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Be Like The Bendas

The Benda family at home, back in the Communist days

Driving my son to his band practice today, we talked about the incident at the Lincoln Memorial. We didn’t get far into it before I had to drop him off. When I picked him up at 7 tonight, the NPR program 1A was just staring an hourlong discussion about the issue. Host Joshua Johnson said the show wouldn’t try to change anyone’s mind, but would rather focus on how we interpret what we see, and how we can talk about these things. I told my son we should listen to what they had to say.

Here were the guests on the show:

Minutes into the show, I found myself saying to my son, “Listen to that! They are lying! That did not happen!”

By the time we pulled into the driveway, I was genuinely infuriated, because I had just listened to this Duke professor defend the integrity of the Black Israelites, who are so deranged that even the Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as a hate group.

Around the 16-minute mark Neal compared the Black Israelites’ rhetoric to the rhetoric of pro-life protesters at abortion clinics, and then says that “one thing we do know” is that if the Black Israelites had been a threat to “those young white men, they would have been arrested.”

Joshua Johnson did not challenge him in the least.

When I got in, I made a point of listening to the entire show online. I took notes while listening. My son and I ended up having a very different conversation than I anticipated — one about how you should not believe what you hear on NPR, or in the media. Over and over again, the guests — especially Prof. Neal — claimed as true things that were not even matters of interpretation.

At the 25:00 mark, the host asks, “Professor Neal, is this an example of white privilege…?”

Answer: Oh hell yes! Neal blames the boys for “provoking folks” with their millinery. Johnson, again, does not challenge him at all.

After the show was over, I explained to my son that the host had introduced the show by saying that it was going to be neutral about what did and did not happen. That makes you think what you’re going to hear is a more or less neutral description of events. But that was not true at all. We then talked about the bias throughout the show, and why it’s important to question these narratives.

It occurred to me later that I am doing exactly what the late Vaclav Benda and his wife Kamila, anti-communist dissidents, did with their kids, raising them under Czech communism.  I wrote about it last year, after visiting the family:

We sat around in a big circle, the extended family (plus two other friends), Father Stepan, and I, talking about the Benedict Option, and about the family’s life under communism. The kids told me that their father raised them to be morally responsible in a particular way. He warned them that anything they might do to get in trouble — public drunkenness, for example — would be used by the government against him.

“That’s a heavy burden for a teenager to carry,” I said.

“We don’t see it that way,” said Martin Benda. “For us, it was a matter of being responsible to something outside of ourselves.”

Kamila talked about how she once received a letter from Vaclav from prison. In it, he wrote of the possibility that they would emigrate in exchange for early release.

“I wrote back to tell him no, that he would be better off staying in prison to fight for what we believe is true,” she told me.

Think of it: this woman was raising six kids all alone because her husband was a political prisoner. Yet she told him that the cause they served was more important than the relief of their suffering.

The kids told about how their parents vaccinated them against the disease of communist ideology by raising them to know that the things they heard at school and in the media were lies. In other words, Vaclav and Kamila were consciously countercultural, and understood that they had to impart the same sense to their children, to keep from losing their children to propaganda.

One of the Benda grandchildren said that her own father still does something like that: assigning the kids a certain book to read each month.

Vaclav Benda seems fearless, but Martin Benda said he was not a natural hero. Martin talked about a moment during the communist era in which his mother was late coming home, and he saw his father checking the window over and over, anticipating that she might have been arrested by the secret police.

“This is the moment when I started to admire my father even more,” said Martin. “That’s when I saw he was human. He was scared, but he did not want fear to master him.”

I’ve been thinking all day about that book I want to write about what people who grew up under communism keep telling me about the ways in which our society is turning into what they ran away from. As I’ve said here before, the main thing they tell me is that under communism, the Left in power stopped at nothing to destroy anyone who stood in the way of the progressive narrative. Truth did not matter. They would slander anyone and everyone, and turned innocent people into class enemies who deserved public hatred, and even (this being communism) prison.

The story of what’s happened to the Covington Catholic boys is just one example of this — and it’s going to get worse. I’m going to write the book about the parallels between then and now, and ask the dissidents for advice on how to see through it and resist it. I’ve been talking about this for a while, but now it’s time to get it done.

By the way, if you haven’t read Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic on how the media blew this story, you should. She breaks down in detail what happened there. I did not realize until reading Flanagan that the reason the Black Israelites were there in the first place was that they had come to taunt and harass the Native Americans! Excerpt:

It seems that the Black Hebrew Israelites had come to the Lincoln Memorial with the express intention of verbally confronting the Native Americans, some of whom had already begun to gather as the video begins, many of them in Native dress. The Black Hebrew Israelites’ leader begins shouting at them: “Before you started worshipping totem poles, you was worshipping the true and living God. Before you became an idol worshipper, you was worshipping the true and living God. This is the reason why this land was taken away from you! Because you worship everything except the most high. You worship every creation except the creator—and that’s what we are here to tell you to do.”

A young man in Native dress approaches them and gestures toward the group gathering for its event. But the Black Hebrew Israelites mix things up by throwing some dead-white-male jargon at him—they are there because of “freedom of the speech ” and “freedom of religion” and all that. The young man backs away. “You have to come away from your religious philosophy,” one Black Hebrew Israelite yells after him.

A few more people in Native costume gather, clearly stunned by his tirade. “You’re not supposed to worship eagles, buffalos, rams, all types of animals,” he calls out to them.

These are the vicious black bigots that Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal defended on NPR today. To be clear, he didn’t defend them saying this specifically (as far as I know, he wasn’t aware of it), but Neal indicated that he was quite familiar with the rhetoric of this cult, and criticized people for being quick to judge them.

The white kids had not come there to harass anybody. They were waiting for the school bus, and were watching the spectacle of the Black Israelites yelling at the Indians. Flanagan writes (she’s describing what’s visible on the video):

By now the gathering of Covington Catholic boys watching the scene has grown to 10 or 12, some of them in maga hats. They are about 15 feet away, and while the conflict is surely beyond their range of experience, it also includes biblical explication, something with which they are familiar.

“Don’t stand to the side and mock,” the speaker orders the boys, who do not appear to be mocking him. “Bring y’all cracker ass up here and make a statement.” The boys turn away and begin walking back to the larger group.

“You little dirty-ass crackers. Your day coming. Your day coming … ’cause your little dusty asses wouldn’t walk down a street in a black neighborhood, and go walk up on nobody playing no games like that,” he calls after them, but they take no notice. “Yeah, ’cause I will stick my foot in your little ass.”

By now the Native American ceremony has begun, and the attendees have linked arms and begun dancing. “They just don’t know who they are,” one of the Black Hebrew Israelites says remorsefully to another. Earlier he had called them “Uncle Tomahawks.”

But see, the villains here were the white boys.

Flanagan doesn’t let the Covington Catholic kids off the hook entirely, but she makes it clear that they are far, far more sinned against than sinning in this debacle. She ends with this:

At 8:30 yesterday morning, as I was typing this essay, The New York Times emailed me. The subject line was “Ethics Reminders for Freelance Journalists.” (I have occasionally published essays and reviews in the Times). It informed me, inter alia, that the Times expected all of its journalists, both freelance and staff, “to protect the integrity and credibility of Timesjournalism.” This meant, in part, safeguarding the Times’ “reputation for fairness and impartiality.”

I am prompted to issue my own ethics reminders for The New York Times. Here they are: You were partly responsible for the election of Trump because you are the most influential newspaper in the country, and you are not fair or impartial. Millions of Americans believe you hate them and that you will causally harm them. Two years ago, they fought back against you, and they won. If Trump wins again, you will once again have played a small but important role in that victory.

Read the whole thing. It’s important. You too, NPR. All of you.

As I was writing this, I got a text from a Christian friend who, in our conversations over the past three years, has been a consistent critic of Donald Trump and what Trump stands for. Tonight he said:

Was thinking today that while in many ways Trump has acted even worse than I thought he would when I did not vote for him in ‘16, I probably would vote for him today simply because events like Kavanaugh and Covington leave a person like me little choice but to pick a side.

Yes. Exactly. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the libertarian Conor Friedersdorf, who has been a strong critic of Trump and Trumpism. He writes:

Many who are sympathetic to the blue coalition’s concerns are baffled that a large faction within it spends so much energy on culture-war pile-ons, even opining that children are punchable or irredeemable or deserving of doxing. It’s the bizarre focus on these boys as what ails America, rather than on any of the many powerful people doing identifiable harm, or on any of the things that might end family separations, avert assaults, increase wages, reduce poverty, reform police, or increase access to medical care, that’s going to do in the left.

I have been a conservative as long as I’ve been a professional journalist, and I’ve always known that the media are biased to the left. I’ve never seen that as any kind of big crisis, except insofar as crisis of ethics within the profession. For two years I have been trying to teach my kids how to think critically about politics and our demagogic president. Now I find myself having to teach my children to regard mainstream journalism as a serious threat to their safety and their liberty.

Didn’t see that coming. These are not normal times.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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