Minneapolis, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of our fair burg, was once considered the Anti-Semitic Capital of America. Right up until the mid-1940s (when national legislation was passed banning certain types of discrimination), Jews in Minneapolis could not join service clubs, athletic clubs, or automobile clubs. They were restricted from buying property in most neighborhoods. They found it hard to get employment in Minneapolis department stores, and were subject to a "glass ceiling" in those businesses that did employ them. Jews were completely excluded from Minneapolis civic boards and government.
Furthermore, in the 1930s, political anti-Semitism was the order of the day. Candidates for public office won support by denouncing the "international Jewish communist conspiracy" and applauding Adolf Hitler. More disturbingly, Minneapolis was home to the largest chapter in America of the virulently anti-Semitic "Silver Shirts," a fascist organization modeled after the "Black Shirts" in Italy and the "Brown Shirts" in Germany. William B. Riley, the pastor of First Baptist Church, one of the largest downtown churches in Minneapolis, defended the Silver Shirts, openly praised Adolf Hitler from the pulpit, published and disseminated the crack-pot theories advanced in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and forged alliances with other outspoken American anti-Semites like Roman Catholic radio hate-monger Father Charles Coughlin. His anti-Semitic diatribes were disseminated at the schools he founded, Northwestern Bible School and Northwestern Theological Seminary.
Although World War II took the wind out of the sails of the most virulent fascist sympathizers in Minnesota, there were reports in the 1990s that neo-Nazi and racist skin-head groups were making a resurgence. When I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, a "White Students Association" was formed. Its founder was a student I advised in my capacity as the History Undergraduate Advisor. He refused to speak to "non-Aryans" and I never saw him again as an advisee, once he discovered I was gay.
Most Minneapolitans like to think of themselves (and their city) as a progressive, discrimination-eschewing place, and for the most part it has become that since the 1960s. But all the same, it is disturbing how quickly those things can change with shifts in the economic and political winds.
Why do we do that? Why do we create us'es and them's? Why do we spread lies about people? Why do we like to point a finger of blame at someone, anyone, and make them the source of all our problems? Why do we convince ourselves that though hate is a vice in relation to most, it's a virtue in relation to some?