- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Twenty-six Charles County McMansions were torched, and many burned to the ground this week. Was it ecoterrorism? Was it classism? Was it racism? The torchers’ motivation could have been any number of “isms” combined. But the Hunters Brooke inferno this week was caused by anything but “good-willism.” Yes, “good-willism.” See how easy it is to create a touchy-feely word with the stroke of a few computer keys? I wish I could create a touchy-feely world just as easily.

The fires that occurred in changing Charles County, affecting dozens of holiday-hopeful homeowners who saw their chimneys full of dreams go up in flames, ought to frighten everybody.

As if we really needed one, we were again reminded that we still live in a country permeated with a bully mentality that lives by a violent code that might makes right. The question is, whose might? Someone meant to send a magnified message when they deliberately set that developing subdivision ablaze. What hateful message and what horrible someone is left wide open to wild speculation.

The arsonists theory invariably depends on an individual’s perspective. Fire officials have not ruled out any motive, but they disputed rumors of racial slurs painted on some of the houses. Some believe that radical “tree huggers” burned down randomly chosen, half-million-dollar houses to save nearby wetlands. Some suggest disgruntled workers did the deed. Someone even ventured that unpaid contractors could be the culprits. None of the above came to my mind first.

Excuse me, but I’ve lived in the Washington area long enough to remember when blacks were warned not to be caught in Southern Maryland — or rural Virginia — after dark. Then, even Prince George’s County was considered “redneck” country. Now, when someone black informs you that they reside in the cookie-cutter communities all the way down to Waldorf and Accokeek and Indian Head and beyond, some old-timers simply will raise a wary eyebrow.

So, when I saw the predominantly black faces of the horrified Hunters Brooke homeowners, I immediately feared the scary specter of racism.

Oh yes, racism is alive and well in America. Just last week, for example, there were news reports of a community near Aberdeen, Md., home to several biracial couples, that was peppered with fliers distributed by a Baltimore-based “white-rights” group, warning against miscegenation.

No one wants to talk about the ugly elephant in the room, but to bury our heads in the dirt and pretend that racism is passe is to set ourselves up for danger, such as people who come to burn your house down in the middle of the night.

Marilyn Weimer lost her home, which was under construction, to an earlier arsonist in Charles County.

“I’m not convinced there are no racial underpinnings [in the Hunters Brooke fires]. I try not to go there first, but it doesn’t leave your mind,” Mrs. Weimer, who is black, told Denise Barnes of The Washington Times. I know the feeling; you hate to think the worst.

Mrs. Weimer and her husband, Steven, who is white, purchased 10 acres of property in Accokeek four or five years ago with plans to build a $600,000 to $700,000 home in which to raise their family.

“In March 2004, construction was about three-quarters of the way completed, but on a Sunday night, Monday morning, someone set our house on fire. It was the same time frame that these houses burned down [in the Hunters Brooke development],” Mrs. Weimer said. The investigators told her the fire had been set deliberately.

The Weimers were not deterred. They started rebuilding in August in the same place. This time, the Weimers have taken ample security measures, which worked to their advantage when an intruder entered the house in the fall, unaware that security personnel were present.

“All they could tell us was that it was a Caucasian male. We believe that the person was coming back to destroy our house again because the circumstances were so similar. Construction [again] is about three-quarters through,” Mrs. Weimer said.

“We’re not very comfortable with the recent fires,” she said, adding they could be the work of the same person because it uses the same method and “whoever did this could still be out there.” We must remain ever vigilant against vigilantes.

The good news is that the progressive, productive people in Charles County apologized to the homeowners and have established a reward to find the torching terrorists, whatever their ilk. As F. Wayne Cooper, president of the board of county commissioners, warned, “We will not tolerate this kind of activity in Charles County.” No matter what you speculate was the cause of this arson, at its core, the message it sends is simple: We, whoever “we” are, don’t want you, whoever “you” are, here. Most of all, we don’t want change.

Yet, life holds only two guarantees — death and change. It’s how you handle change that determines the content of your character. Experience teaches us that change can bring its own gifts.

In the best-selling novel “The DaVinci Code,” author Dan Brown writes: “Men will go to greater lengths to avoid what they fear, rather than to obtain what they desire.” Bullies and bigots, who primarily act out of fear, love to torch and trash what they can’t control and they don’t understand.

Malcolm X issued the revolutionary charge “by any means necessary.” However, we should be careful to remember that the opposition might be willing to die for their “ism,” too, so what happens if we all take up arms and torches to fight for our cause? Maybe that’s why there is no peace or “goodwillism” displayed in Charles County, or on Earth, this week.

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