Eradicate Hate Global Summit can help move the needle, speakers say
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Fighting hateExperts ponder extremism, hate and America

Eradicate Hate Global Summit can help move the needle, speakers say

"This experiment of America and democracy and pluralism, and the ability to converse through fits and starts, and sometimes angry and passionate debate, get to better results."

Tree of Life building. Photograph by Jim Busis
Tree of Life building. Photograph by Jim Busis

A host of national and local experts will meet next week in Pittsburgh to discuss — and seek solutions — to hate and extremism.

The Eradicate Hate Global Summit, held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from Oct. 18-20, was conceived following the attack at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018. Among its 100 featured speakers and panelists will be former President George W. Bush; CBS news chief, Washington correspondent and host of the podcast “The Takeout,” Major Garrett; Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt; Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas; CNN personality Fareed Zakaria; former Pennsylvania Gov. and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; Kathleen Blee, a professor of sociology and Bailey Dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the College of General Studies at the University of Pittsburgh; and Heidi Beirich, the co-founder, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle sat down with three of the scheduled speakers — Blee, Beirich and Garrett — to discuss the summit and how best to address the problem of hate in the U.S. and worldwide.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Kathleen Blee serves as co-director of the Collaboratory Against Hate, a joint venture between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University, dedicated to combating extremist hate groups. She is also a member of Congregation Dor Hadash, one of the three congregations attacked in the Tree of Life building.

Blee will appear on several panels at the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, including one examining online radicalization.

How important is it that this kind of summit takes place in Pittsburgh?
I think it’s very important. One of the originating ideas for the summit is that Pittsburgh becomes known for the solution — not only what happened to us — and that the community is bringing together experts to intervene. That’s the goal of the conference. That’s also the goal of the Collaboratory [Against Hate], to develop data that informs this. In the future those two efforts will be linked together.

How can we go about finding solutions to hate?
Sometimes people talk fatalistically and say things like, “people will always hate people,” and “there will always be crazy people who take out their feelings in violent ways.” What we’re seeing in Pittsburgh and nationally and internationally is something different that we can’t chalk up to human nature. We’re seeing people deliberately and strategically provoked by a set of actors who are trying to damage society. I think we need to separate what is human nature. I’m not a psychologist but I am a sociologist, and I can tell you that we’re looking at a socially created phenomenon. So, at the level of the summit, the idea is to bring together people, researchers and some people who are activists, but also people in the policy arena and legal arena to think about the issues from those levels.

You aren’t simply an academic studying hate. You also are a member of Congregation Dor Hadash. Is this work harder for you to do because of what happened on Oct. 27?
It’s much harder, but it also feels much less optional than it ever has. I feel more committed to the work. I’ve been doing this since the early ‘80s. It never occurred to me that this would happen in my world. But that’s the lesson. I think it is harder. On the other hand, in some ways, I know more about being in the victim community than I did when I was one step removed.

Heidi Beirich spent 20 years working at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, concentrating on tracking right-wing extremism movements and working on SPLC’s Hate Map.

Beirich will be speaking about extremism on several panels.

Why did you get involved in the Eradicate Hate Global Summit?
The idea of bringing experts in this field to talk through issues and come up with practical solutions that we can do within the next year, before the next conference, was really important. It’s a lot of people in disparate groups, like the ADL, SPLC, academics and what not, and we all have opinions and ideas, but we’ve never sat in a room in this way.

Since Oct. 27, we’ve seen a lot of conferences and discussions about hate. Do you think this summit is different than what we’ve seen in the past?
I think so and I hope so. It’s a very intentional decision to come up with practical solutions. I think that’s what makes it different. I attend a lot of meetings and webinars where we talk about the intel and the problems with it, or we talk about domestic terrorism and what’s fueling it, or we discuss what happened Jan. 6. It’s rare to have a conversation about, “OK, we know these things are happening, we have the data, but now, what are we going to do about it?” I think that’s important.

How important is it that we see hate connected across groups — today it might be antisemitism that’s rearing its head but tomorrow it might be anti-LGBTQ+ hate and the next day anti-Muslim hate?
I think it’s really important. Antisemitism has a special place; it drives so many movements and has been responsible for so much violence for so long. The hate crime data that recently came out was at a 12-year high. People talk about the anti-Black and anti-Asian numbers, but the antisemitism numbers were really high and considering the size of the Jewish population, it’s really concerning. At the end of the day, most of the people that hate Jews hate a whole bunch of other people. These things are really connected. The Tree of Life was emblematic of this. The guy was definitely an antisemite, but he was going to the synagogue because he was angered about immigration, that immigrants were essentially wiping out white power. These things do not exist in isolation. We cannot fight one form of hate and bigotry in isolation from another. We all need to stand up and say, “No, this does not represent us.” It’s antidemocratic, violence-inducing and just plain horrible.

Major Garrett is the chief Washington correspondent at CBS News. He is also the host of the podcast “The Takeout.” From 2012 to 2018, he was the network’s chief White House correspondent.

Before his time at CBS, Garrett worked at both FOX News and CNN.

How did you get involved with the summit?
The organizers asked me if I would play a role. They said maybe I would be willing to be an emcee or give a keynote address. My first response was, “Are you sure you want me?” They said, “You’ve earned in your career a reputation for listening to both sides, bringing on to your various shows, especially your podcast various voices, treating them seriously and with respect and creating a space where dialogue can happen. We want to make that part of what we’re discussing in Pittsburgh.” As it looks now, I’ll be an emcee one day and I’ll be giving a keynote address at some point. I’m beyond honored and overwhelmed with the task. I just hope I live up to it.

Will your keynote address talk about the national media and the role it plays in conversations about hate?
That will certainly be a component, but one of the things they’ve invited me to do is come to Pittsburgh and attend all three days of the summit. I’m going to attend everything, and I’m going to listen and take notes and work these observations into my address, but certainly it will include the national media and the larger media universe. My career places me in the changing continuum of media. My first job as a journalist, for pay, was in 1994. I’ve watched many changes in the media universe that have not directly brought us to where we are now but have intensified things. So, it’s about how do we talk, how do we listen, how do we not press the rage button so much quicker than the discourse button — what’s happened to civility and how does the larger media complex play a less major role in that arena than it used to.

What was it like covering the White House? What lessons did you learn there?
That all questions have to be grounded in reality. That being provocative by itself is rarely useful. It doesn’t help the country learn anything, doesn’t help test the president and just makes you stand out for all the wrong reasons. I’ve been in the press room since the 1990s. I started out in the fifth row and moved to the front row. That was a priority of mine. I listened to a lot of questions, but the best questions asked of any president or press secretary were grounded, not only in political realities — the facts behind the question — but where the pressure points are for whatever question your asking. If you’re a good reporter, you can find those pressure points. Also, the shorter the question, the tighter the question on those pressure points, the better the answer.

You seem to be optimistic about the role the media can play. What makes you feel like there is a promise for a better day?
The cliché is that I’m an optimistic person. Trust me, there are plenty of days where I have profound doubts and feel profoundly discouraged. We’re coming to Pittsburgh to discuss one of those moments. I saw plenty of those moments during the 2016 campaign. I never had to think about security as a reporter until 2018, but we did and so did many other news organizations. Ultimately, this experiment of America and democracy and pluralism, and the ability to converse through fits and starts, and sometimes angry and passionate debate, get to better results. We don’t do it naturally, but we do it over time. I have reflected most recently on aggravation that turns to hate and violence, but this is a much deeper conversation about its origin and racial dynamics and the American experience and how different it is depending on what your race is. This has led me to another conclusion, which is this feels very hard. We’re doing some of the hardest work we’ve ever done. We’re attempting, we’re actually looking at the work with eyes that are open in ways we haven’t before. That what gives me hope because any society that’s brave enough to do that hardest work of all is deserving of some optimism. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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