Tolerance does not require tolerating the intolerant

Bigots argue they should be tolerated. They are wrong.

From members of our law enforcement, to politicians, to the founders of hate groups, the intolerant believe that challenging them and their views is a form of intolerance. (Photo from of

On Oct. 14, my article about the challenges of identity and ethics facing journalists today went live on the Current’s website. The following day, Wayne Lela, founder of an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group, Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment, based out of Downers Grove, Ill., sent an all-too-familiar right-wing screed to the Current. He claims the media in this country is getting what’s coming to it, and is allegedly dominated by “liberal bigots.”

Americans who share Lela’s similarly dehumanizing viewpoints about their fellow citizens often decry the media as being bigoted against them simply for fact-checking their views and statements. Even as they spew hateful rhetoric, they claim that any attempt at disproving or debating their beliefs is another form of hate.

They are wrong, whether they are the founder of a hate group that started in 1990, or the 45th President of the United States. There is no need to tolerate the Wayne Lelas of the world. It is dangerous to do so, and the only correct action is to confront them at every turn.

This is not the first time Lela has attempted to direct his misguided crusade against a college publication. In 2015, a letter of his was controversially published by The DePauw. In the letter he argued that tolerating homosexuality would eventually lead to the legalization of “incestuous relationships.”

Lela also had a letter published by the Mount Holyoke News in 2017. The paper offered its own blistering criticism of his views, which include accusations that the Southern Poverty Law Center is run by “liberal bigots” who are out promoting the “homosexual agenda.” Notably, the SPLC designated Lela’s hate group as such back in 2010 for spreading anti-gay propaganda and false information.

In addition to his regular letters to colleges outside of his state, he and his fellow hate group spokesman, John McCartney, frequent community college campuses across the United States, disseminating misinformation about gay and lesbian individuals and lifestyles.

In his letter to the Current, he complained about the “liberal bigots” in the media making “criminals out of decent, ethical business-people who merely don’t want to cater to heterophobic homosexuals.” These are the words of a man who wants to be treated with the respect and deference he has spent decades crusading against for a select group of Americans.

Sadly, the call of intolerance has sometimes come from inside our own house. On Nov. 28, 2017, an American River College student was arrested for flying a drone over San Francisco 49ers’ and Oakland Raiders’ football games and air-dropping anti-media leaflets onto the crowds. They also posted online plans to drop large containers of nails on the homes and businesses of their enemies via flying drones.

The individual in question had a troubled history with students and professors at ARC, including multiple near-physical altercations, some of which resulted in them being asked to leave classes. 

ARC itself has dealt with white supremacist propaganda appearing on campus. “It’s Okay To Be White” posters were found on the campus in 2018, and again in 2019, along with “White Lives Matter” graffiti in restrooms.

These people believe they must be tolerated, and that failure to do so somehow exposes a form of hypocrisy in their enemies. But in the same breath, they will shout “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” while marching through neighborhoods bearing torches.

For years, social media networks like Facebook and Twitter have allowed these groups to spread their message to anyone who will listen. It has taken bodies to lay bleeding in our streets and schools, our places of rest and recreation, our churches, mosques and synagogues before social media networks found the gumption to begin the process of shutting down the online presence of hate groups.

That is the cost of tolerating the intolerant. When we believe that even those who wish to hurt and kill us deserve the rights and freedoms they would deny others, we collectively offer our silent consent to their beliefs. When our inaction and unwillingness to confront these ideas emboldens the Dylan Roofs, the Robert Gregory Bowers and the Patrick Crusiuses of America, the blood they shed is on all our hands.

In 1945, the philosopher Karl Popper authored “The Open Society and Its Enemies.” Within its pages, he stated:

“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance. Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

America’s collective failure to take a stand against the roots of hateful ideologies is grounded in a belief that we can “coexist” with people who wish to restrict the rights of others, dehumanize religious or racial groups, or call for the deaths or expulsion of their enemies.

Ellen DeGeneres once called for unconditional tolerance in defense of her friendship with former president George W. Bush, who wanted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the U.S. 

She effectively made the same argument that people like Lela fall back upon when they have no actual defense for their statements and actions. In her eyes, it’s better to extend a hand to those who would harm you no matter what. In her own words:

“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, ‘Be kind to everyone, it doesn’t matter.’”

It’s a mindset for a world that doesn’t exist. It does nothing to defend the people who face real dangers posed by the intolerant. It instead puts the responsibility of fixing bigotry on the victims of this hate. 

The intolerant will always use it as a shield against criticism of their ideas. They will demand tolerance from those they hate, even as they peddle ideologies that celebrate the oppression of other human beings over their sexuality, race or religion. They push pseudoscience and misinterpretation of real science as facts and expect the deference given to experts in a field.

This cannot go on. It is wrong to expect LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals to turn the other cheek to men like Wayne Lela. They do not crusade for decades on end against the human rights of other Americans simply out of a friendly disagreement. 

For there to be an America worth fighting for, we cannot extend tolerance to the intolerant. Educate them if possible, but otherwise, shut them out and shut them down. They should not be allowed to feel comfortable or welcome in this nation. We already know their unwillingness to extend tolerance towards their enemies. We have counted the dead in their wake.