It’s important for us, as Jews, to grapple with the question of what leads to hate.
I wrote this week’s cover story, and it’s a long one, so I won’t take too much of your time here. But I do want to explain why we put a former neo-Nazi on the cover of the Jewish News.
I first heard of Jeff Schoep earlier this year, as he was beginning his anti-hate outreach. I was intrigued by his former prominence within the neo-Nazi movement and also by the fact that he lives in Detroit. The timing of Schoep’s exit also coincided with the JN’s Anti-Semitism Project, our effort to tell stories about how hate and bigotry against Jews has evolved and mutated in the modern day.
From my perspective, this was an easy call. What better way to have a conversation about anti-Semitism in our community than by sitting down with a local figure who, until very recently, was one of the country’s foremost perpetrators of it?
I understand my decision to profile Schoep won’t sit well with everyone. But I think it’s important for us, as Jews, to grapple with this essential question of what leads to hate. The only way we can understand bigotry is to learn how and why people are led down this path, and what might have the potential to lead them away from these toxic beliefs.
Schoep received plenty of publicity while he ran the National Socialist Movement and gets his fair share of skepticism now that he says he’s left all of that behind. I was skeptical, too. But in our hours of interviews, many emails and social-distanced interactions at his photo shoot, I’ve found him to be thoughtful and introspective, willing to acknowledge the hurt that he’s caused, wishing to make amends with Jews specifically and struggling to find a path forward after a lifetime of abhorrent behavior. He’s not hiding, and I give him credit for confronting his past in our pages — although I think he still has much work to do, and I’ve told him so.
I’m not trying to provide cover for Schoep and his past deeds. It should be obvious I despise everything he stood for in his adult life up until this moment. But he wants to do better now. And truth be told, I’m less interested in the question of whether he’s “for real” than in the question of how Jews should respond to figures like him who want to reform.
The story discusses Charlottesville for a reason. We are now living in a time of resurgent white nationalism and anti-Semitism and, therefore, we must grapple with people like Schoep — both the “before” and the “after”— one way or another. It’s better, I think, to do so on our terms. And since Schoep can no longer appear in public owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is how we have that conversation.
I’d like to invite the community to talk about this more in-depth. I will be hosting a Facebook Live video at 1 p.m on Tuesday, May 26, where I will address reader response to the article. Please contact me in advance with any (respectful) questions, critiques or thoughts you have, and I will be sure to address them. I look forward to talking through this with you.