OHS series ‘Historians in the News’ looks at white supremacy

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FILE – In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump participate in a rally in Washington. Both within and outside the walls of the Capitol, banners and symbols of white supremacy and anti-government extremism were displayed as an insurrectionist mob swarmed the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It can be difficult to process all of the historical events we live through, but the Oregon Historical Society is re-launching a virtual series to talk about how the past fits in with the present.

“Historians in the News” is a series that officers critical historical perspectives to shine light on contemporary issues. The next event will feature a conversation between University of Chicago professor Dr. Kathleen Belew and Oregon State University professor Dr. Christopher McKnight Nichols.

As the U.S. House select committee investigates the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Belew and Nichols will discuss the event along with extreme far-right groups — such as the Proud Boys – holding or attending rallies in Portland and other cities.

Both of the professors will discuss how these events have historical roots in mid-20th century white supremacist movements, according to OHS. There will also be a question-and-answer portion for the audience.

Dr. Christopher McKnight Nichols (OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

“Bring forward the difficult history to look at the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Nichols. “To not just have just kind of triumphant accounts of the past but to really grapple with the complexity and some of the worst elements. So, hopefully, we can do something better in the present.”

The event’s description highlights Belew’s research into white power activists and how they created a social movement through a common narrative about betrayal by the government and the weapons, uniforms and technologies of war.

It references a movement by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and other groups that mobilized and carried out escalating acts of violence, such as the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City. In Belew’s research, she concludes that this movement was never adequately confronted and remains a presence in American life.

“Bringing in top historians to have a conversation and not assign you a 400-page book or have a long ponderous talk is a compelling way to distill down kind of a lifetime’s worth of research and thinking into the kinds of answers, questions and concepts that we can then live and work within our everyday lives,” Nichols said.

Dr. Kathleen Belew (OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

The series has previously hosted historians Heather Cox Richardson, Erika Lee, Joan Freeman and Kevin Kruse.

Before the re-launch, the series generated more than $100,000 in donations as a fundraiser for OHA during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Nichols.

The event is free for the public, but donations are encouraged.

“Historians and the News” will start at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8 on Zoom. People can register in advance for the event.

However, if you are unable to attend in real-time, OHS will email registrants a link to access the recording, which will be available for 30 days following the live program.

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