Upstanders: How Kevin L Reichling Is Standing Up Against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate

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Educate the young! It is often useless to try to change an older person’s mind. It is best to involve college students who are away from their parents for the first time. People do not begin to question their upbringing until they are in their twenties. If you can organize students, you’ll have another tool at your disposal.

An upstander is the opposite of a bystander. A bystander is someone who stands by while others are being bullied, maligned, or mistreated. An upstander is someone who stands up to protect and advocate for the victim. We are sadly seeing a surge of hate, both online and in the real world. Many vulnerable minorities feel threatened and under attack. What measures are individuals, communities, and organizations taking to stand up against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate? In this interview series, we are talking to activists, community leaders, and individuals who are Upstanders against hate, to share what they are doing and to inspire others to do the same. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin L. Reichling.

Kevin L. Reichling is a former victim of chronic bullying and is a valuable eyewitness to some of the worst aspects of human behavior, with all of it being directly connected to racism and bigotry. The bullying he experienced was often dangerous and he was permanently affected by it. It is his hope that parents, teachers, and activists will read his book, learn from it, and find ways of intervening on behalf of victims and society before they are permanently affected.

Link to the Book:

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Absolutely! I started my life as a chronic bullying victim, which worsened as I approached middle school. The bullying was above and beyond what most people experience. Once, a pair of bullies from the first middle school I attended tried to kill me by drowning me in the public pool. A lifeguard had to pry them off of me, and when his back was turned, they came after me again. I had to bite one of them to get him to let go. That was my first clue that what I was going through wasn’t a normal part of growing up. My next inkling occurred the following year when my teachers had to give me a whistle so I could call for help. In every instance, I always tried to fight back. The problem was I was uncoordinated, and my physical strength was below average. Sometimes, the groups of kids that beat me up were so large that superior strength wouldn’t have done me any good. Perhaps more importantly, the kids at this school were a danger to more than just me. For example, some of the kids there tried to burn the place down — twice!

At my new middle school, the kids were less violence-prone. Instead, they were manipulative and backstabbing, which meant the bullying was less physical and more emotional. Often, I found the emotional stuff to be worse than the physical stuff. My interactions with the opposite sex, for example, were limited to girls pretending to like me and laughing at me upon the return of the false affection. This school was extremely cliquey, which resulted in my complete isolation from others. My school records began to mention the difficulties that I was having. I became very, very depressed during this time.

I believed this was happening to me because I was too skinny — my classmates made fun of me for this the most. During my sophomore year in high school, I stood 5’ 7” and weighed only one-hundred-and-twenty-two pounds. Indeed, Dan Olweus, one of the first psychologists to do scientific research on bullying, determined that a lack of physical strength is the primary trait among boys that makes them victims. Personality quirks and social awkwardness are only secondary traits. I knew at least two athletic kids with quirks that were worse than mine but still were somehow labeled as “cool.”

I decided to go on a bodybuilding program and put an end to this. Being against racism and classism would be useless unless I had some power to back it up. Eventually, I gained fifteen pounds of muscle and five pounds of fat, resulting in my classmates complimenting me instead of insulting me. At this point, however, I decided that none of them were worth befriending and ignored them. About two years later, I lost the weight and almost ended up in a physical confrontation again, which motivated me to regain it. Most people struggle with weight gain, but my problem has always been the opposite. That sounds great if you are a woman, but it is not so great if you are a guy. You get beat up, and girls are even less attracted to you than they would be if you were overweight.

When I moved on to college, I started seeing women dating bullies. I knew one girl who was abused by her new husband in every way imaginable, short of physical abuse. The marriage lasted only seven months. One girl I was supposed to be paired up with rejected me for her current, abusive boyfriend. Long story short, he ended up physically hurting her very badly. It seemed evident that there was a problem in our society. After college, one of my male coworkers was at a bar and could barely hit the punching bag. His wealthy, attractive girlfriend witnessed this and didn’t dump him. I was absolutely shocked by this and began to think that I had been given a complex.

Can you share a personal story of how you experienced or encountered antisemitism, racism, bigotry, or hate? How did that experience shape your perception and actions moving forward?

Many kids at my first middle school were budding young Neo-Nazis. They exhibited racist and antisemitic attitudes, openly expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler. I vividly remember my 6th-grade math teacher taking time out of class to preach to everyone how their love of Hitler was misguided. Her words had no effect on anyone; many of the boys just snickered and laughed. None of these kids had ever met or been harmed by a black person or a Jew in their entire lives. What, I wondered, could all of this be coming from? I was a white kid, and they came after me with equal enthusiasm. These kids seemed to be narcissists who would pick on anyone they thought belonged beneath, regardless of their race or creed.

Many of the social problems in that town began when the GM factory was shut down. The community began to deteriorate, and the kids there were being affected by their parent’s problems. These kids were picking up their racist attitudes from their parents, who were living on a steady diet of misinformation. Thoughtlessly, they passed that misinformation onto their kids, oblivious to the fact that their little white angels were acting like Crips and Bloods. This misinformation is often a deliberate attempt to divide people. Divide and conquer and divide and rule are the oldest rules in the book. If you can keep working-class people at each other’s throats, they will not unite to solve their real problems. The people in my area were distracted from their problems by misinformation about blacks, Jews, and other minorities.

The kids that were the most prone to being racists were already narcissistic bullies, actively beating up the weaker white kids that they believed belonged beneath them. Propaganda that tells bullies that minorities also belong beneath them gives them a whole new set of targets. When you combine this with economic hardship and the fear that comes with it, you have a volatile mix. Eventually, other people besides the bullies become caught up in this. I spent about a year of my life in this volatile situation before I was moved to a safer school.

At my new middle school, many of the kids had more affluent backgrounds and were not racists. In fact, when OJ Simpson got off, I was the only kid in the room that wasn’t cheering. Instead, these kids kicked down at those who had less money than them, preferring to do so in more passive-aggressive ways. Some of them made fun of me for having less money than they did, but their usual tactic was to refuse to give anyone with less money the time of day. The poor kids and the more affluent kids segregated themselves into separate cliques. In my old town, no one even noticed who had more money than who. How was this any better, I wondered?

I now lived within a block of a gated community and within biking distance of the homes of billionaires. Once upon a time, American towns and cities had poor people and the well-off living together in the same areas. In the modern era, people of different income levels are segregated into different neighborhoods, which has further divided our society. In my view, African Americans are being segregated because they are poor, not because of their skin color or cultural background. This means that the rich whites who are not outwardly racist are a part of the problem without realizing it.

Can you describe how you or your organization is helping to stand up against hate? What inspired you to take up this cause?

This is my first book, and I just recently published it, so I am still trying to get this project off the ground. I believe that if you want to fight antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate, you have to start with the young. It is much, much harder to change the mind of an adult. Being chronically bullied and seeing how the bullying was directly tied to racism and classism strongly impacted me, as you can tell from my answers above. Moreover, being white and getting attacked by racist kids probably gives me a unique perspective. The kids who are bullies often stay that way. One European study found that up to sixty percent of school bullies will end up with at least one criminal conviction by the time they are in their twenties. Adult bullies are far more likely to get caught up in violent, racist movements. I am open to any suggestions that people have.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your work as an Upstander?

As I mentioned before, I just started this project. So far, the most interesting thing that has happened to me is this interview. I have some public lectures scheduled but I am still waiting for them to happen. I’m surprised that my efforts to reach out have produced results so quickly. I’m hoping I’ll have more stories to tell, specifically ones that involve meeting people who were affected in the same way that I was. I doubt I am anything unique. I want my ideas to spread and reduce bullying in schools. Later in life, if a former victim approaches me and tells me that I inspired him to get on a bodybuilding program, I will know that my book did its job.

Once I was in college and surrounded by kids who were more like me, I found that I no longer needed physical prowess to get respect. The kids in my program had their own separate study room with free printing. That study hall was a blessing because it allowed me to socialize with my peers with ease. The dean took it away, and I led the effort to get it back. I had everyone sign a petition, and when the new dean replaced the old one, he saw it and gave us a new room. The respect I received from my peers was heartwarming and something my new muscles could not have accomplished. I hope to use similar tactics in this endeavor.

Could you share an inspiring story that demonstrates the impact your efforts have had on an individual or community?

Strangely, my ex-girlfriend may have been helped by me. After seeing girls date bullies, I felt there was no point in being nice to them. I refused to give in to this, and she ended up telling me that out of all the guys she had dated, I was one of the few she wasn’t afraid of. The only exception she mentioned was a Sudanese immigrant who was a former child soldier. I was wondering how a man, forced into an ethnic conflict, could come out of it and be more level-headed than a lot of American men. She seemed just as confused and rattled by our society as I was. She actually thought it was normal for guys to be abusive. The relationship didn’t work out, but it was clear that I impacted her worldview. I often wonder if women can learn from my book. If they refuse to date racist men, that could change some things.

In your opinion, why do you think there has been such a surge of antisemitism, racism, bigotry, & hate, recently?

Deliberate design. With nothing to offer the average person, the GOP and its allies have begun a misinformation campaign to pit Americans against each other to distract them. Divide and conquer is the oldest rule in the book. Fritz Hippler, who was put in charge of the Nazi film industry, said there wasn’t much anti-Semitism in Germany. He used propaganda films to generate more of it. Human beings are very gullible creatures and will believe anything if you attach it to what they want to hear. People want to hear that if they rise up against whoever is making their lives rough, then their problems will come to a magical end. Anyone who tells them this will be popular, even if that person misdirects their anger. The outsourcing of labor and the increasing costs of just about everything is stressing people out. When someone points a finger of blame, people listen. Obviously, the people who are already racists get green-lighted by this.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes! We need to catch bullies when they are young. A good start would be for schools to stop punishing the victims when they are forced to fight back physically. In addition, schools can institute anti-bullying policies that involve class rules about requiring bystanders to help bullied kids, policing the largest and most aggressive boys, and confronting the parents of bullies. Parents must be taught not to try to pump their kids’ self-esteem up to sky-high levels. There is a dark side to high self-esteem; if someone’s self-esteem is too high, it may cause them to look down on everyone else. This is the recipe for a bully.

Another thing that can create a bully is an unusually large toddler. If a large preschooler learns that it is easy for him to knock over other children, the behavior will eventually become hardwired into his brain, resulting in a habit that will be very hard to break. This is another area where parents will need to be vigilant!

Parents will need to intervene if they have a child who is a chronic victim. It will be essential for them to get that child on an exercise program to improve his or her strength and coordination. Not only do bullies leave physically fit kids alone, the exercise will help the victims burn the unhealthy stress hormones out of their systems. Being chronically bullied is stressful, and a long-term buildup of stress hormones can result in health problems later in life. My physical weakness was mainly the result of a lack of vigorous exercise. Believe me, exercise can help a lot!

Lastly, parents may need to help their kids find social groups outside of their schools where they can escape the pecking orders of their schools. Personally, I would like to see some parental involvement in setting their kids up with dates. Being a chronic victim will ruin your chances to socialize and date, and the victims will need help here. If they do not learn when they are young, it will be very, very hard for them to catch up as adults.

What are your “5 Things Everyone Can Do To Be An Upstander”?

1 . Lift weights! I went to school with a lot of budding young racists. They have a mental image of non-racists as skinny weaklings, unable to win barfights. That mental image will need to be changed. I was treated with more respect when I grew bigger.

2 . Organize yourselves! You will need strength in numbers, political organizations, and the ability to launch boycotts. Finding allies among the labor unions will also be necessary. In politics, non-violent tactics are the most effective.

. Intervene! Once you have strength in numbers, intervening on behalf of someone being harassed or attacked in the streets will become easier. This is where bodybuilding comes in handy, and these situations may require the use of force. A bigger, stronger person is more likely to get a bully to back down without having to throw a single punch. Once, I stood up for a bullied kid, and the bullying jock backed down, despite the fact that he was still a little bigger than me. The extra twenty pounds of muscle I gained was the difference between him backing down and laughing at me.

4 . Educate the young! It is often useless to try to change an older person’s mind. It is best to involve college students who are away from their parents for the first time. People do not begin to question their upbringing until they are in their twenties. If you can organize students, you’ll have another tool at your disposal.

5 . Vote! None of this will amount to anything if we can’t get the bums out! Enough said!

How do you handle the emotional toll that comes with being an Upstander?

As of this moment, I look up and down. I keep up with what is going on with the James Web Space Telescope. If it detects life, I’ll know there is something better out there. I also like to look down by going on fossil hunts. Humans are just one species on this planet, and we are only the newcomers on a planet over four billion years old. If I fail, it won’t matter a million years from now, nor will it matter to the rest of the universe.

If you were in charge of the major social media companies, what would you do to address the hate on the platforms? Could you share specific strategies or policies that you believe would be effective in addressing hate on social media platforms?

The major media companies need to be broken up so that information is controlled by a larger number of people. With the way the courts are stacked now, I don’t see how that can happen anytime soon. Where platforms like Facebook are concerned, people should be free to say what they want. It gives law enforcement a birds-eye view of all the dangerous people. However, it would be nice to change the algorithms so people are directed to a wider variety of viewpoints. I would ensure that viewpoints promoting tolerance are not pushed to the wayside.

Fox News and InfoWars are the obvious culprits with television and other media, but CNN and MSNBC are just as guilty. While the information you see on CNN and MSNBC is more accurate, it is still possible to present accurate information dishonestly. All of our major media platforms, whether it is Fox or CNN, appeal to their viewers by manipulating their emotions. I see little mention of actual policies on these networks. All it is endless gossip about which politicians are fighting whom. Facebook is the same way.

There is a reason the news was supposed to be boring. It was meant to remove emotion from the equation and present only the facts. Nowadays, it is all about entertainment and television ratings. I would want the networks to be intellectually stimulating, not emotionally exciting. If it is emotionally stirring, you can bet it is an attempt to manipulate you. The fact that grown adults demand constant entertainment from their media outlets gives one a good idea of how far our society has fallen. Many people have not matured since high school. In high school, information spreads via rumors, and now we have adults who listen to rumors on Facebook. Little has changed. Our media outlets should provide links to their sources.

How would you answer someone who says: “Hate speech is permitted under the US Constitution. Why are you so worried about permitted, and legal speech?”

I would say that they are partially correct. They have a right to free speech, but private entities sometimes have their own standards to which they will want you to agree. I’m not worried about permitted and legal speech, provided my voice is equal to theirs. A line gets crossed, however, when that speech involves deliberate attempts to get people to act out violently. When Alex Jones makes up tall tales about the Sandy Hook massacre, claiming that it was a hoax and accusing the parents of the victims of being crisis actors, it becomes a problem when frightened people take these claims seriously. You can’t deliberately lie about such things, knowing full well that the audience you have duped could put the parents in danger and call it free speech. You can’t yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. When Tucker Carlson claims the election was stolen and that nearly results in the violent overthrow of our government, it is no longer legal.

Are you optimistic that we can solve this problem in the United States? Can you please explain what you mean?

In my humble opinion, it depends on the next presidential election. If Trump wins in 2024, we’ll have no chance for at least another thirty years. If he loses, our chances of success will outweigh our chances of failure, provided we work hard enough. Millennials and Generation Z will eventually be the majority, and they don’t much care for the GOP. We can reverse all of this if they can be brought on board. The youth are the key to the future, and right now, I see a lot of gray hair at the Trump rallies.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an Upstander but doesn’t know where to start?

I’m looking for advice myself. I would, however, tell them what I am trying to do right now. I’ve written a book, and I am trying to do some public speaking about it at community colleges. The most important thing to do is talk to the young. Their opinions have not been calcified yet, and they will be more open to you than an older audience. As people grow older, some seem to lose the ability to learn new things. If their worldview is not grounded in facts, you can prove them wrong all you want, and it will do no good. The young do not have this problem. If you can reach people when they are children, that will be even better.

In what ways can education be leveraged to combat antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate?

I think it has already been leveraged to combat antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate, but many kids aren’t listening. I remember being taught all about the Holocaust, slavery, and The Trail of Tears. I had the same education the racist kids did. Unfortunately, most of the racist kids that I knew sat in the back of the class. The academically successful kids are called nerds, geeks, and dorks. The stereotype of smart kids as being skinny, physically awkward, and destined to be virgins for the rest of their lives must be challenged. We might need scientists to do talks at our schools with their husbands and wives at their sides to kill this stereotype.

Once that is out of the way, we will need to actually PROVE to kids that the racists have their information wrong. Instead of having them read about other religions and ethnic groups in books, they will need to be taken on field trips to actually meet these people. This will be especially important in small towns and rural areas. The folks in these areas do not get to meet minorities very often. If all you do is make them read about minorities, the misinformation will be more entertaining. This, of course, brings us back to the fact that our news is largely entertainment and most people don’t find reading to be entertaining.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” ― Mark Twain.

When I was a kid, I was rarely in a situation where the majority of the kids were right about anything. In my first middle school, the majority of the kids were hyper-masculine racists. In my next set of schools, they were unthinking conformists to American consumerism. Most people do not think too deeply and want to go along with the crowd. I know that the majority isn’t always wrong, but it is important to double check the majority because of its tendency to go along with the crowd. Sometimes, for the majority to be right, it needs to be convinced by a wiser minority. For example, the majority of people thought the world was flat. Wiser people had to convince them that it was round — and this was no easy task! Today, the majority of people think the world is round and they are right, but look what went into that!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

This is subject to change, but right now it would be Taylor Swift. She has been trying to get young people to vote and her advice on how to talk to the young would be greatly appreciated. If not her, then Temple Grandin. She is an autistic person that has been a source of inspiration for me. Being mildly autistic myself, I would like to meet her and shake her hand.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check out my book, Bullying and Society: A Personal Story, on You must go to, click on books, and type in the title of the book.

My Facebook account is here. I have a version of this book under the penname, Zach Wallace, but I will likely do away with this version:

Works Cited and Further Reading

  1. Olweus, Dan. Bullying at School. Malden, MA., Oxford, U.K., Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Blackwell. Publishing, 1993: 30–31, 36, and 63–107.
  2. Henslin, James M. Sociology: A Down to Earth Approach. Allyn & Bacon, 2010: 274–279.
  3. Kunstler, James Howard. The Geography of Nowhere. New York: Touchstone, 1993: 117–118 and 129
  4. Twenge, Jean M., Ph.D., and Campbell, Keith W., Ph.D. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York, New York: Free Press, 2009: 28, 197–198, 210, and 289.
  5. Raine, Adrian, DPhil., Reynolds, Chandra, PhD., Venables, Peter H., DSc., Mednick, Sarnoff A., DMed., and Farrington, David P., DPhil. “Fearlessness, Stimulation-Seeking, and Large Body Size at Age 3 Years as Early Predispositions to Childhood Aggression at Age 11 Years.” Arch Gen Psychiatry 55 (1998): 745–751.
  6. Ouellet-Morin, Isabelle, Ph.D., Danese, Andrea, M. D., Ph.D.,Bowes, Lucy, Ph. D., Shakoor, Sania, M. Sc., Ambler, Antony M. Sc., Pariante, Carmine M., M. D., M. R. C. Psych., Ph. D., Papadopoulos, Andrew S., Ph. D., Caspi, Avshalom, Ph. D., Moffitt, Terrie E., Ph. D., and Arseneault, Louise, Ph. D. “A Discordant Monozygotic Twin Design Shows Blunted Cortisol Reactivity Among Bullied Children.” Journal of the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 50 (2011): 574–582.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your important work!

Upstanders: How Kevin L Reichling Is Standing Up Against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.