Screeds against Catholics from the 19th century sounded just like the invective today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque. The starting point isnâ€™t hatred but fear: an alarm among patriots that newcomers donâ€™t share their values, donâ€™t believe in democracy, and may harm innocent Americans.
Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears â€” the 19th- and 20th-century equivalents of Glenn Beck.
Most Americans stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry, and only a small number of hoodlums killed or tormented Catholics, Mormons or others. But the assaults were possible because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent.
Suspicion of outsiders, of people who behave or worship differently, may be an ingrained element of the human condition, a survival instinct from our cave-man days. But we should also recognize that historically this distrust has led us to burn witches, intern Japanese-Americans, and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.