Steven Petrow writes the Civilities column for The Post and hosts of “The Civilist” podcast produced by PRI and WUNC. Reach him on Twitter: @stevenpetrow.
Like just about everyone in my home town, I was first shocked and then saddened to hear that the county GOP headquarters was firebombed Saturday night, with a swastika and the words “Nazi Republicans leave town or else” spray-painted on a nearby building. Walking through the rubble of the smoked-out office Monday morning, one campaign worker told me: “Although I’m not glad it happened here, at least it shows everybody how dangerous this campaign has become.”
As if we needed more evidence of that. But what interested me more was the reaction of the friends and neighbors who posted over and over on Mayor Tom Stevens’s Facebook page: “We are not this.” And: “This is NOT representative of our community.” No, this act is not representative of the 6,000 souls who live here, but it is yet another example of the hate and violence that can explode just about anywhere. My hometown. Your hometown.
Thank God no one was hurt. But make no mistake, the impact of the firebombing is frightening in a completely different way. As Stevens, a registered Democrat who like everyone who runs in our town’s nonpartisan elections serves without a party affiliation, said: “Its hateful message undermines decency, respect and integrity in civic participation.” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state GOP, called it an “act of political terrorism.”
No suspects have been identified by either the town police or the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But that didn’t stop GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump from rushing to judgment Sunday, tweeting without evidence:
“Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning.”
As it turns out, such “animals” raised more than $13,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to help reopen the GOP headquarters as soon as possible. The creator of the fund, David Weinberger, a Democrat from Brookline, Mass., posted:
“Until an investigation is undertaken, we cannot know who did this or why. No matter the result, this is not how Americans resolve their differences. We talk, we argue, sometimes we march, and most of all we vote. We do not resort to violence by individuals or by mobs. So, let’s all pitch in, no matter what your party affiliation, and get that office open again quickly.”
The campaign exceeded its $10,000 goal.
As I left the charred offices Monday morning, Republican campaign workers were busy: New phones lines were about to be installed. Glass was set to replaced. Campaign literature for state GOP candidates was being handed out to passersby. All as it should be three weeks before Election Day. As Stevens told me: “If anything, all these efforts reflect who we are in this community. We can and do have differences, but we believe in civil discourse and have faith in our civic processes.”
And this, I believe, is how Hillsborough is representative of the best in America.