Hate is not just a phase

James Alex Fields Jr., 20, had just moved out of his mother’s house a few months ago into his own apartment. He had a job with a security company in Ohio, and before that served briefly in the U.S. Army.  

And on Aug. 12, James became a domestic terrorist.

Tensions escalated that Saturday between white nationalists at a “Unite the Right” rally and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Va. A counter protestor, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed, after James drove his car at high speed through a crowd.

James’ mother told media outlets that she never talked to her son about politics and had no idea he was a white nationalist. School officials and high school friends said his fascination with the Nazis wasn’t a secret. He’d draw Swastikas in class and expressed a “fondness for Hitler.” Law enforcement reportedly visited the Fields’ house several times for domestic violence complaints.

The signs that a tragedy is imminent may be staring us in the face, but we don’t always pay enough attention or take them seriously.

After the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, and subsequent violent acts committed by teens and young adults — statistically mostly males — we’ve heard a lot of the same. He had trouble making friends; he was a loner; he was angry; he had radical beliefs.

And how many times have we heard, I never thought he’d do something like that or I didn’t think he was really going to do it?

The best thing parents can do is simple, but not always easy — be proactive and talk to your kids. Find out how they feel about difficult topics and ask why they feel that way.  If they give you an answer that troubles you, deal with it. Also be sure to model tolerant and accepting behavior and be careful what you say around your kids, even in jest, because they will internalize it (for more about teaching tolerance, turn to Page 22).

Even though parents heavily influence their child’s value system, there can be outside forces that are more powerful, and any child from any background is susceptible. That is why it is up to all of us — when we see a child or teen that is in trouble — to step in.

Whether it was his need to belong, or to be a part of something larger than himself or something innate that moved him toward a vile ideology, James is wholly responsible for his actions.

But James’ life may have turned out differently if his radical beliefs and violent tendencies had been addressed fully when he was a teenager. We can’t brush off and dismiss bad behavior as a phase or something they will grow out of. We need to take what they say and their actions seriously, no matter how old they are.  

More Letters from Editor Melanie Hitchcock

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