The Other Side of Black History: PBS Explores White Separatists

In January at the Winter Showcase, PBS representatives explained why they decided to include three documentaries about white separatists in its February schedule. White separatists are the other side of the story and they are represented in three documentaries currently streaming online: “Accidental Courtesy,” “Ruby Ridge” and “Oklahoma City.”

Yet the problem with white separatists isn’t white and black–in the moral sense or in the racial sense. Recent events include threats to Jewish institutes nationwide, the vandalizing of a Jewish cemetery, a planned bombing of Target stores and the attack on two Asian Indian men. The man allegedly behind the planned Target store bombings, Mark Barnett, is not known as a white separatist, but he is white and has previous legal problems. The man who was arrested for the shooting of two Indian men, one of whom (Srinivas Kuchibhotla) died, Adam W. Purinton, is also white and reportedly said “get out of my country.” Another white man, Ian Grillot, was wounded when he went after the shooter. Alok Madasani, the other Indian man, and Kuchibhotla both worked for the GPS navigation and communications company Garmin. News reports note that Purinton thought he was shooting Iranians.

All three documentaries deal with death and one even has links to a current murder case that hit the headlines. The KKK leader who was allegedly murdered by his wife and stepson, Frank Ancona, figures prominently in “Accidental Courtesy,” a documentary that offers a one-at-a-time solution to the problems of prejudice and racism facing this country and others.

Matt Ornstein’s “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race and America” premiered on 13 February 2017 and is currently streaming on PBS.

Davis is a musician and he tells how he began his crusade of friendly forays into the KKK. When he converts a racist, Davis asks for the robes. He doesn’t believe in burning them because, “As shameful as it is, this is a part of American history. You don’t burn our history regardless of the good, the bad and the ugly.The KKK is American as apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet.”

His approach when speaking with a KKK member is, “I did not respect what he had to say; I respected his right to say it.”

Davis was born in Chicago, but traveled because his father was a diplomat. When he was ten, an unfortunate incident during a parade exposed him to the ugly side of racism in the US. As an adult, he became a musician. Through his music, he met an enthusiastic audience member who had never sat down and talked with a black person before. That person turned out to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis wondered, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

Thus Davis began his hobby. Between playing piano for Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Jordanaires, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Drifters, Davis began doing more than “preaching to the choir.”  He’s been opening up the lines of communication because as he tells an audience at UC Irvine, you must “always keep the lines of communication with your antagonist open” because “if you’re talking, you’re not fighting.”

There’s still some who won’t listen and some members of the “choir” who disagree with Davis, ranging from the polite disagreement of senior fellow of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Potok (who looks like a cousin of George Lucas) to the angry confrontation with a group of Black Lives Matter activists in Baltimore. Potok feels that hate groups don’t deserve to be handled with such courtesy. The SPLC deals with litigation against hate groups.  A Black Lives Matter activist tells Davis, “Infiltrating the Klan ain’t freeing your people.”

There are some funny points for Asian Americans that the documentary doesn’t point out. Grand Dragon (I believe it’s Roger Kelly’s) robes had two five-fingered dragon patches–Chinese dragons. So he proclaimed his authority and position in a white nationalist Christian organization with East Asian symbols using a religion that originated in West Asia.

“Accidental Courtesy” won a Special Jury Award at the SXSW Film Festival.

American Experience: Ruby Ridge

“Ruby Ridge” premiered on Valentine’s Day. It is about love because it follows the story of a family, Randy and Vicki Weaver, who had a vision of a different life, mostly off the grid, but too close to the favored grounds for Aryan Nations followers of Robert Mathews. Never has the meaning Proverbs 13: 20 been clearer: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” or “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

Randy Weaver, a former Green Beret, and his wife were Christians who believed that the world was not at the “End Times.”  The family moved from Iowa to Idaho to live in a cabin without electricity and indoor plumbing or running water. This was Little House on the mountain. To break their isolation, the family began socializing at the Aryan Nations compound about 60 miles south of them.

The hate group was under surveillance. Randy was convinced to sell illegally sawed off shotguns to an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The ploy was to give the federal agents leverage on Randy, hoping that he would agree to get more information on the Aryan Nations. When Weaver didn’t show up in court, the US Marshals Service eventually went to arrest him on 21 August 1992. A barking dog alerted the Weavers to the six marshals, and 14-year-old Sam Weaver, Randy and Vicki’s son was killed. Marshal William Degan was also killed, bringing in the FBI. Subsequently during the following siege, Vicki was killed, and the family friend, Kevin Harris was injured.

The documentary outlines exactly why there was such a concern about the compound and its friendlies. In 1983, Mormon Robert Jay Mathews gathered Mormon survivalists to form a militia that would eventually revolt against the federal US government. To finance the revolution, The Order robbed stores, armored cars and banks. The Order has a list of enemies which included radio talk show host Alan Berg who was assassinated by The Order member Bruce Pierce in 1984. Mathews died in a standoff with federal agents in December of that year becoming a martyr to some.

The Weavers weren’t intent of taking over the government. A wounded Randy Weaver eventually surrendered but he and Harris took the federal government to court. At the time, Sara Weaver, the daughter of Randy and Vicki, was 16. Her memories of what happened at Ruby Ridge are what make this documentary so moving.

The documentary on Ruby Ridge grew out of another documentary: “Oklahoma City.” Timothy McVeigh decided exact a chilling “revenge” for the 1992 Ruby Ridge and the 1993 Waco siege. His target was in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City

You’ll understand the documentary “Oklahoma City” better if you watch “Ruby Ridge” first. The documentary begins with a black screen as you hear a recording of the Water Resources Board meeting on 19 April 1995 at 9:02 a.m. You hear the actual explosion and someone saying, “Everybody, let’s get out of here now.”

From there we get a helicopter view–the Channel 9 newsroom from five miles downtown could feel the explosion we are told. Black smoke billows into the morning air.

The camera then pans across a board from photos of Neo Nazis and threads connect Ruby Ridge to Waco to a Ryder yellow truck and to Oklahoma and McVeigh’s mug shot.

We hear the recollections of Bob Ricks, FBI special agent in charge who was off-site at the time. The police inspector Jerry Flowers arrive on the scene. Immediately they knew it was some kind of a bomb. The ninth floor collapsed on top of the eighth floor on to the seventh onto the sixth and so on.

Survivors like Randy Norfleet and Ruth Schwab remember how their first thoughts before we but to Ruby Ridge, guns and religion and the white nationalists movement.

Eventually, we do shift from the survivors to the perpetrators and how McVeigh was, like Randy Weaver, a veteran who became disenchanted with the federal government. In 1993, he drove to Waco, Texas to pass out pro-gun literature and bumper stickers.

Like Mathews, he was familiar with the 1978 “The Turner Diaries,” selling it as he went to various gun shows. Written by the founder of the white nationalist organization National Alliance, the novel is about a violent revolution against the federal government during which non-whites and Jews are slaughtered. It’s about the dream of a white world.

Although at first McVeigh thought of assassinating individuals, he decided to blow up a federal building, choosing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, not knowing there was a day care center there. The bomb killed 168 people  (19 of those children) and injured 684.

If you lived through those times, you’ll recall that originally people speculated that the Oklahoma City bombing was Islamic terrorism and not homegrown white male terrorism. The other side of black history is the reaction against blacks and other minorities by white nationalists. Yet only “Accidental Courtesy” offers a solution.

“Ruby Ridge” is currently streaming online and includes three articles (Part One: Suspicion, Part Two: Confirmation and Part Three: Fear & Faith) as well as one on Reporting Ruby Ridge.  The documentaries are also available on DVD through PBS (“Oklahoma City” is $19.99 and “Ruby Ridge” is also $19.99 as pre-orders available in April).

Oklahoma City” premiered on 7 February as part of American Experience and is currently streaming online.

Accidental Courtesy” was under Independent Lens. The DVD is available through PBS for $19.99.

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