Sally Kohn first started getting hate mail when she started appearing as a liberal commentator on Fox News.
“That experience of being on the receiving end of hate, it hurt my sense of humanity,” she told MSNBC host Joy Reid at the 92nd Street Y last night. “How can there be people who do this?”
“I had a Jewish ‘come to Jesus’ moment, I had a ‘come to Moses’ moment — we’re at the 92nd Street Y,” she said, looking around as if caught mid-blasphemy in Hebrew school. “What’s wrong with us as a society that we produce people who do this? I was curious.”
And so began an investigation of hate — which would culminate in her book, ‘The Opposite of Hate’ (released this month) — as Sally Kohn decided it was time to engage with the pro-Trump trolls who were harassing her on Twitter.
“Why on earth would you want to talk to these people?” asked Reid, incredulously.
Kohn answered with a very pious expression, almost rabbinic: “I don’t want to be the excuse for someone’s behavior,” she said somberly.
Over the course of her research and interviews, Kohn found that most trolls spew hate online as a way of being heard. One person in particular, who had sent her something hateful every day, thought she hadn’t noticed him. “He felt he didn’t matter,” she says. “And that’s a manifestation of his sense of voicelessness, of powerlessness.”
Others hate not out of strong ideological convictions, Kohn concluded, but rather because they are “looking for belonging”. “It’s the joining that’s the motivation, they’re isolated, they’re lost, they’re looking for some purpose…They slide into the ideology.”
One white supremacist Kohn spoke to, a former member of the skinhead group Hammerskin Nation, told her that all white supremacists drink the same beer — “really, really cheap beer” — and that one day, he just “found a better party”, she tells.
“By the way,” she added, “People don’t like being told that they’re stupid racist monsters. Just so you know.”
Kohn believes that with some human connection, if we simply reach over that divide and see others’ “humanity”, people are open to changing their behavior: “The granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the ‘God hates fags guy’ — because some Jews were nice to her on Twitter, [Megan Phelps Rober] left that hate movement, and is now a liberal working to pull other people out of the movement.”
So is Kohn saying that it’s really time to roll up our sleeves and enter the dungeons of Reddit, arms wide open to American Nazis?
It’s a little more complicated than that. She points to a former Palestinian terrorist whom she interviews, who is now a peace activist. “Bassam Aramin says he does not hate Israelis — but Israel is still his ‘enemy’,” she tells. “It’s a moral philosophical core belief: You don’t make peace with your friends…I don’t think the opposite of hate is love. The opposite of hate is connection, to see the fundamental humanity and the rights of others to be deserving of freedom equality and justice.”
Watch the full conversation here:
This story "CNN’s Sally Kohn: ‘Be Kind To The Trump Trolls’" was written by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt.