I don’t mean “Nazis” in the abstract racist sense. I mean actual, genuine, swastika bearing white supremacists, proudly shouting Nazi slogans. They’re not even wearing hoods. They are out in the open, wearing baseball hats that say “make America great again.”
They are angry, they are racist, and they are so emboldened by the current president (who they voted for and whose election they see as a direct validation of their xenophobic principles) that they are marching with assault rifles in broad daylight.
It’s chilling. We’ve seen this before. It was a major theme of World War Two, and it is a scarily similar scenario to what Margaret Atwood imagined led to the establishment in the US of the theocratic regime Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale. We just got a glimpse into the birth of what was supposed to be dystopian, post apocalyptic fiction.
But this is not fiction. This is a real thing.
The marches on Saturday came after a prelude on Friday night, when hundreds of the “Alt Right” took literal flaming torches to a university campus. They clearly had a lot of aggression to deal with, and it quickly erupted into violence.
How did it come to this? It’s a long story. Racial tension has always been a major issue in American politics and society, right from the beginning. They fought a civil war. The slavers lost. In many cities in the south, statues commemorating the generals who fought for oppression stand in public parks. This is clearly pretty offensive to the descendants of those slaves who live there now, and who still find themselves facing systematic oppression and institutionalised racism in the form of police violence. To look at someone who fought a war to keep your ancestors as slaves, and to know that they hold a cherished and respected position in your town, while your friends are being shot to death by the police who are meant to protect them, on a near daily basis, is a bitter pill. 2,145 people have been shot and killed by police since Jan. 1, 2015.
So some councils, such as Charlottesville, are voting to remove the statues, and change the names of things like “Lee Park” (named after confederate General Robert E. Lee – who led much of the battle for Southern secession, before surrendering) to “Emancipation Park”.
This was the catalyst for the events over the weekend. That’s what brought the Nazis to the streets. It took a lot to get there of course, but that was the spark that set it off.
The build-up has been steadily intensifying over recent years. You can trace the modern movement back to 1992. After the officers who beat Dr Rodney King were acquitted of all charges, Charles Muhammad of the Nation of Islam asked, “How many more Rodney Kings do there have to be?”
If anything, as police have become more militarised, it has gotten worse. Behind the recognisable names of Philando Castile, Mike Brown, Tamir rice Terence Crutcher and Alton Sterling, are a staggering list of anonymous people whose names escaped the media cycle. They are simply too many to fit into a news bulletin.
So the rise in the number of unarmed black Americans being killed by police officers has led to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Because that is something that apparently needs to be said. This has since given rise to the conservative counter-movement, with their own tautological catchphrase “All Lives Matter”.
Of course All Lives Matter. No one said they don’t. The point is that police in the US don’t go around killing unarmed white people the way they do kill unarmed black people. That’s why it needs to be emphasised. But the people in Charlottesville weren’t even just shouting “All lives matter”. They were literally shouting, “Black lives don’t matter”:
To prove this point, James Alex Fields, Jr took a car and drove it at speed into a group of counter protesters, killing at least one and injuring dozens.
As strange as it might seem, we shouldn’t be focusing on that guy. All it takes is one lunatic to kill a bunch of people, and it happens in America on a shockingly regular basis. What’s more concerning is the movement behind it, and the reaction from the administration.
David Duke (the former leader of the KKK) was there at the Charlottesville march, and has come out and proudly claimed that it was the people marching who put Trump in the White House. When Trump was asked by reporters on Sunday if he wants the support of these white nationalists (think alt-right groups like Vanguard America that Fields belongs too), he literally just walked out of the room. Perhaps it’s because he knows they’re right. In fact it is almost certainly because he knows that they’re right.
These people are reacting to the threat that equality necessarily poses to their supremacy. White men are opposed to “political correctness”, because they are used to getting their way all of the time, and they hate the fact that that’s changing. And that is a premise which permeates their ideology, all the way to the centre of Australian politics. We can wax lyrical about the strange psychological effects at play that lead people to adopt an ideology which is literally cartoonishly evil. But that is to give their discourse a dignity it does not deserve.
So what can we do? How do we deal with this?
There is a lot of hand-wringing on the left about whether it is ok to punch Nazis. Meanwhile, the Nazis are literally driving cars through crowds of people to murder them. So, you know. Up to you I suppose. These people are not brave. These people are not strong. These people only exist because they think there are no consequences for their actions. Send them packing. They don’t have the spine to resist.
But I’m not much of a fighter, and I suspect a lot of other people aren’t either.
So we need to fight hate with love. Reject the premise whenever you find it. Online or in person. Do not give these ideas an inch, run them ideas out of town. We can’t accept the right-wing figures who equivocate the situations by laying blame “on many sides”. Marching for equality is not the same as marching for supremacy. Marching for equality is not the same as marching for supremacy. It’s as simple as that. If you want to contribute donate the to Southern Poverty Law Centre, or the National Lawyers Guild, or any other group you find that fights for justice.
Will we be ok? I think so. These people don’t have the guts or the brains to do overthrow our society. They are vastly outnumbered, and they are wrong. Of course, that’s probably what Offred thought in The Handmaids Tale… But that’s fiction. Right? Right. Let’s just hope we don’t run into a fertility crisis.
Happily, in this day and age, we can find these white supremacists, and get them fired. It’s happening already. It might not seem much, but if it helps stop this toxic ideology from spreading further, then it’s worth it. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and we shouldn’t confuse the two.
And when all else fails, remember the Sound of Music.