In Response to: War & Words

I am proud that so far, the Princeton community has not behaved as badly as some other university campuses have behaved. I want the Princeton campus to feel safe for everybody, and right now it seems that a lot of Jewish students do not feel safe. My granddaughter is Jewish, and I hope that someday she will consider studying at Princeton, but I want her to feel safe there.

My small town in Tennessee has been affected by antisemitism, far from intellectual centers like Princeton. In January of 2023, men wearing Nazi regalia and carrying flags with swastikas appeared in our small town to protest a drag show and to threaten drag performers and people attending the drag show. I attended the drag brunch; it was my first time to see a drag show. There was nothing particularly remarkable or “bad” about the drag show, but for some reason, dozens of men in several different white male supremacist hate groups — armed men in masks — stood on the sidewalk outside the venue and chanted homophobic slogans.

What does this have to do with antisemitism? Well, a week later there was a city council meeting where several members of our community spoke about the harassment they had experienced at the hands of hateful people. Some were young Jewish high school and college students; some were senior queer citizens. It seems that homophobia, antisemitism, and white male supremacy all get along quite well together in a toxic stew. The same hate groups that targeted the drag show on Sunday afternoon had spent the morning near a Black church in our community, parading around with Nazi regalia and weaponry, intimidating the Black congregation there.

One person at the city council meeting said that somebody had fired bullets through the windows of his business after the drag show, apparently because his business was a supplier to the drag show bar. He decided to arm himself and went to a gun shop. The gun shop owner ran a background check over the phone and gave his password over the phone: it was A-D-O-L-F. This person said, “We may want to pretend otherwise, but this hatred is here, in our town.”

The bar where the drag show happened went out of business: the landlord evicted the bar owners. Apparently there were too many death threats.

All this is to say: This stuff is real, and it is dangerous. Right-wing ideologies are breeding right-wing terrorism across America, even in small towns far from Princeton. The haters in these groups are consciously adopting the rhetoric and symbols of fascism and Nazis. When you see a Nazi flag being unfurled by a masked man on the sidewalk in your little town, in front of a bar that you frequent, you should take it seriously. These people mean what they say.

Princeton students, please be careful about who you are supporting. You may think you are supporting an anti-imperialist freedom movement, but its allies and influencers are not liberals. They are not about freedom, democracy, pluralism, and respect for difference.

Shannon Stoney ’76
Cookeville, Tenn.