Inflammatory question? Perhaps.
John Placek denies that he is a racist white man, but spends thousands of dollars ‘trolling’ Worthington, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania with racist, white nationalist content. And as he told WPXI, he plans to erect two more billboards somewere nearby.
When we look at the early deconstruction of white nationalism’s role in the terrorist attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand we see a lot of fingerpointing to the Internet as a portal for haters and extremists to find like-minded individuals.
Lee Jarvis, co-editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, says that the internet has provided people with minority-held beliefs a space to connect with other like-minded people in a way that can normalize their world view.“There are fears that if you have a small number of people with same ideas, the ideas feel more legitimate and widespread than they actually are,” Jarvis says.The fact that the document is laced with internet in-jokes, references and memes underlines that many white supremacists are radicalized by socializing with each other online, he adds.
John Placek is not alone in his world views about Black people, racial privilege, and white privilege. You need only read the comments on this post to see that many people agree with him or perhaps, many more people are willing to publicly agree with him than are willing to publicly challenge him and his beliefs.
I’ve heard from folks on the ground in Armstrong County who denounce Placek privately and claim that they don’t want to give him attention. I understand that tactic, but in response I remind you that the people who are most impacted by these billboards have repeatedly asked allies to speak out, to put out alternative messaging. No one in Armstrong County seems to be able to figure out how to do that.
I can’t do it because I do not live there. I can continue to signal boot the concerns of marginalized people who are expressing their fear and apprehension. I can push external groups to invest resources in doing anti-racism work in Armstrong County. I can keep saying “Hey, look over here at this situation” and hope my readers will continue to take action.
So even assuming the number of people in Armstrong County who agree with these billboards is small, their impact is outsized because Placek literally controls that largest forum in the entire county. Keep in mind the regional newspaper is behind a paywall and the local paper and public TV station are owned by a man facing multiple charges for sexually assaulting a disabled child. He’s also a pastor and a member of the Kittanning Borough Council.
I wonder if any journalist in this region (and their producer/editor) has the guts to explore the similarities between this racist terror looming over Armstrong County and the shootings in New Zealand? I don’t necessarily think John Placek is going to shoot anyone, but I do think that his billboards and the people who support them are very much a part of the problem that feed the white supremacist terrorism.
I’ve pitched the story a dozen times, but the only response is the typical “gotcha” story, not a nuanced examination. I’ve even suggested that KDKA’s Lynne Hayes Freeland invite the journalist who did pretty excellent work on the local coverage of the story on his show to discuss. I’ve made the same suggestion to WESA The Confluence. His name is Jon Andreassi. He knows the region and can speak about the culture that creates and sustains this level of racial antagonism.
John Placek is a racist. He is not an “alleged racist.” The content of the billboards is racist and hateful, not ‘controversial. He is ignorant of basic US history and unwilling to open his mind to new (to him) facts. He actively engages in choices that terrorize people in his community and then hides behind his grandchildren’s ethnic identities to excuse his behavior. He’s a coward as well as a racist and a bully.