The other day the four of us and my sister were at Kingsway Mall. I was in a good mood as we headed back to the parking lot, having just picked up the new Space Hulk boardgame. I was only mildly diverted by a group of 4 or 5 security guards talking to someone outside their office while several scattered packages and pieces of clothing lay on the ground between them. 'Some kind of shoplifting altercation,' I thought as Audrey unlocked the station wagon. As we loaded our parcels into the back and the girls scrambled into the jump seats, I looked to the far end of the parking structure and saw something that caused me to say, "You have got to be friggin' kidding me..."
Parked with its back to the wall was a light blue 1970s Cadillac sedan with a tint decal like the ones that say "No Fear" or some such, only this one said "14 Words".
I started to walk over to the car, and Tara said "Is that a movie reference or something?" "No," I replied. "That's a bigot's car."
With some concern, Audrey asked me what I was doing. The truth is, I'm not sure what I intended to do, but I called back, "I'm just checking something." I looked at the back window and bumper, but they were both unadorned. No Ku Klux Klan bumper stickers, no symbolic decals like the ones the Freemasons use, just an ordinary Alberta licence plate which I neglected to write down.
I returned to the car, angry and upset. "I wish the girls weren't here right now," I muttered.
"It's probably just as well," replied Audrey reasonably, "We did just pass half the security staff two minutes ago."
"What's going on?" asked Tara. "What is '14 Words' about?"
"It's a racist thing, a code," I spat out. "It's way for people with these twisted views to find each other, and thanks to the internet it's easier than ever. It's a quote: 'We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.'"
You could feel the temperature drop a little in the car just from my reciting the words. There was an awkward silence which I broke by mirthlessly grinning and saying to Audrey, "And you wonder why I go on to sites like the Southern Poverty Law Centre and Hatewatch even though they make me angry."
"I would have had no idea," said Tara. "I seriously thought it was an entertainment thing..."
"And that's what pisses me off so much," I said. "That a guy can take something so wrong-minded and emblazon it on his ride where everyone can see it and hardly anyone knows what it means, it's like they are laughing at us."
We talked about it some more on the ride home, about how important it is to be aware of things like this, and how knowledge is your first and most important line of defense. One example I used is if you were at the bar and a girl you knew was dancing with a guy who had "14 Words" written on his t-shirt, wouldn't it be good to be able to clue her in on the possible significance of this? But as good as that felt, and as positive as writing this blog entry might be, I still feel like I could have, should have done more.
I won't lie to you, I was completely capable of vandalizing that car while we were in the parking lot, and that disappoints the hell out of me. I like to think of myself as a rational and fair individual who believes in the rule of law, and the notion that I could justify destroying someone else's property just because I find their philosophy disagreeable kind of flies in the face of that, doesn't it? Freedom of expression is one of those things where we have to learn to take the bad with the good.
On the other hand, there's a lot of precedent for schoolyard rules; when an obnoxious kid gets punched at recess, we say 'it serves him right'. When a bully gets cornered and beaten by a group of his former victims, we shake our heads but say 'he had it coming'. When a shooting victim is revealed to be a high-profile drug dealer or gang member, we say "mess with the bull, you get the horn." The concept of consequence loses a lot of its effectiveness if we perpetually leave it to someone else to sort out.
In the end, I am glad I didn't do anything to that car, and not just out of a fear of getting caught. (Forget the security guards and police; what if the driver left it for bait hoping that some idiot took offense and tried to vandalize it while he and his friends waited in another vehicle? Brr!) I'm also somewhat relieved the girls didn't hear me wishing I could, because I need to be a better example than that, and I can't use the intolerance of others as an excuse to indulge in anti-social behaviour. Irony is already a hard enough concept for grade-schoolers to grasp.
I still feel like I could have done something more, like an opportunity was missed, and I have been wracking my brain for what that might be. One possibility involved writing "BIGOT" or "RACIST" in huge letters on a piece of paper or napkin and putting it on his window, or perhaps with soap or something else non-defacing. If you were extraordinarily prepared, affixing such a label to the back bumper with magnets could leave it undiscovered for days, which brings a degree of levity to the proceedings. Heading up the vandalism continuum, there are a variety of bumper sticker options intended to endear the owner to his like-minded associates, such as "Obama in 2008" or "I'm Gay and I VOTE!" I also invite readers to add any suggestions they might have to the comments section.
In the end, I will have to settle for this blog entry, and relating the story to more people wherever appropriate. Maybe I should be grateful for the hubris these crypto-racist gits display; there are probably a lot more people out there who feel the same way but would never dream of letting us know it.