The late October Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival in many ways is a run-up to Halloween. It’s an autumnal celebration of wizards and magic that encourages costumes. The only thing missing this year might have been an autumnal chill in the air.
For years, that celebration avoided the all-out scary elements we associate with Halloween, but this year, any one traversing the Avenue on the first Friday evening of the festival’s opening got treated to the truly scary sight of Pastor Aden Rusfeldt and his “flock,” who stood on the corner of Highland and Germantown avenues shouting mostly homophobic and sexist slurs at anyone who passed by.
Perhaps the most frightening element of Rusfeldt’s attacks were his willingness to let a child of perhaps 10-years-of-age hurl them via megaphone. If not for the technological help, it was a scene out of the middle ages – a gaggle of would-be prophets promising hell fire for the masses.
In 2017, these scary scenes from the past are all the rage. Content to hide in the shadows in the recent past, all sorts of hateful ghouls are making themselves known, demonstrating in public spaces or pamphleting neighborhoods in an attempt to spread fear and division.
Several weeks ago, a group of Quakertown students and adults hurled racist insults at Cheltenham High School cheerleaders during a game between the two schools. As the bus carrying the Cheltenham team was leaving Quakertown, it was pelted with rocks and shouts of “black lives don’t matter” and “don’t shoot me.”
In Monday morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer, many Montgomery County residents reported receiving mail stuffed with white nationalist and Nazi propaganda from anonymous sources.
“Are these my neighbors?” one resident troubled by the mailing said. “Are these the people in my community?”
Truly bone-chilling stuff.
Only the most naïve would argue that racist fear-mongering troglodytes are making a comeback – they were clearly always there. But it’s clear that they’re a lot more comfortable operating out in the open.
This license to intimidate and threaten clearly comes from the top. At best, President Trump has provided no leadership on the matter, and has often hemmed, hawed and outright dodged the issue, including his infamous “there were wrongs on both sides” summation of events following the death of a protestor who was struck by a car driven by an aspiring neo-Nazi in Charlottesville.
Former president George W. Bush provided leadership on the issue in a way in which Trump is clearly unable – to quite simply call racism what it is
“Bigotry seems emboldened,” Bush said in a speech last week. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
The old line in the sand that we as Americans felt would keep hateful speech out of the public realm has been nearly rubbed out and obscured. Until we get better leadership at the top, it’s only going to get worse. And that’s scary stuff.