When anti-hate protesters engage in violence with white nationalists, the goons in the Hitler haircuts win.
THE shocking white nationalism on display last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a relapse of an old cancer in America. We’ve seen the swastikas and “Sieg Heil” salutes before, but rarely on such a scale, and rarely ending in such a horrifying act of domestic terrorism, which left one woman dead and 19 others injured.
It is especially disturbing that the fascist fringe is utterly emboldened, planting seeds online with disaffected youth that will grow for a generation.
President Donald Trump plays an outsized role in the surge. His campaign and election was seen by the racist fringe as a trumpet blast, and his halfhearted rebukes have fueled, rather than doused, the flames again and again.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked a dramatic rise in hate groups, operating on and offline, from 2015 to 2016, as they coalesced around Trump like no other presidential candidate in decades.
The president’s weak condemnation on Saturday, blaming “many sides” for the rioting, was a dog whistle for the fascists who were emboldened by the lack of criticism from the White House.
Belatedly, after bipartisan outrage and suspicion in some quarters about Trump’s sympathies, the president clarified his position Monday, saying that “racism is evil” and condemning hate groups. But he was at it again on Tuesday, doubling down on his “many sides” obfuscation.
The counter-protests in Charlottesville, and in Seattle on Sunday, succeed when they overwhelm and mock the hateful and brittle ideology of white nationalism. They fail when they lapse into violence. In physical conflict between fascists and anti-hate protesters, the goons in the Hitler haircuts win. Peace protesters throwing punches is easy fodder for the far right looking for hypocrisy on the left.
And the racist fringe feeds off martyrdom. Just Google Robert Jay Mathews. The bankrobbing racist from Eastern Washington is lionized online for his fatal standoff with federal agents on Whidbey Island in the 1980s. Or Timothy McVeigh, or Dylann Roof.
As unsettling as the images of 21st-century Nazis are, Seattle and other cities must accommodate protests and parades across the political spectrum, because the First Amendment is the bedrock of our democracy.
Law enforcement everywhere should learn from the protest-management techniques of Seattle police, which were honed after the World Trade Organization debacle. Seattle police showed their skill by avoiding a brawl at Sunday’s Westlake Park demonstrations, while Charlottesville police failed to do so.
Law-enforcement agencies will probably get another chance, either in Seattle or elsewhere. The fringe right is still pumped up from Charlottesville. They pledge to show up again in their white polo shirts. When the anti-hate majority of America responds, don’t give the fascists what they want. Protest hate with peace.