County Human Relations staff.