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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: The Old Testament Southerners

I saw the BREAKING NEWS alert. Heard somebody say there was someone who claimed to have a bomb outside a government building in Washington. And I hate to say this, but the first thought that came into my mind was this:

Please don’t let it be another white Southern guy.

Of course, it was. His name is Floyd Ray Roseberry, and he’s from the town of Grover, over in Cleveland County, off I-85 right on the South Carolina line. He’s 49 years old, and he went on Facebook Live from his truck outside the Library of Congress to proclaim that Joe Biden was an illegitimate president, and Donald Trump would be reinstated soon, and – well, you could write the script yourself, we’ve heard it so many times.

Do not confuse this man from 40 miles west of Charlotte with the man from 40 miles northeast of Charlotte who fired an AR-15 rifle inside a D.C. pizza parlor five years ago because he thought it was (heavy sigh) the secret home of a Satanic child sex abuse ring involving Hillary Clinton. That guy was from Salisbury, his name is Edgar Maddison Welch, and he’s now serving four years in federal prison.

And neither of those guys are among nearly two dozen people arrested in the Carolinas after the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol and the attempt to overthrow 245 years of American democracy. Most of those folks, too, are white and male.

They belong to a toxic strain of my people that I have come to think of as "Old Testament Southerners." Whether they identify as Christian or not, they believe in the Old Testament ways of fear and violence over the New Testament vision of love. They’d rather tear the world apart than see it change. Some would rather die than admit they’re wrong.

Some of them are the same ones refusing to get vaccinated, refusing to even wear a mask, because they have narrowed their idea of freedom to doing whatever they want, whenever they want to do it. No matter what it does to your neighbor or theirs.

It’s a fundamentally sad and lonely way of seeing the world – it leads to stockpiles of grain stored in bunkers for the End Times. It’s also, I’d argue, fundamentally anti-American, the opposite of what is meant by a more perfect union.

That fear and rage can be useful in hard times. It can help you survive. But for so many white Southerners that switch got stuck. I think a lot these days about that Drive-By Truckers song called “Never Gonna Change.”

You can throw me in the Colbert County jailhouse
You can throw me off the Wilson Dam
But there ain't much difference in the man I wanna be and the man that I really am.

This is the hard part for me to think about. Because I want things to be different. But there’s a part of the white Southern soul that has always sat on the edge of history, threatening to blow the whole thing up. And I am deathly afraid that we ain’t ever gonna change.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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