AlphaHistory: The Red Scare (1947-57) was a decade-long period of intense anti-communist paranoia in the United States. During this period, millions of ordinary Americans were paralysed by an irrational fear of ‘Reds under the bed’ – the belief that thousands of communist agents and sympathisers were secretly living amongst them, plotting or waiting to overthrow the government.
Today, we live under the White Supremacist Scare, the irrational fear that there is a white supremacist under every bed. An email sent to the parents of University of Virginia students, for example, warns that “events have occurred on Grounds that have been cause for concern” and “the nature and timing of these events have caused some to speculate that they are linked or part of a larger pattern of racially motivated crimes…”. Here is one such event:
Last weekend, several community members reported that a flag bearing a symbol that looked either like a crown or an owl, depending on how the flag is held, was left on the grass near the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. That same person also left a check for $888.88 that was ultimately delivered, as a surprise, to a student’s room, and the check had the same symbol that was on the flag. As rumors swirled around this bizarre set of events, some speculated that the flag represented a white supremacist organization and that the check was somehow a targeted act of intimidation against a student of color.
A crown! An owl! A check for $888.88! Heil Hitler! It seems odd that giving a check to someone is “targeting” a person of color. But no matter. Logic isn’t important here. What else could this mean but white supremacy? Bear in mind that this is a university where streaking the lawn is a tradition and there are weird numbers, signs, and sigils all over campus.
The UVA police and the FBI—yes, the FBI!—were called in to investigate (n.b. there isn’t even a hint of any crime!). And they got the culprit! Of course, what they discovered was entirely banal. Does it even matter?
“…we discovered that he is part of an organization focusing on micro-philanthropy that occasionally engages in random acts of kindness to current students.”
Moreover, the UVA administration is advertising their investigation, as if how seriously they took this potential threat is a credit to the organization instead of an embarrassment of poor judgment and fevered imagination.