Hundreds of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and white nationalists massed last month in Charlottesville for a torch-lit march and rally to “take America back.” The gathering turned deadly when protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators on Aug. 12 – setting off a national debate about race and heritage.
More than 2,000 miles away, in Salt Lake City, Jonna Ramey was horrified by what she called an expression of hate.
Ramey, a 67-year-old white woman from Utah’s biggest city, said she started stewing about white nationalists who, she said, do not represent her or her race.
“I was furious, and felt like as a white person, I had to speak out about white bigotry,” Ramey said. “It was important, I thought, for a white person to say something.”
“I had to take a stand and say, ‘They do not represent me; they do not represent the bulk of America,’ ” she told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “They are a hate-filled tiny minority that gets an awful lot of press. Frankly, I would love to see them go back under their rock.”
So Ramey put her thoughts in a letter to the editor and sent it to the Salt Lake Tribune. The letter – “What is wrong with you, white supremacists?” – was published Aug. 20, a Sunday.
The Salt Lake Tribune has an average circulation of more than 98,000 on Sundays, according to the Utah Media Group. According to ComScore, which tracks online readership, the Tribune logged just under 900,000 unique visitors in July.
Ramey’s letter has spread in a way that most letters to the Tribune editors do not.
A picture of the letter has been shared tens of thousands of times on Twitter, and the Tribune’s editorial page editor, George Pyle, wrote in an email to The Post on Tuesday that “as of this morning there are, as you have probably seen, more than 200 online comments on the Web version of that letter to the editor. That, by our standards, is a lot.”
Ramey said in a telephone interview: “I think it hit a nerve with a lot of white people around the country who were appalled and embarrassed by the actions of these predominately young, white men.”
Since she sent it, she said, she has received a “surprising and overwhelming and heartwarming” response to her remarks. Ramey said she has also received some negative reaction, which she called “uneducated ranting” – but she said she expected such blowback.
“So, Joanna, are you going to physically attack those people for their beliefs? Or at least support that?” one person commented on her letter online.
In her letter, Ramey wrote that her parents had both enlisted in World War II to “fight fascism” – her father as a navigator and her mother as a nurse.
“They lost friends in that bloody war so that all the world could be free of fascism,” she wrote. “They did not fight so that some white people could claim supremacy or that Nazis could openly walk the streets of America.”
Ramey posed a simple but powerful question to white nationalists – one, she said, she hopes will inspire change.
“White person to white supremacist person: What is wrong with you?”
“People of European heritage are doing just fine in the world,” she wrote. “They run most of the world’s institutions, hold much of the world’s wealth, replicate as frequently as other humans. You’re not in any danger here. The world is changing, that’s true. Others want a piece of the pie. They work for it, strive for it and earn it. Technology (robotics) is having a greater effect on your job prospects than immigrants. Going forward, tackling corporate control and climate change will need all of our attention, ideas and energy. Put down your Tiki torches and trite flags and get involved in some real work.”
Ramey has written to the Tribune before, but she told The Post that she’s a sculptor, not a “rabid letter writer” – and said she simply realized the importance of standing up against hate.
A recent Washington Post-ABC poll revealed that people across party lines believe it is wrong to hold white supremacist views. Some 90 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of independents said it is unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views.
Majorities of each of these groups said such views are “strongly” unacceptable. Overall, less than 1 in 10 Americans said neo-Nazi and white supremacist views are acceptable.
There was also broad agreement along racial and ethnic breakdowns: Fully 85 percent of African Americans, 83 percent of Hispanics and 82 percent of whites said neo-Nazi or white supremacist views are unacceptable.
Ramey wrote that Americans should stand up against such hatred.
“Like my parents before me, I will not stand idly by nor give up my rights or the rights of other Americans because you think you are better than some of us,” Ramey wrote to white nationalists.
“By the way,” she added, “the world won the war against Nazi fascism in the 1940s, just as America won the war against the Confederacy in the 1860s.
“Aligning with two lost causes just labels you as profound losers.”