Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, of North Portland, Oregon is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 27, 2017. Portland Police Bureau/Handout via REUTERS

'The most fantastic association of men imaginable'

I am trying to write about the fact that no matter how terrible or previously unimaginable a politician or an ideology might be, if you turn over enough rocks you can find people fully ready to offer their support. There is no place on the political spectrum, and no manner of evil, that lacks ready supporters, at all times, at any time.

I am trying to figure out if these under-rock dwellers are there all along, in every society, simply waiting for their moment, or if they somehow spring up like mushrooms in response to the emergence of the person or ideology they have been waiting for.

This idea first struck me when I was reading what was for me a formative textbook on the Holocaust: "Approaches to Auschwitz," by Richard Rubenstein and John Roth. In their chapter on the Nazi regime, Rubenstein and Roth briefly profile various SS figures we now know to have been disastrously evil, like Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann, and Reinhard Heydrich. Rubenstein and Roth quote Heinz Hohne in describing them as "the most fantastic association of men imaginable." (Fantastic here means "fantastical," as in bizarre and uncannily evil.)

If Germany had been in a different place politically in the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler would never have emerged as a political leader and then as chancellor. If Hitler had not become the leader of Germany, men like Himmler, Eichmann, and Heydrich would have remained under the rocks from which they sprang, and where they belonged.

But Germany was where it was, Hitler did become ruler of Germany, the SS did become the power it became, and Himmler, Eichmann, Heydrich and company crawled out from under their rocks and did the evil that they did.

This leads me to the provisional conclusion that no matter how terrible an ideology, regime, or leader might be, he or she can always find people within their society to support them and advance their agenda. Look under enough rocks, and there they are.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that. We know that however racist or cruel these men and their underlings were prior to the Nazi Party taking power, their evil accelerated along with the evil of Hitler and his regime. Hitlerism activated, inflamed, and deepened the evil possibilities perhaps already latent in each man's character. The most radical conclusion along those lines is that each man might well have lived a perfectly ordinary adult life if it had not been for the time in which they lived and the regime in which they came to serve.

I am thinking about these things in light of three recent horrifying events in America. First there was the slaying of Bowie State University student Richard Collins III, who was fatally stabbed in an apparent racist hate crime by University of Maryland student Sean Christopher Urbanski, according to police.

Then there was the horrendous event on the Portland transit line last week, in which a man named Jeremy Christian was charged with fatally stabbing Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Rick Best when they tried to intervene to stop him from spewing hate speech at a Muslim train passenger.

Most recently, a Native American named James Smith-Kramer was killed in a hit-and-run attack that appears to have been racially motivated, as the driver allegedly was shouting racial slurs before running over Smith-Kramer and his friend.

The most fantastic association of men imaginable? White men, spewing racial hatred, attacking people of color, and those who defend them. They keep crawling out from under their rocks. They appear to be everywhere right now. There 's no wall we can build that can keep them out, because they are our neighbors.

Turn over enough rocks in America, throughout our history, and we could always have found white supremacists.

But it is more than reasonable to wonder what exactly it is that right now, in 2017, is activating, inflaming, and deepening the evil possibilities already latent in the character of white supremacists like these. I don't think we have to look very hard to find out.


  1. In some ways, Mr. gushee, you can blame the internet. It has democratized everything. Means of publishing, reaching other people, communicating, forming community despite geographic limitations, all of these things. It just as easily enables bad people to do bad things as it does good people to do good things.

    The slime has always been there. We didn’t know it to the extent that we do now because the slime didn’t have the ability to communicate itself that It does now. You need only read the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic, anti Muslim, Anti Mormon, anti JW, anti any and everybody posts on these very pages to see it clearly.

  2. It’s always with us. It has to have the right environment to thrive. The backlash against the BLM, SJW, Islamist terrorism, illegal immigration played a role. Trump was certainly a pied piper (maybe unwittingly) as evidenced by the praise and support these various groups gave him. They are comfortable showing their hate.

  3. Without excuse for white supremacist ideologues such as the malefactor in this case, I hope that Mr. Gushee will be as voluble when someone outside that paradigm commits acts of a similar nature

  4. This is the consideration that causes me to squat in my corner and wonder : ” The most radical conclusion along those lines is that each man might well have lived a perfectly ordinary adult life if it had not been for the time in which they lived and the regime in which they came to serve. “

  5. To say these guys live under rocks gives insects a bad name.

  6. You forgot one label, Ben.


  7. Are you feeling left out? then here ya go. Let me make a massive correction.

    “And anti Christian for not being the right sort of Christian. We find that species of Christian most prevalent among the people who think they are the only True Christians, and all other Christians– Mormon, SDA, JW, liberal Christian, hyper conservative Christian, not hyper conservative Christian, liberal catholic, catholic, hyper conservative catholic, anti Francis catholic, Protestant, and what have you– are simply not the right sort.”

    Feel better now?

  8. Sure, and thanks! Love those corrections — it’s the American way!

  9. The biggest troublemakers on the Left are the anti-fascist thugs who cover their face and interrupt free speech with which they disagree with violence and give spineless college administrators an excuse to deny conservatives free speech. They are largely ignored.

  10. Were all German converts to NAZISM Christians?

  11. Matthew 10:28 English Standard Version
    And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    Odd, the author looks up all these people to illustrate nasty people when he is supporting people going to Hell for homosexuality. Odd eh?

  12. what gets someone into heaven? I’d be interested to know what you think the criteria are

  13. Ok, so it has nothing to do with sexual orientation then and the author isn’t sending people to hell?

  14. By upholding that homosexuality is good and worthy to be practiced, he is leading people to Hell.
    Romans 1:32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

  15. So you get to heaven by Jesus and not being gay. Any other things on there?

    I’m being sincere, I find it confusing how many sort who gets in and out and what leads to hell.

  16. Unrepentant sinners do not go to Heaven.
    Romans 6:23 – English Standard Version
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  17. interesting, and how does one know what sin is? Specifically, there are lots of verses about immoral this and sinful that but how can I know what exactly is sinful and not so I know what to repent of and not?

  18. If you were a Christian, the Holy Spirit would convict one of their sin. You can also read the Bible. (edit) The Holy Spirit will also convict one while they are reading the Bible. Many times, that is how I’ve learned I’ve displeased the Lord.

  19. So there isn’t a list or a way to say “this is sin this is not, full stop”

  20. You would need to read God’s word to know what pleases and glorifies Him and what doesn’t. Are you interested in becoming a Christian?

  21. I’ve been a Christian my entire life. I understand sin and all of those things from my perspective.

    I just find I don’t understand what your saying or where your coming from most of the time. I can’t follow it so I thought I’d ask.

  22. What is it that you don’t understand. Perhaps I can help you.

  23. You seem to throw on a lot of extras. Its like a bait and switch.

    Everything seems to be a salvation issue. If you don’t’ do x and believe y you won’t get in as well. So Jesus, but also if you’re gay you can’t get in. Jesus, but also if you don’t y you won’t get in. Seems like you add a lot. I’d say it’s sin to support violence. That said do I think people who act violently or support violence will not go to heaven? No, they will go because their entrance isn’t based on their theology of violence, its based on Jesus.

  24. I repeat what Christ has taught in reference to homosexuality, Philip. Christ has taught in many, many places that unrepentant sinners will not go to Heaven. I gave you one example from Romans.
    John 3:3 -John 3:3English Standard Version (ESV)
    3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[a] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    When one is born again, they become a new person in Christ. The old has gone and the new has come.
    When a person becomes a Christian, God gives him a completely new moral and spiritual capability that a mind apart from Christ could never achieve. The new birth results from God’s sovereignty coming down to a sinner and by His grace cleansing him, and planting His spirit within him, and giving him a completely new spiritual nature. He then has “put on the new man which is created according to God in true righteousness and holiness”. (Ephesians 4:24) John MacArthur

  25. Ok, I still find what you present confusing.

    Like I said, many of us disagree on what exactly is and is not a sin in a lot of areas (drinking, dancing, playing cards, dressing immodestly, etc). Does that mean that adherence to a particular idea on EVERY topic that could be sin is required to get into heaven? I hope not of no one is getting in.

    So you may see homosexuality as sin, again I see support of violence as a sin. But that won’t keep people out of heaven I don’t think.

  26. Unrepentant sin will not get you into Heaven.
    Christ taught that those practicing homosexuality will not see the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Leviticus 18:22 – 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.

    Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

    John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” 

    Revelation 21:8 ESV But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    Revelation 22: 14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

    Humans do not decide on what sin is, the Lord has made it very clear and only He sets the standards.
    Back to David Gushee – people do not decide that something is not a sin when Christ has clearly taught that it is.

  27. I don’t see any quotes from the teaching of Christ referenced. As far as I can tell he never mentioned the topic.

    It seems odd to me that if it can keep you from heaven that he didn’t mention it.

    Again the question here is not if its a sin or not, but can it keep you from heaven? Unless your position is that no one who sins can enter heaven, but then were back to no one getting into heaven so its not that cut and dry.

  28. Well, let’s first start that Christ is God. He is also the Word of God. All thing were created through Him and without Him, nothing has been created that has been created.
    Leviticus is the Word of God – Jesus.
    Now, if you are looking New Testament – I gave you from the Book of Revelation – Jesus word
    There also is: Matthew 15:19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.20 These are what defile you.”
    He did mention it, as I have shown above. He taught in several places that immorality will keep one out of the Kingdom of Heaven. How did you not see that?

  29. Jesus didn’t teach in numerous places, the bible speaks about. Those are not the same thing. The bible isn’t the fourth member of the trinity. Jesus is the the word of God and is the prefect and total reflection of God. So whatever we understand about God needs to be understood through who Jesus is.

    I see Jesus teaching grace, love, and hope. I don’t see Jesus teaching that salvation comes with a number of check boxes: no sin, not gay, this denomination, etc. I see him saying he will save those who trust in him. Trusting in him and being gay are not mutually exclusive. Frankly there is a stronger argument that trusting in Jesus means living and supporting non-violence and again, few are saying those who support just war theology or violence aren’t going to heaven because of it.

    All I see here is a bait and switch. Jesus didn’t put all the stipulations on his grace you are. At least I can’t see it.

  30. Jesus is the Word of God, Philip – Jesus is God (John 1:1-10)
    Jesus taught Paul in Arabia for three years via revelation (Galatians 1)
    Paul taught Jesus word. – Galatians 1:12
    Jesus is the Creator and Word of the Bible. John 1:1-10
    He spoke Leviticus to Moses (Leviticus 18:1)
    He revealed His desires for the church to Paul through revelation.
    The Book of Revelation quotes Jesus. Revelation 21:5 – 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
    6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
    I quoted Jesus from Matthew.
    I quoted Jesus from Leviticus.

    Jesus also taught about justice. and that homosexuals will not see the Kingdom of Heaven, if you look back to the Leviticus and Revelation references I gave you. Moses quoted Him. John quoted Him. Paul spoke for Him.
    “Trusting in him and being gay are not mutually exclusive. ” Absolutely. Homosexuals rebel against God’s word.

    “”We get a warped view of Him when all we hear is, ‘God is love, God is love.’ It is true that God is love, but don’t lose sight of the fact that God is also holy. He is righteous and He will judge. You are not rushing into heaven on the little love boat today. If you reject His salvation, there will be nothing left but judgment.” J Vernon McGee

    Jesus has requirements to be able to go to Heaven. If you don’t think so, why do you think he went through all of the humiliating circumstances and died for us?

    Can I help you more?

  31. Your question about why Jesus died is a good one but I suspect you and I disagree greatly on what that actually is. My goal was never to convince you of anything but just to understand where your perspective comes from and how you get where you get. I think I get it now thank you for your thoughts

  32. Not a problem, but, if you consider yourself a Christian, it is something we should agree on. It’s all laid out in the Bible, my friend. God bless you.

  33. In essentials unity, in non essentials liberty, in all things charity.

  34. Most considered themselves to be such.

  35. Agreed. But I’ve yet to see Mr. Gushee address their foibles.

  36. Probably my greatest disappointment as an adult is finding out that we as a nation are not getting better at ridding ourselves of racism. It’s to my great dismay that I’ve come to realize that racism merely went underground for a few decades when it became socially “uncool” to be openly racist. If Dr. King were still alive I think he would rend his clothes and die of a broken heart at how widespread and accepted racism still is in 2017 America. Yes, the law is on the side of equality, but people are still as racist as ever.

    Of course one should note that the far-right nationalism that has been so prevalent in Europe has made it’s way to America, and is increasingly being mainstreamed via the Republican Party. Here we call it the alt-right, and it’s given rise to all sorts of vile ideas and language that was unthinkable even ten years ago. People are being openly racist, and it’s celebrated by many. Worse, some of them are acting on it now. One would be remiss to not mention that a leader of the alt-right has the ear of the current occupant of the White House.

    Of course I cannot fail to mention that the current leader of our nation ran a campaign based on fear, hate, and scapegoating of certain people groups. He gave a “wink” to violence at his campaign rallies that spilled into actual assaults on people. He denigrates people and has brought a new low of coarseness to our nation. That has contributed to the problems and encouraged more of the unhinged to come out of the woodwork.

    Many of us are redoubling our efforts to encourage tolerance and diversity, and to counteract racism and hate. Will it be enough to stem the rising tide of craziness and violence? I hope so.

  37. Good comment, especially third paragraph — excellent.

  38. Philip, in your journey with the Bible and Christianity, don’t forget this basic truth. Paul, who authored most of the NT says this about his own writings and that may be able to apply to other scripture as well —

    …our knowledge is partial and incomplete
    …we see things imperfectly…
    …All that I know is partial and incomplete…
    (1 Corinthians 13:9,12)

  39. For myself I’ve found it helpful to go back to the creeds to see what was essential early in the faith. Much is important and worth time, energy, and debate, but essentials I’ve found over the years are less than I would have thought or was taught.

  40. Philip, it helps to remember that fundamentalist religion is impervious to nuanced argument.
    Sandi, the blithe manner in which you confidently proclaim the condemnation of people to Hell is truly disturbing. I wonder if you would be so comfortable making such condemnations if anyone you personally knew were in the group you so easily condemn. And I wonder what you make of Jesus saying, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
    And isn’t it interesting that the longest thread on here is not about what I actually wrote about.

  41. I think you find more truth from the Word of God – His mouth – than man’s interpretation of what He said.

    1 Timothy 6:20 – New International Version
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,

    The only place you are going to find the truth, is in scripture.

  42. Are you saying you think early church leaders didn’t go to the scripture when they developed those creeds?

    “I think you find more truth from the Word of God – His mouth – than man’s interpretation of what He said.” whatever you read and think the bible says is an interpretation. it’s how language works. Theres not interpretation free way to approach the bible.

  43. But, the Bible isn’t open to private interpretation. I am beginning to think you are RC. If that is the case, we probably will not agree. I think you believe the church is the authority, whereas I believe the Bible is the authority.

  44. Neither, I’m Anabaptist. I believe Jesus is the authority. We are Christians so we follow Jesus.

    But interesting for you to say the bible isn’t open to private interpretation when that’s so core to protestant faith. It seems what you’ve been arguing is personal interpretation over tradition (like the creeds) or current community (like the breadth of denomination and interpretation).

  45. It isn’t difficult to follow “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman” No need for a private interpretation, my friend.

  46. With biblical support we’ve murdered other Christians, argued to keep slaves, ignored carrying for the poor, refuse to love our enemies or turn the other cheek, and eat all kinds of shellfish.

    It’s ALL interpretation

  47. BTW I have a very dear friend who is Anabaptist.
    So how is Leviticus 18:22 interpreted improperly?

  48. I don’t usually bother to comment when Sandi is around.

    This reflection is well written and much needed. Thank you. We are in scary times, sliding down into hate and divisiveness.

  49. Sleep the sleep of a woman. Look it up.

  50. Sandi has declared herself to be a person with nothing to be forgiven for.

    You can make what you like of that one, Mr. gushee.

  51. I have. One of the males plays a female role. He becomes the submissive sex partner.

  52. Divisiveness perhaps. But hate? Not necessarily.
    What some people might call hate, others might term fury. I am so tired of conservative religionists and their never ending desire to control the lives of other people.

  53. Not many people can live up to the full description of Romans 1:28-32. The men mentioned in this article seem to fit that description. It is their final acts that fully reveal who these men are, but that they exist among us before the acts occur is troubling to us. If this is true, then Romans 2:1 talking about judging might become more understandable. When we judge what we don’t struggle with in others, we become blind to who we are like.

    I wonder this. Romans 1:18-27, God revealed is being talked about, man’s reaction to that revelation is being talked about, and it sounds very literal. When I read Ephesians 5:22-33 I would assume a pretty literal reading, but maybe Paul is trying to say way more than what we read when he writes. 32 “This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. Paul talks about unity in the church, then goes to wives and husbands. Paul a Jew talking to gentiles about being grafted into a faith. Is Paul being literal and figurative at the same time? Two become one, both become new in Christ. A sexual reference to make a point?
    If that is the case could he be doing the same thing in Romans? A sexual reference to explain a point. Exclusionary, nationalist, racist thinking, if you wanted to describe it with a sexual picture it would be “homosexual” in context. Opposite, inclusive type thinking would be seen as heterosexual in context. If you strip away all that is inferred by the word homosexual today and think in context of what “thinking” we become attracted to a picture starts to emerge. Are we attracted to “people” who are the same? When not Paul seems to use a picture of marriage, Christ, and the church. When only attracted to “people” who are the same as us Paul gives a different image, and the result would fit a description of “the most fantastic association of men imaginable”. That result, that description, has been given to homosexuals, it is not accurate of them but is accurate of a different kind of person. In context, to give an idea a picture, it seems to me Paul uses a sexual reference to describe rejecting a “different people.” He is saying that racist type thinking is what is not from God. Paul is a Jew who earlier in life would not have been fond of Romans talking to Romans who would not have been too fond of Jews.
    I could go on, but as for the people this article is written about what Paul describes in Romans seems to fit them, and the therefore he uses becomes a little more personal.
    That little Ephesians 5:35 verse makes me wonder about some of the things Paul is writing about at the first of Romans.

  54. she is displaying a very common trait of the authoritarian personality, the entitlement to “make it up as you go” if she feels it it is automatically true and therefore Biblical.

  55. Racism is always here but if Rules are Written anywhere agencies, work place, schools, churches and everyone has to follow the same rules with No Biases for certain cultures sliding when they do not follow rules and blaming others when they want to cover it up. This is why their are White Supremist because they are trying to preserve their race. I cannot tell you how many jobs I have lost because certain races that become mobs at the work site, do not take responsibility for their behaviors. When I had to ask this Nurse Aid to wash her client again, she heavily swore at me, stamped off the floor and told me she will not do it. I wanted to write her up, but during my training session, I was not given the pad to write her up and she whined and stamped her feet and person who was training me said if I write her up, she will slit my tires and she refused to give me the pad. Her friends all complained because she did not want to take responsibility for her actions and so I was fired! I am an RN, BSN and cannot get a job because this behavior is everywhere and it is wrong to show preferrance for any race and all people should adhere to same rules and accountability without being intimidated with aggression. This is reason for white supremist because they are trying to stand up. I do not agree with white supremist but Supervisors and Authority People need to treat all equally and not be intimidated by anyones aggressive behaviors. Treat equally even if some people use aggression to intimidate Supervisors. Create Connection and same treatment and we would not need White Supremists.

  56. Yes I am angry that I went to years of schooling with a 3.7 GPA with RN Bachelors and certain aggressive people get me fired because they ban together in a mob and threaten people and rest of agency side with these people that form their own clique and bully people or play tricks at workplace to make me look inefficient at what I do. I do resent this and I am sure many others do also but are not speaking up. Same rules for all is beginning and connection opportunities will help break down walls.

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