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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hatred on the phone, gnashing of teeth


It's been a week since I was called a Nazi and coward on the phone.
Other than that, it was a good evening, but I've been postponing, avoiding writing about it, because it was so, so violent a verbal attack, so filled with rage.
Several ironies of the incident were apparent to me immediately, especially since I'd been meeting with a group of Christians the day before, discussing nonviolence as modeled by Jesus, Gandhi, King. I'm not sure I really want to write about it still, but think I must, not to get even, but as part of a personal solution.
Here's the background.
I was recently voted into membership with the Oklahoma City Gridiron club, which is an honor. They've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars since 1929 for scholarships for journalism students. They raise money by putting on a once-a-year political satire show, filled with songs and scripts poking fun at politicians and more, from the state to the national level. See a post about last year's show here, for an example. Members of the club are journalists of all sorts, and former journalists. I think I'm one of few professors to have been a member.
At any rate, the club holds some meetings at the OETA facilities, and in trade for that, members run the phones for three hours one night during the OETA August  fund drive. That was last Monday night. It's all highly computer-operated, and in spite of training, it takes you a little to figure out all the intricacies of taking a call and filling out information on the computer.
It was the first phone call. I picked up the phone, said "Good evening, thanks for calling OETA. May I take your pledge?"
He started immediately, saying he was a member of the Tea Party and why should he support a tax-supported station that labeled the Tea Party "racist."
At first, I thought he was joking, but the venom in his voice changed that. I knew better than to try to argue or answer him, and just remained silent. He kept going, implying I worked for the station. I told him I was a volunteer, and he kept a barrage of questions coming all along the same line. 
I know OETA has never referred to the Tea Party as racist, but it wouldn't have mattered to him. I tried to tell him he was welcome to his opinion as an American, but that infuriated him more. He then said that being a volunteer for OETA was like being a volunteer for Hitler, and when I refused to answer any more questions, getting ready to hang up, he called me a coward for not answering his questions and slammed the phone down.
Yes, I caught the ironies of someone in the right-wing Tea Party calling someone a Nazi, and hiding behind a phone, calling someone a coward.
He called a couple of others during the evening and I guess, being satisfied, shut up.
The volunteers sitting next to me joked about it and that helped. And from then on, the phone calls were from friendly people all over Oklahoma, saying how much they appreciated the programming on OETA and pledging money to qualify for 1950s and '60s music CDs andDVDs.
Afterward, I wished I'd asked him if he were a Christian, since many Tea Partiers are, and if so, how he could be so full of hate and condemnation when Jesus preached love and forgiveness. But I wasn't that quick. It was a shock.
What disturbs me most  was the black-and-white, ignoring the facts attitude of this person, and wondering how representative he is of the Tea Party membership? Where does that hatred come from? It it typical of propaganda techniques--using labels, being unable to think, unreasoning action fueled by a mob mentality, an lack of being able to consider other peoples'  views--totally anti-government, anti-education, anti-science, mixed with complete lack of concern for others. 
For me, I came face to face with crackpot extremism and hatred that endangers our freedoms and our government which is based on working together. And with my personal restraint. I thought about Scripture saying  a soft answer turns away wrath, but it didn't work here. 
Then I thought about scripture telling how the Pharisees "gnashed their teeth," at some of Jesus' teaching. This guy went to bed that night, and probably every night since, very unhappy, grinding his teeth.  Really sad.
But he made me much more thankful for the other callers like the  lady (probably about my age), from Salina, Oklahoma, who called to pledge. We proceeded to have an intelligent conversation about the history of her town, and how thankful she was for OETA, supported by tax dollars, providing good in her life. 
I won't forget the angry crackpot. He actually enriched my life, because I value even more  the good people who called.
The second caller of the night said he'd already pledged, but he just wanted to call back and say how much OETA meant to him. I wrote down his name and passed the message on to the people in charge.

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