It’s time for a little history lesson.
The Nazi Youth rose to power in Germany after the government banned Boy Scouts. At first the Nazi Youth employed activities such as hiking and camping but after outlawing Scouting and stepping into paramilitary training and indoctrination the government wormed its way into formative 14- to 18-year-old youth’ thought processes so they would buy the official line of the majority party in Germany at the time — the Nazis.
Hitler Youth were used to break up church youth groups, spread anti-church indoctrination, as well as spy on religious classes and Bible studies.
The Nazis also happened to persecute Catholics and murder Catholic leaders.
Michelle Grissom — the Colorado middle school teacher who targeted a Covington Catholic School student on social media for his alleged involvement in the now-infamous Rush to Judgment Massacre on the National Mall — happens to teach history.
Somehow Grissom secured personal information on a student in a school more than a thousand miles away so she could essentially taunt and shame him on social media. You know, do the 21st century “adult thing” when a teen says or does something that you as an adult in age only judge to be wrong. Or, if you prefer, rip a page from the Nazi Youth handbook.
Grissom called student Jay Johnson out in the vastness and faceless virtual world where everything uploaded about someone sticks to them like lint dabbed with super glue for eternity for him “confronting” a Native American after the teen supposedly participated in a Pro Life march.
One little problem: It wasn’t Johnson in the video. It was Nick Sandmann. Johnson, who is a student at Covington, did not travel to DC.
Not only was it the wrong person (all those white, Catholic boys all look alike), guilt by association, and not exactly what one would expect a nurturing teacher to do but the Nazi Youth in training remark was akin to calling a Jewish teen a Nazi Youth in the making. Obviously Jews were the primary target of the Nazis but Catholics were also on the hit list. Saying anyone who attends a Catholic school is Nazi Youth in training is so far off the mark that it defies history and logic.
Then there is the little gem of the real Nazi Youth embracing the German Sterilization Act of 1933. It’s the one where the mentally retarded since they were perceived as “problem citizens” were forced to be sterilized so they would not reproduce. It was Adolf Hitler’s initial step in implementing his plan for a “pure” master race. Somehow teen Catholic boys wearing “Make America Great Again” hats attending a Pro Life rally doesn’t fit into the narrative du jour shaped by “social media activists” that make the Russians look like incompetent amateurs. But that’s not a problem. Release the powerful attack dogs in politics, the media, and entertainment industry ready to snarl at the smallest provocation and turn the social media piranhas lose and let the feeding frenzy for blood begin. Self-restraint is for the weak. Slash and burn is for the self-righteous.
Grissom’s apparent intent was to have the trolls and self-righteous bloggers on the Internet who fancy themselves as armchair Freedom Riders to rip Johnson to shreds even if it meant hanging a toxic Internet trail for the rest of his life like an albatross around his neck. It worked given the amount of nasty social media messages and such Johnson was receiving not to mention death threats directed at his fellow students. It’s merely collateral damage that they targeted the wrong boy. It’s also an inconvenient truth of what followed after the initial hair trigger response by the self-anointed political correctness police as it didn’t fit the nice and tidy narrative used to justify slash away first and ask questions later response.
One wonders what Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi would think.
Then there is the little detail that what transpired on the National Mall framed by a carefully edited video wasn’t exactly what happened.
No one waited for — and some still do not want — context. That, after all, would shatter their narrow interpretation of the world and people who hold different views than they do. It might even make us do some serious thinking, soul searching, and open our minds and we can’t have that, can we? We might actually find common ground with our perceived enemies.
What followed those few minutes on the National Mall is a stark reminder that many of us still judge people on their skin tone, religious beliefs, gender or sexuality, politics, and the clothes they wear. We also don’t want to waste time judging and condemning people by waiting for all of the evidence, giving them the benefit of the doubt, or hearing their side of the story.
What happened made the Salem Witch Hunts seem subtle and deliberate acts of justice in comparison.
And before we do to Grissom what half the country did to Sandmann — who more than a few adults called his face “punchable” — as well as Johnson who was thrown to the lions by a teacher, let’s cut her some slack.
Her apology was sincere and certainly sounded like someone who realizes the addiction many of us have to use social media as a weapon is destructive. “As an educator, I care deeply for children and would never want to cause them harm,” Grissom wrote. “I made mistake and I offer a sincere apology to Jay and his family.”
That said Johnson’s father — John Jackson — demonstrated amazing restraint in the defense of his maligned 17-year-old son who, thanks to Grissom, became the target of an avalanche of vicious attacks on social idea.
He tried multiple times to get Grissom to remove the offending post and even sent her evidence her son wasn’t anywhere near the nation’s capital when the exchange took place that she chose to dismiss as fraudulent.
Only at that point did the senior Johnson involve Grissom’s school and school district in the discussion. He has stressed that “my intention was never for her to lose her job” but to get her to pull the plug on what had become non-stop cyberbullying of his son and could very easily impact his son’s future whether it was college admission or job applications given his name and photo had been linked inaccurately to the incident.
That said let Grissom’s “crime” be judged by the social media policy of the Douglas County School system just as they’d judge a student for the same lack of judgment.
The Catholic diocese that encompasses the Covington campus also eventually took responsibility for its rush to judgment as well. “We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressurized into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it,” the Most Rev. Roger Foys said in a prepared statement.
It’s ironic in a way that mobs whipped up by social media are doing exactly what Nazi Youth were doing 80 years ago.
Who needs Russian meddling — real or otherwise — in America’s public discourse when we’ve got ourselves.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.