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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Alex Hinton on Atrocities in America

"It Can Happen Here."

Many people were stunned when white supremacists took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us!” Despite the violence and hatred on display that day, including the murder of Heather Heyer, the Charlottesville marchers and their supporters were quickly dismissed as aberrations—crazed extremists or misguided youth who did not represent the "real" U.S.

In a new book that is partly set in a Rutgers-Newark classroom, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Alex Hinton demonstrates that, rather than being exceptional, such white power extremism and the violent atrocities linked to it are a part of American history. Hinton's newly-published book, It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the US, argues such atrocities remain a very real risk in the US today, a threat underscored by the 2020 presidential election turmoil that culminated in the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection. Professor Hinton makes this point drawing on insights he has gleaned while writing about the origins and aftermaths of the Cambodian genocide and serving as Director of the Rutgers Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights.

Q. How does your research inform your teaching and service at the university?

A. Critical thinking serves as the hinge that connects my research, teaching, and service. It begins with shedding light on the opaque, or what has been pushed out of sight or become taken-for-granted and therefore become largely unseen. In this sense, my research has sought to question assumptions about, and shed light on, the origins, dynamics, and aftermaths of genocide and mass violence. My pedagogy seeks to build the same sort of critical thinking skills and therefore help provide students with the critical self-awareness that is at the center of a robust, successful, and, to invoke Plato’s famous adage, fully examined life.

Q. How does this work advance the university's mission as a publicly-engaged anchor institution?

A. My research dovetails with this mission in many ways, particularly given my commitment to public scholarship, or what is sometimes called public anthropology in my discipline. More broadly, this entails addressing urgent public issues ranging from genocide to far-right extremism, working with partners like the Documentation Center of Cambodia, writing for a general audience and working with the media, and even serving as an expert witness on genocide at an international tribunal. Within the community context in which Rutgers is anchored, I focus on issues that are of concern to our students and community members, such as violence, human rights, racism, anti-Semitism, and white power extremism.

The Rutgers Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights has also worked with local community and regional partners and has convened a five-year, nine-partner Global Consortium on Bigotry and Hate to examine local manifestations of and strategies for combatting racism, bigotry, and hate. The inaugural conference was held at Rutgers and began by examining bigotry and hate in the context of New Jersey and Rutgers history. In fact, each of our international partner participants was given a copy of Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History. And, I should note, my new book, It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the US, is partly set in the Rutgers-Newark classroom and takes up issues of direct public and local community concern.


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