A couple of Aprils ago, a group of Nazis came to Chattanooga. They were part of a group called the National Socialist Movement (NSM), and a few days before they arrived, I penned an open letter to the organization, asking them to reconsider. (You can read that letter here.)
I had no illusions that my letter would change their minds. And it didn’t.
(In all fairness, I never actually sent them a copy. I figured the surprisingly tech-savvy separatists probably had a Google Alert set up that would let them know about pieces like mine, but I have no idea if they actually read my letter or not. If they did read it, they disregarded it, much like they disregard the dignity of anyone not exactly like them. But I digress…)
A few days after my letter was published, roughly two dozen members of the group gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse, struggled to be heard over a bigger and louder crowd of protesters, and then left town. And that was that.
As the Nazis’ visit faded from the headlines, I couldn’t shake one of the half-serious questions I had asked the group in my letter: Did their hatred of other cultures also apply to other cultures' food?
I wrote at the time:
What do Nazis like to eat? I know you like to think of yourselves as defenders of the white race, but what about white rice? Do you like Chinese food? What about tacos? You like tacos, right? We have some great Mexican places here. (Sorry, I don't know how this whole hate-based separatist thing works. Are you supposed to hate the food, too?)
Fast-forward to last week.
I watched the harrowing documentary "Welcome to Leith,” a film about a small group of white supremacists led by Craig Cobb who attempt to take over a small North Dakota town. NSM chairman Jeff Schoep—the same Nazi chairman who shouted from our courthouse steps—appears in the film, offering his support to Cobb, his far-right-hand man Kynan Dutton, and the rest of their group.
Schoep’s support wasn’t especially surprising, as the NSM has a history of encouraging—and even sharing members with—other racist groups. What was somewhat surprising, however, was an interview with Dutton toward the end of the film where he discloses that, in addition to being a white supremacist, he’s also an accomplished chef who (apparently) loves to cook a wide variety of food from across the globe.
“I think I have my answer about the food,” I thought to myself after watching a scene filmed in Dutton’s kitchen.
While Dutton might not appreciate other cultures, he apparently appreciates their food. And Schoep certainly appreciates Dutton’s efforts toward their mutually racist cause. If pressed, he might even refer to Dutton as a (symbolic) brother or, at the very least, a friend. And what do brothers or friends often do when they get together? They eat. If Dutton is as good a chef as he says he is, it’s hard to imagine Schoep saying no to one of his dishes, no matter the recipe’s ethnic origin.
After imagining this hypothetical, hypocritical (and admittedly bizarre) dinner party, another thought came to me: “The next time a racist group comes to town, we shouldn’t shout them down. We should feed them instead.”
Bear with me here.
Hate groups are fairly predictable, as are our responses to them. When the NSM came to Chattanooga, they expected a bunch of protesters, and that’s exactly what they got. They probably hoped that they could goad some locals into attacking them so they could file a lawsuit to further fund their activities. If things got violent, they likely would have been prepared to do whatever it took to defend themselves and their cause. If things didn’t get out of hand, they would, at the very least, be able to shoot some video of the hostile crowd to use in their marketing and recruitment efforts.
The NSM is a relatively small group with an extremely unpopular message. It was fairly easy to gather enough people to drown out their nonsense, and if our only goal was to win a shouting match, then fine. We succeeded.
But the NSM won’t be the last racist group to come here, and if we have any higher goals—dialogue, changed minds or, if nothing else, disrupting their efforts by making their trip a complete waste of time—we need to employ different tactics. If hate groups have shown that they are willing to kill for what they believe in, can’t we show that we are willing to kill with kindness?
Which brings me back to the food.
Hate is a heart issue, and, as the old saying goes, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Call me naive, but what if, instead of spreading out on the sidewalk and meeting vitriol with vitriol, we had instead met the NSM with love in the form of a delicious spread? What would that video have looked like?
I’m not positive, but I’d be willing to bet that even white supremacists would agree that it’s rude to preach hate with their mouths full.
Former Chattanooga Pulse Editor Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) news, culture and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or connect with him at billcolrus.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.