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By Ron Wells | January 22, 2001

After filmmaker Beverly Peterson won an OSU Kiplinger Fellowship for investigative journalism that required her to move from New York to Columbus, Ohio, she struggled to find a topic for her required year-long investigative project. Through a young neighbor, it came to her and Peterson soon began an exploration of two sides to the current militant racist movement. On one side she encounters skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan, including Ohio’s new 18-year-old Grand Wizard. Through another racist organization she meets a seemingly friendly Indiana college student named Ben Smith. Months after she last speaks to him, he goes on a killing rampage until he shoots himself during a confrontation with police.
On the other side are the largely young punks and hippies of the Anti-Racist Action (ARA). They confront the Klan and others at their public rallies and any place they attempt to recruit. The encounters between the two sides often turn ugly and sometimes deadly. Peterson explores the deaths of two high-profile ARA members in Las Vegas alledgedly at the hands of local skinheads.
Throughout all this, Peterson always tries to maintain her impartiality. With idiots like the Klan, if you let them talk long enough, they’ll usually just hang themselves on camera anyway (and they do, too). The most striking aspect of “Invisible Revolution” is that the director explores the struggle largely as fought by the young. The problem here is that the young too often see strong confrontation as the solution to their problems. Of course, most people react to such a response by digging their heels into their own positions and it becomes real easy for such encounters to turn physical. The Klan typically come off as white trash and I’m familiar with both the areas and types of people involved having grown up white trash just on the other side of the Ohio River. Having been a punk and involved in a lot of demonstrations during the eight years I lived in San Francisco, I’ve got an idea about the ARA kids as well. The main thing that I’ve found responsible for the young racists found in Ohio is that they grow up talking to no one other than their ignorant dumb-s**t friends and have never even tried to converse with a black person. Middle-class suburban kids like Ben Smith usually get an idea in their heads, never get out of the house, and eventually crawl up their own a******s.
Unfortunately, the leftie kids can too easily dehumanize their percieved enemies in a manner somewhat similar to the racists by depicting the Klansmen as a bunch of ignorant hick monsters. Some of the older members of the racist organizations realize they might accomplish more by calm discussion, and a few of the ARA kids interviewed are also coming around to the benefits of that approach. Hey, you’d be surprised what you can get away with from the cops if you act calm and rational (uh, not that I would know). Peterson shows how many communities where the Klan attempts to hold rallies respond by having “Unity” rallies of cross-culturalism on the other side of town. As demonstrated, the method of ignoring the Klan and doing their own thing often produces the best result. What we should not ignore is the continuing struggle against racism in this country, and Beverly Peterson’s new documentary goes a long way toward informing us about what we should know.

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