Out of all of the actions taken over the past century, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi genocide campaign against the Jewish population is as close as we get to a universally-accepted notion of human evil.
Even with the world rising against him, however, Hitler still had supporters, opportunistic allies, and people who just didn’t know or care what he was doing. Despite the fervent hope for such convenience, evil isn’t an absolute, or at least isn’t universally identifiable.
Nor do those who recognize evil agree on what to do with it. Do you drown it out with something good? Do you match actions, justifying yours as defense? Do you allow it to exist in the hope of slower change?
These are questions that currently confront my home town. This month at our farmers market, a booth with ties to a white supremacist organization in Indiana became the focus of protesters who wanted to pressure them to leave. The protests started after a week of social media debates on first amendment rights and the efficacy and ethics of demanding that they be expelled by the City. At City Hall, community members commented for two hours as an advisory board listened to concerns and demands for action.
On the surface, the public appearance of Nazis—America’s enemy—should be an easy problem to resolve, especially here in this blue bubble within a red state. Locals easily bond over many things. We rally against the same fears and generally strive for a shared vision of the future.
Bloomington is also diverse in interest and ideology, sometimes to a point of contention within groups that self-apply the same labels. When we look, we do not see the same things. When we agree on what we see, we diverge on the paths we can take to address wrong. In the process, we risk treating allies as enemies and insulating evil.
There are a few key things that are not in dispute about the controversy:
- Schooner Creek Farm, who has a booth at the local farmers market, is owned by Sarah Dye. Dye is affiliated with a hate group that espouses rebranded white supremacist views, and she and her husband were specifically cited in an FBI investigation by the man behind the 2018 vandalism of an Carmel synagogue.
- There is no outward sign that Dye and those at Schooner Creek Farm expressed their views while participating in the farmers market. There were no speeches, no leaflets offered, nor are symbols of white supremacy on display. Over the past three years, complaints arose about their booth, centered on their beliefs and including harassment of the vendors that resulted in calls to the police. There is anecdotal evidence that the couple attempted to recruit at their home by leveraging their market network.
- Some people feel uncomfortable and even threatened attending the Bloomington Farmers Market. The tradition of whiteness at farmers markets plays a role, as does the presence of white supremacists, especially as hate crimes increase in frequency.
Locals are now trying to respond to this information.
It is much easier to gravitate toward a solution for those at greater distance, who see either Dye or the protestors only as negative archetypes of what is wrong with the world. Those who knew Dye longest, before indoctrination, are likely to see someone worth saving and will struggle the most. At the root is a question of what to do with evil.
The starting place is stopping the harm.
The presence of white supremacy is most blatant in the documents that connect Dye to Identity Evropa and to a visible hate crime. This connection—made through an FBI investigation into the synagogue vandalism and subsequent digital research by other individuals—is the catalyst for current protest and fear, and must be addressed. It is not the only evidence of white supremacy.
White supremacy is also found in a farming tradition that favors white landowners and does not inherently make market spaces welcoming to all. All of the good things credited to the farmers market—access to healthy food, supporting the local economy, combating climate change, and direct interaction with growers—are only available to those willing and able to participate. Fear excludes.
Indiana’s racial demographics make diversity goals for a farmers market much more challenging and more important in places like Bloomington, which is 83 percent white. Other markets with reputations for representation of both vendors and shoppers, like Minneapolis, benefit from larger local populations of people of color. To improve the social climate at Bloomington’s farmers market will take intentional action.
One thing the City has already done To address economic barriers is to facilitate low-income shoppers by doubling SNAP dollars since 2013. Farmers markets have the potential to fill voids in our food system, primarily through the growing acceptance of SNAP, WIC, and other forms of nutrition assistance. Due to economic segregation, those who benefit most from this program are also likely to improve racial diversity at the market, as well. In Indiana, 13.5 percent of the state population have incomes below the poverty line, but only 11.4 percent are white.
Representation is another barrier to the market becoming a more welcoming space. From 1910 through 2007, Black farmers lost 80 percent of their land, falling from 14 to under two percent of all farmers. Following a USDA legal settlement in 1999, the number of Black farmers recovered somewhat in the 21st century, however they still represent a small percentage of farmers overall. In Indiana, out of 56,649 total farms, only 92 farms have a principal producer who is Black.
The investment needed to get a space in a market can be daunting for new farmers, particularly those who are not already immeshed in the grower community. Organizations like California’s Farms to Grow and the Indiana Black Farmers Co-Op are actively supporting underserved farmers to promote sustainable practices that increase the cultural and biological diversity of farming. These are programs that could inspire change for Bloomington, either through duplication of effort or through partnerships that improve opportunities for locals here to support Black farmers.
Removing a known white supremacist from the market doesn’t address the impact of white supremacy on its own. Intervention also calls for systemic reforms, as well as a plan to fight evil through redemption.
The moral foundation we adopt shapes how we respond to something like Schooner Creek Farm. In an immutable world, where evil people never change, the conversation ends when the vendor is removed and power is taken. For other moral structures that hold some place for redemption, the evil-doer is not a lost cause. A loving response not only stops the harm but also includes a path to reconnection.
A corollary belief for many who call most emphatically to remove these vendors from the Bloomington Farmers Market is that we should not listen to those who hate. Do not empathize. There is no dialogue to be had with someone who wishes to harm others. This is not a legal stance against evil, but a moral one.
It is also one that likely serves to isolate people in need of connection. If the only ties left to someone who does wrong are others who support that wrong, their ideas become more entrenched.
While we hold the line against hate and support those most impacted by acts of hate, it is not enough to demand someone leave a hate group if there is no substitute offered in return. Life After Hate—a Chicago-based group modeled after a post-Soviet program in Europe and backed by academic researchers who study the radical right—leverages first-hand experience by former white-power activists to help others abandon white supremacy. They offer a path away, not just a dividing fence.
Protecting our Saturday mornings in a parking lot in Bloomington from the presence of a known white supremacist does not prevent Dye from continuing to recruit. It addresses the most glaring symptom of a larger problem. Schooner Creek Farm may need to be removed from the market, but it could be done in a way that offers conditions for return and retains constructive connections.
I don’t have universal answers to the challenges our community faces, not even when it comes to Nazis in the marketplace. I can continue to evaluate each piece of information on its merits, and allow myself to react accordingly. However, I am finding it more and more important to also reflect on how that response fits into my larger world view.
If I do not want white supremacy to continue—and I don’t—it is not enough to pressure a group out of my space so I don’t risk hearing their toxic ideas, whether or not I heard them there before. If my actions simply migrate those ideas to a unprotected community, or lead to more isolation, there is less hope for change in the world.
I have to reflect on my willingness to act this way for this situation but not extend the effort to repeat it elsewhere, or at least understand what it would take to do so.
I have to acknowledge the potential costs of my response and who will pay them.
I have to own the hypocrisy in enabling this response against something I detest while decrying similar actions taken against something others detest, or find a path that accommodates both.
I have to reconcile the evil I see with the evil I don’t see, more so when my blindness is a choice.
I have to understand the privilege of my choices to act in a way that best fits my own comfort and need, when others may have fewer choices or greater need. Privilege comes with an obligation to amplify voices when needed and offer ourselves up as surrogates for those who would be placed at greater risk.
I have to remember that authentic connection with others requires vulnerability to show your flaws, openness to be changed, and the strength to retain your own beliefs while being curious about those of others. It is not acquiescence. It is not stubbornness. It is not modeling perfection, or victory through persuasion. It is a mutual relationship with another human who may hold all your fears as dear.
Once connected, everyone has an opportunity to learn. Everyone gets a shot at redemption.
We are capable of stopping harm and still listening as if love matters.