On Friday, November 4, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia spoke on a panel about incendiary language during a two-day conference, titled Extremism: Confronting Hate Without Fear. The conference brought together some of the country’s leading experts on extremism to examine the growing threat of radicalization in America and around the world. The event, hosted at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY, included a selection of award-winning films, with their filmmakers, along with authors, journalists, experts, and academics on dimensions of the topic of extremism.
Garcia spoke on a panel titled “Next Generation Now: Growing Influencers in the Alt Right and the Language They Use.” The panel followed a screening of the documentary film, “White Noise,” which tracks the rise of far-right nationalism. The film, directed by Daniel Lombroso, captures the inside story of the alt right movement and serves as a warning about the power of extremism. The panel discussion that followed also featured Lombroso and was moderated by New York University faculty member Jacqueline Strayer.
During the panel discussion, Garcia spoke about the pattern of incendiary language provoking violence, which he documents in his most recent book, Words on Fire: Incendiary Language and How to Confront It. He described some of the core insights from Words on Fire, shared how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders who use incendiary language accountable, and answered audience questions.
Watch an amalgamation of clips from that panel discussion here:
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On Friday, May 13, 2022, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in an article in The Guardian on the rise in violent rhetoric surrounding the Missouri Senate primary. The rhetoric surrounding the Missouri Senate primary, which has included candidates posing with firearms and posting seemingly threatening language about political rivals, exemplifies the heightened polarization and increase in incendiary rhetoric seen throughout the United States today.
In the article, Garcia forecasts more violence given the continued heightened rhetoric. It reads, “He thought the US could return to a more normal place after the end of Trump’s presidency but because Trump still insists he won, Garcia thinks it will take more than eight years and further carnage for the pendulum to swing back to a more normal place.”
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On Thursday, October 14, 2021, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia’s interview on the Pursuing Perfect Podcast was released. In this podcast, lifelong entrepreneur Marc Kashke interviews leaders on notions of perfection and how they discovered how to reach perfection in their work.
In this episode, Garcia and Kashke discuss the power of communication, both to affect powerful change and to inflict meaningful harm. In their exchange, Garcia describes the rigor required to communicate effectively at work and in positions of leadership, what communication is designed to do when used effectively, the ways in which rhetoric can (and has) been used to provoke violence, and more.
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“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”
We see examples of such dangerous speech all around, here and abroad:
Fundamentalists of every stripe hijack the identity and vocabulary of religion to promote oppression, exclusion, and violence in the name of religious purity.
Nationalists hijack national identity and the vocabulary of patriotism in ways that lead to violence in the name of racial, ethnic, national, and ideological purity.
Supremacists hijack the vocabulary of science and society to commit cruelty and violence against immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, and those who support such groups.
Even some American governors hijack the language of liberty and freedom in ways that put their citizens at risk of contracting a deadly disease. And they stand idly by as their hospitals overflow with unvaccinated patients and announce that they can no longer accept patients with other life-threatening conditions. Worse, citizens so mobilized commit violence and threats of violence against healthcare workers, school districts, restaurant owners, and others who are simply trying to protect themselves and the people in their care.
There is much hand-wringing in the media and elsewhere about just how polarized American society has become. And with good reason.
But engaged citizens can do something about it, here and elsewhere in the world.
In particular, members of the communication profession can challenge the use of communication to divide and to oppress. We can model communication in ways that protect those at risk. We can call out the dangerous speech and its consequence when we hear it. We can hold leaders accountable when they persist in using such language.
And we can help institutions to reclaim their identity and vocabulary to more fully fulfill their missions:
We can help religious organizations reclaim the identity and vocabulary of religion as a source for peace. We can highlight the deeply-held and widely-shared moral teaching of all faith traditions: kindness, reciprocity, and service to community.
We can help reclaim national identity and the vocabulary of patriotism to show that we are part of a common civic enterprise. We can show that not only are all created equal, but all are also equally deserving of respect and dignity.
We can help at-risk communities harness their power, and we can hold those who attack those communities accountable for the consequences.
And we can use the ballot box to hold accountable those political leaders who know better but who pander to an ideological agenda that puts their citizens at unnecessary risk of catching and succumbing to a deadly disease.
Silence in the face of oppression always helps the oppressors. If ever there was a time for communicators to up our game and deploy our gifts, it is now.
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Today we commemorate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On this day it is important to note that the man who for two more days is the sitting president has spent nearly a decade systematically attacking the very dream Dr. King described in his 1963 Lincoln Memorial Speech.
Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency were themed to evoke an America before the civil rights wins that began to dismantle some of the worst abuses of the Jim Crow era. And it happened right before our eyes, as Trump embraced white supremacist policies and normalized white nationalism.
And twelve days ago, on the Elipse just a mile from the Lincoln Memorial, Trump inspired a crowd filled with white supremacists to invade the U.S. Capitol, where some hoped to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House.
That evening, after watching the Capitol assault on television, Trump told the attackers, “We love you. You’re very special.”
Dancing with White Supremacists
In my latest book, Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It, I track what I call Trump’s dance with white supremacists. Throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump has followed a recognizable pattern: He signals to white supremacists, and they signal back. Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, has frequently referred to it as a “wink-wink-wink” relationship.
It began nearly ten years ago, when private citizen Trump addressed the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and declared he would run in 2012 to unseat President Barack Obama. He revived the long-discredited birther conspiracy that Obama was secretly Kenyan and Muslim. This got the attention of white supremacists. He continued pounding the birther theme for six years, straight through to the last month of his 2016 campaign.
White supremacists perked up even more in his 2015 campaign launch when Trump declared that Mexicans are rapists, when he called for a wall on the southern border, and when he later promoted a total and complete ban of Muslims entering the United States.
In early 2016 Former Klan leader David Duke endorsed Trump and urged his followers to volunteer for his campaign. He said, “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.”
In late August 2016, Trump named Breitbart News co-founder Stephen Bannon to lead the Trump campaign. Bannon had previously said that Breitbart was the “platform for the alt-right.” The phrase “alt-right” was coined in 2010 by Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who later was one of the Charlottesville organizers, as a less menacing phrase for white nationalism. After the election Trump named Bannon his senior White House strategist. In this way, the alt-right had a direct channel into the White House.
God Emperor of White Supremacists
On the day Trump was declared president, white supremacists celebrated and took credit for putting him in office.
“We won, brothers. All of our work. It has paid off. Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible… And the great news is, we’re going to be given credit for it.”
“For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback. #Trump.”
Making Whiteness Great Again
Ten days after the election, in an auditorium of the Ronald Reagan Office Building several blocks from the White House, Spencer addressed the white nationalist group he ran. He said,
“We willed Donald Trump into office. We made this dream our reality. . . And this Trumpian dream is only the beginning . . . We demand to live in the world that we imagine… For us it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man, that our fate is entirely in our hands… That is the great struggle we are called to. We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet. We were meant to overcome—overcome all of it. Because that is natural and normal for us. Because for us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again.”
Spencer closed his speech with a rousing call,
“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory.”
Spencer raised a glass up high with his right hand, in an apparent toast. Members of the audience rose and gave a Nazi salute extending their right arm out to the front. One man gave the salute multiple times, shouting “Sieg Heil!” – literally, “Hail Victory” in German.
In August of Trump’s first year Richard Spencer, David Duke, and other white supremacist leaders organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
Trump and others insisted that the Charlottesville protest was about the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. But it was much more.
On its website, The Daily Stormer admitted that the Charlottesville protest was not simply about a statue:
“Although the rally was initially planned in support of the Lee Monument, which the Jew Mayor and his Negroid Deputy have marked for destruction, it has become something much bigger than that. It is now an historic rally, which will serve as a rallying point and battle cry for the rising alt-right movement.”
One of the organizers, Michael Hill, president of the white nationalist group League of the South, tweeted to his followers:
“If you want to defend the South and Western civilization from the Jew and his dark-skinned allies, be at Charlottesville on 12 August.”
“Next stop: Charlottesville, VA. Final stop: Auschwitz.”
“Battle cry” is not a casual reference. The Daily Stormer live-posted during the protest, including this:
“THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A WAR! WE HAVE AN ARMY”
After counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by a neo-Nazi, President Trump said that there was hatred and bigotry on many sides. The Daily Stormer wrote:
“Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.”
Two days later President Trump said there were “very fine people, on both sides,” David Duke tweeted a thank-you to the President.
Daryl Johnson, former domestic terrorism expert at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, wrote a Washington Post column in which he noted the alignment of the white supremacist agenda and Trump’s policies and priorities:
“Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, militia extremists, and other radical right-wing zealots march side-by-side at pro-Trump rallies across the country. Trump’s endorsement of the border wall, the travel ban, mass deportations of illegal immigrants — these ideas were touted on white supremacist message boards merely 10 years ago. Now they’re being put forth as official U.S. policy. Such controversial plans have placated white supremacists and anti-government extremists and will draw still more sympathetic individuals toward these extremist causes along with the sort of violent acts that too often follow, like Charlottesville.”
Fifteen days before the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump declared himself to be a nationalist. He addressed a rally crowd and said,
“You know, they have a word, it sort of became old fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am, I’m a nationalist, OK. I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word!”
The following year, when Trump called for four congresswomen of color to “go back to where you came from,” The Daily Stormer wrote,
“This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for.”
The Final Days
Capitol police in the House chamber protecting members of Congress.
In Trump’s final days in office the twice-impeached president has said he will not attend the inauguration, which Twitter interpreted as,
“[E]ncouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending.”
And now Trump has an army: groups of white supremacists – Proud Boys, Boogaloo movement, QAnon, and others – who are mobilizing to replicate what happened on January 6. The FBI is warning about possible violent armed attacks on the January 20 inauguration and on symbolic targets in all 50 states.
The Lincoln Memorial is locked down, as is the National Mall up to the Capitol, protected by fences, razor wire, and more than 25,000 national guard troops in full combat gear including automatic weapons.
The Dream, Deferred
Dr. King’s dream was that we would judge people by the content of their character.
At the end of the Trump presidency, we see that he fails the character test. The tone is set from the top. Trump has spent a decade trying to dismantle Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. In his celebration of white supremacists and glorification of violence, he is the very antithesis of Dr. King.
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On January 7, 2021, Logos president and author of Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It, Helio Fred Garcia, spoke with Richard Levick on In House Warrior, the Corporate Counsel Business Journal’s daily podcast. Their conversation, which happened the day after insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol, focused on the patterns of language that lead to violence. Garcia explained how the insurrectionists’ attack is just the latest in a long pattern of violence provoked by President Trump’s incendiary language. Listen to their full conversation here:
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On January 7, 2021, Logos President and author of “Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It,” Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in an article in Christian Science Monitor on his personal response to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists on January 6. In the article, people from across the country react to the insurrectionists attack and reflect on what this means.
Below is an excerpt from this article:
Take the American story of Helio Fred Garcia. His family emigrated from Brazil in the 1960s. As a New York City debate champion in the 1970s he won a coveted spot as a congressional page during the Watergate summer of 1974.
He had come from a country with a military dictatorship, and when President Richard Nixon resigned, he thought there might be tanks in the streets.
“And it didn’t happen,” he says.
Six years ago, he attended a reunion of former pages at the U.S. Capitol. He felt a bit overwhelmed.
“When my wife and I were able to walk onto the House floor, tears ran down my cheeks – I’m tearing up a little right now,” says Mr. Garcia, now president of the crisis management firm Logos Consulting Group, and author of “Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It.”
So, unsurprisingly, after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building on Wednesday his emotions ran especially deep.
“I was heartbroken when I saw my sacred chamber being desecrated and attacked . . . For us, it really is a sacred place. It is a temple of democracy,” he says.
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In Words on Fire, Garcia explains the pattern of how the president’s incendiary language inspires some people to commit violence against rivals, critics, and dehumanized and demonized groups. The CNN article notes how the storming of the US Capitol was part of this escalating pattern, and that the move by social media platforms to restrict or shut President Trump’s posts comes too late.
The article reads:
“In addition to lying more as he realized he could get away with it, [President Trump] also began to use more abusive language. As Helio Fred Garcia wrote in his 2020 book “Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It,””over time, the frequency and intensity of Trump’s language (on social media as well as in speeches and with the media) changed. Without anyone or anything to stop it … he became more aggressive and his language more directly incendiary when discrediting his political rivals.” And, predictably, Garcia noted, after Trump insulted members of different groups, hate crimes against them spiked. So, let’s be clear: This is not the first time he has incited violence.”
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The first American case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on January 20, 2020.
Exactly one year later Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
What happened in the United States in between is different from what happened in other developed countries.
Twenty million Americans contracted COVID-19 between the first case and the end of the year.
2020 was the single deadliest year in American history. The first U.S. COVID-19 fatality was on February 6. By year end another 351 thousand Americans had died from the virus. For context, that is more than all the U.S. combat fatalities in World War II and Vietnam combined, but in a single eleven-month period rather than in the 24 years of those wars. For several weeks in December we were seeing the equivalent of a 9/11 casualty rate every day, with total 2020 COVID-19 fatalities equal to 118 separate 9/11 attacks.
Much of this was avoidable. And yet, here we are. So the question is – why did this happen?
It was a year that changed everything: what it means to be “at work” or “at school”; how we visit the doctor; how we greet each other; how we shop for groceries and other goods; how we say goodbye to loved ones as they take their final breath.
It was a year of great trauma: medical, emotional, spiritual, economic, social.
And it was a year that saw great sacrifice and some of the best of humanity: in the front-line medical workers, in the agility of many companies to re-imagine their business models and their product offerings, in the emergence of a new class of heroes – postal workers, delivery drivers, and grocery clerks, who risked infection to keep us supplied.
And it was a year that intensified much that had already been fraying in the fabric of American civic life: hyper-polarization in politics, mistrust of each other and of civic institutions, and the shattering of social and political norms.
After decades of one party discrediting science – from refusing to accept the reality of evolution, to redefining when human life begins, to denying the reality of climate change – we saw millions of Americans deny what scientists, public health experts, and their own doctors told them: that the virus is real, that it is deadly, that you can transmit it even when asymptomatic; and that masking, distancing, and handwashing are keys to prevention. The American population seemed to divide into those who believe what science teaches and those who choose not to. But as a popular T-shirt and internet meme noted, Science Doesn’t Care What You Believe.
The pandemic coincided with one of the most bizarre and contentious presidential election campaigns in American history, in which despite no evidence of fraud the sitting president refused to acknowledge defeat and lost more than 50 lawsuits challenging the results. And who for the eight weeks between the election and the new year seemed to give up on being president. He stayed out of sight and silent on anything having to do with the pandemic, even as fatalities approached the 350 thousand mark and infections soared to 20 million, and as he rage-tweeted about the so-called “massive fraud” that had prevented his re-election.
But the hardships were real and were devastating. In the weeks before and after Christmas, hospitalization rates reached record highs, with whole regions, including southern California, reporting zero intensive care beds available. At least one Los Angeles hospital started treating patients in the gift shop; another in a cafeteria; yet another in its chapel. But the real shortage was of medical personnel to treat the record number of patients. Doctors began talking about the need to choose which patients to treat, and which to leave to die.
The nation saw the infection rate grow by a million cases every few days. And despite pleas from public health officials and hospital front-line workers, Americans continued to travel for the holidays, risking what health workers called a surge on top of a surge. And some governors refused to require citizens to wear masks in public. Florida’s governor even forbade Florida cities and counties from requiring masks and social distancing in their jurisdictions. And the White House, the State Department, and other federal agencies held dozens of holiday parties indoors and without a masking requirement: yet more super-spreader events.
It did not need to be this way.
Much of the suffering, the hardship, the sacrifice could have been avoided. It resulted from a lethal combination of incompetence, dishonesty, and neglect.
The United States, alone in the world, intentionally refused to follow or mandate basic public health steps: a national masking, distancing, testing, and contact tracing policy. There was no whole of government response; at best there were fragments of government responses. And some parts of the government seemed to be at war against other parts. Indeed, some parts of government seemed to be at war against themselves, such as the White House Pandemic Task Force, where in a single press conference the politicians would contradict the public health experts, and vice versa.
The president and other senior government officials modeled the opposite of the public health guidelines, remaining unmasked in public and holding super-spreader events where the crowd was unmasked and packed close together – in violation also of local masking and distancing ordinances.
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On Friday, October 23, 2020, Helio Fred Garcia spoke with Deirdre Breakenridge of Women Worldwide about the power of communication to both ignite and inspire positive change, as well as provoke hurt, harm, and violence.
During their exchange, the pair spoke about Garcia’s journey to the field of communication, how communication can be used to either ignite the better angels in our nature or appeal to the very worst impulses within us, and key lessons from his latest book, Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It. Garcia also spoke about the ways that we have seen the continuation and intensification of the patterns he has outlined in his book in the past several months, including the spread of mis-information, the dehumanization of at risk groups, and more. They also spoke about how engaged citizens, civic leaders, and emerging leaders can hold people accountable who use incendiary language that predictably causes harm.
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