"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." — Edmund Burke
We're now all contestants in a reality show that we never asked to be part of. And it gets more real every day. The shameful and deadly episode that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week was a gathering of white nationalists, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. But the torchlight parade, the attacks on clergy, the Nazi regalia, the Klan robes, and the Stars and Bars carried alongside swastika flags revealed the assembly for what it was: a collection of hate groups with various agendas and a new alliance between neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said, "It was the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades." The "Unite the Right" rally quickly descended into chants of anti-black, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBT slogans that were as vile as your imagination will allow you to conjure. The eruption of violence between the so-called "alt-right" and counter protesters caused 19 injuries, the deaths of two state troopers in a helicopter crash monitoring the scene, and a young woman crossing the street when a crazed true-believer rammed his car into a group of pedestrians. Whether this type of vehicular homicide occurs in Paris, London, or Charlottesville, it's known by the same name: terrorism. In the ensuing chaos, the forgotten man was Robert E. Lee.
- Donald Trump and David Duke
There is free speech, and then there is hate speech. Only one is protected by the Constitution. Yes, you can mount a platform and say, "Mexicans are rapists," or "Criminal aliens ... take a young, beautiful girl ... and slice them and dice them." You can even urge your supporters to punch someone in the face if you say it was just a humorous aside. But when your words initiate violence, you are responsible for the consequences.
From his New Jersey golf resort, Donald Trump read from a card, "We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. On many sides." You know someone else wrote it because Trump doesn't know the meaning of the word "egregious."
Before moving on to tout his achievements, ("We have companies pouring into our country."), Trump brought Obama into the controversy, claiming there were also hate groups and hate speech during the previous administration. By doing so, Trump is, in effect, saying, "Don't blame me."
Since his rise to political prominence began by accusing Obama of being a foreigner and a secret Muslim, he has fed "his base" a constant barrage of inflammatory screeds against immigrants, the press, affirmative action, his predecessor, and particularly Hillary Clinton. On many sides? He forgets who the instigators are. Only one side chanted Nazi slogans like "Blood and soil." Only one side chanted "Fuck you, faggot," and the ever-popular, "Go back to Africa." If this assembly was about preserving Confederate monuments, there were similar far-right demonstrations in Portland and Seattle, where there are no statues of Confederate generals.
Trump's remarks drew criticism from all sides for his refusal to condemn the perpetrators of the violence, except from the white supremacists themselves. They loved it. Their popular web site, The Daily Stormer, posted that the president "refused to answer questions about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him."
There's something grating about neo-Nazis invoking God. Why can't the president say the words, "Radical, right-wing terrorism"? In his own admonition, you can't fight a problem if you won't name it. The "problem" was encapsulated by the words of former Klan Imperial Wizard and rally attendee, David Duke, who said to the cameras, "This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back."
After blistering remarks from members of his own party, Trump issued a lukewarm tweet condemning "all that hate stands for," which, in turn, provoked a tweet from David Duke saying menacingly, "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror and remember it was White Americans [sic] who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists."
The Charlottesville rally was disgusting, but this clash between the emboldened neo-Nazis and those whose fathers and grandfathers lost their lives fighting the real Nazis is far from over. It has been suggested that if the counter-protesters just stayed away and ignored these racist rallies, there would be no violence, since that is the sort of narrative the alt-right seeks. Consequently, there would have been no press coverage, and no one would have died.
I'm sure some German Jews said the same thing in 1929. Fascism must be confronted or it metastasizes. On a personal note: My grandfather was the only member of his family to escape Eastern Europe. His parents, two brothers, a sister, their spouses, and nieces and nephews, some small children, were annihilated by the Nazis despite his desperate efforts to free them. I inherited his letters. They are heartbreaking.
While in Israel some years ago, I visited Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust. There is a register of names of Jews murdered by the Nazis, but there isn't the slightest trace of my grandfather's family. They just vanished. So, if some neo-Nazi yuppie in a Trump inspired uniform of khaki pants, white polo shirt, and a red "Make America Great Again" cap comes goose-stepping down my street waving a swastika, I'll do my very best to hit him in the head with a tire iron. Then, the Teflon Don can once again talk about violence "from many sides."
Randy Haspel writes the blog "Recycled Hippies."