An Open Letter to Matthew Heimbach

Dear Matthew,

May I call you Matthew? I would prefer that over “Mr. Heimbach.” When you are “Heimbach,” you are a white supremacist SOB. When you are “Matthew,” you are a young man who is going through hell right now. So I am going to call you “Matthew” to remind me, in my weakness, to act like a Christian. 

You and I used to be a part of the same faith. The work of Fr. Peter Guilquist was important to me along the path of my own conversion to Orthodoxy, and you ended up, for a time, at the church pastored by his son. I won’t recount all the events that broke communion between us, save to say that they were painful.

I read in the news that you are going through your own pain right now. Family trouble. Legal trouble. I imagine financial trouble (which is always involved in both). I am sorry. I am. I will not say I am sorry for you. I am sorry with you. Like I am sure a lot of people, when I read about your recent difficulties, the first thing I felt was schadenfreude. Forgive me for that. It comes from my own weakness. It is not, fundamentally, a Christian feeling. “Love your enemies.”

I have considered you an enemy. You have stood for an ideology I find abhorrent, but also, in a way, sort of tragic. You do not consider yourself to be a white supremacist. Fair enough. Let’s not, for the purposes of this letter, fight over semantics. You are a segregationist. You say it is not that you think you are better than people of other “races,” but that you think we are too different to live together harmoniously. A whole lot of people have spent a whole lot of money leveraging every human psychological weakness there is to plant and grow that thought in your head. That is the tragedy I see. It is not that there is a vast conspiracy of corporate oligarchs trying to produce racists. It is that the interests of those in power are best served by keeping people “beneath” them as divided as possible. And those bastards think you are beneath them.

You probably have more in common with the latinx folks who live in the mobile home community a few yards from my house than you do with the white people in the $300,000 homes a couple miles away. The real dividing lines that keep people from living together in harmony are not race but class. It doesn’t have to be that way, by the way. We know, for example, that creating mixed income neighborhoods go a long way toward lifting people out of multigenerational poverty. The problem is that the neighborhood associations like mine start getting a bit activated when they find out, for instance, that Habitat for Humanity wants to buy a few open lots in their community. They don’t want “those people” moving in and ruining their neighborhood. That’s not how it works, mind you, but they think it is.

By the way, you know that peaceful difference is at the heart of the Christian faith, especially Orthodoxy. Our ethnic enclaves are an accident of late medieval through modern history. There was a lot more ethnic diversity in Byzantium and the Middle East than people realize. The Orthodox political ideal is symphonia, which means “harmony.” A harmony is a kind of resonant difference. Some people describe it as being about balancing the work of church and state. But that is an anachronism. Church and state were not thought of in that way back when Justinian wrote his Novellas (where he talks about symphonia). For him, harmony was not the goal but the result of laws that were just and prayers that were righteous. In other words, if the priests were moral and kept to the teachings of the church, and the political authorities did their best to ensure justice for all, then people would live together in harmony. It is worth noting that a lot of Justinian’s legal reforms involved trying to find ways to keep the rich from trying to leverage their power in unjust ways against the poor (e.g. by dragging out expensive legal proceedings). But I digress.

The point I am trying to make is that our real divisions are class divisions, not racial ones. Moneyed black families have a lot more in common with moneyed white families than they do people of their own race but different incomes. It makes sense, doesn’t it? They travel in the same circles. They get along.

I think you know this. In fact, I know you know this. There is this whole class element to what you do that I think is correct. You are anti-corporatist, anti-capitalist. You see that the chaos of our culture has an economic component.

This brings me to your current hell. “Bad company ruins good morals.” Over the past decade, you have surrounded yourself with bad company—people who are divisive and often violent. You have formed coalitions with Nazis. You organize events where people show up with weapons. And now you find yourself dealing with charges of assault. Again. You are looking at jail time. But somewhere in there, beneath all the crap that makes me want to scream at you, is a good person. I have to believe that. People who meet you talk about how smart you are. You are charismatic and compelling. I think that is why they find you to be so threatening. I remember once reading about a lesbian waitress in a diner who, after meeting you in person, talked about how you had a real political career ahead of you if you would just get away from all that white nationalist nonsense.

There is nothing like a living hell to make us stop what we are doing and take stock of our lives. I have had to do this myself. Most grownups have. I imagine you are doing something like this right now. I hope you keep it up. I hope you come around. There is not class warfare going on right now. The oligarchs have won. And there are a whole bunch of people trying to point that out to everyone. They could use a bright and charismatic person like you on their side.

It is going to take a while, mind you. Patience is hard, but I think you are going to be able to take the long view in all this. I think you are aware that if you do repent of your white nationalist beliefs, it will still take years for people to trust you (and some probably never will). If you want to return to the Orthodox faith, I expect it may take 3-5 years to be re-communicated (I don’t know; I am not a priest). But when and if that happens, I promise you this: I will welcome you. I will support you as best I can. And if you ever are with me in church and say to me, “Christ is in our midsts,” I will embrace you and reply, “He is and ever shall be!” Amen.

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