Racial terrorism deserves no quarter
My wife and I welcomed our second daughter last Tuesday. My wife performed exceptionally under pressure — as she always does — and our daughter was born healthy and happy, with two ecstatic parents (and one really enamored big sister). I was tempted to write a happy-go-lucky column about that perfectly sublime event, and comment on the kindness we found at every step of my wife’s pregnancy and our daughter’s birth. (Or, maybe just take a week off of writing, and enjoy my two incredible daughters.)
And then Charlottesville happened.
In my very first column in January, I wrote that my fellow millennials were afraid of the rise of the alt-right white supremacy movement. In June, after a rash of local and national racist incidents, I wrote that this moment in history demands we be anti-racist, and not just not-racist. Later in June, I wrote that violence is an overwhelmingly male problem.
To quote the naysaying Dr. Ian Malcolm in “Jurassic Park,” as the tyrannosaur is tearing through the electric fence: “Boy, do I hate being right all the time.”
Last weekend, angry (mostly male) racists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia for their “Unite the Right” rally. They identified as Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, or “the alt-right:” the “soft” and “rebranded” label for the right-wing racist.
This gathering has been labeled a “rally,” a “protest,” or a “demonstration.” It wasn’t. These people brought weapons. They bore Nazi and Confederate insignia. They began punching and beating counter-protesters. They didn’t come to speak or demonstrate. They came to intimidate and terrorize.
First, a tense scene unfolded Friday night in which the KKK and Nazi agitators surrounded a group of counter-protesters, yelling “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” Then, Saturday, after several incidents of violence, a 20-year-old white supremacist from Ohio drove his car at breakneck speed into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters. The video is chilling. His silver Dodge Charger first slams into the rear end of another car, and then floors the gas in reverse. Bodies fly everywhere. One woman, a 32-year-old legal assistant and activist named Heather Heyer, was killed; 19 others were seriously injured. This attack should be called what it is: domestic terrorism.
I fully endorse the John Stuart Mill approach to free speech: specifically, all ideas should be openly debated, and the “marketplace of ideas” will determine which ideas are worthy, and which are not.
But some ideas that have “lost” in the marketplace deserve no further discourse. For example: we shouldn’t have to “hear someone out” who thinks that witches float and that “swimming tests” are essential to rid us of witches. We shouldn’t have to provide a platform for debate on the correct way to stone a sinner to death.
Likewise, I will not tolerate debating people on the merits of the Confederate South or Nazism. Our nation fought a Civil War to strike the abomination of slavery from the continent. The entire world fought a war to strike the scourge of Nazism from the globe.
“Alt-righters,” with their KKK and Nazi rhetoric, are not patriots. They are traitors. You don’t get to be both a “proud American” and a “Nazi” or a “Klansman.” We literally fought wars about this. These ideas lost because they are morally abhorrent. These ideas must be shouted down.
Perhaps the most distressing thing is how “safe” these racial terrorists feel. In the 20th Century, the KKK operated under a literal veil of secrecy: the white hood. This new generation marches unmasked, out in the open. Apparently, in America, you can march with Nazis on Saturday and then just go to work as usual on Monday.
And this isn’t just a “somewhere else” problem: recall that the KKK has flyered our community twice in six months. Twice.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry. I don’t think our response to violent racists has to be love, compassion, or tolerance. Essayist Ju-Hyn Park said it best on Monday: “Honestly all the ‘fight hate with love’ folks give love a bad name. Love isn’t inaction, silence, or complicity. Love and fury can coexist.” If you love this country, it’s OK to be furious that angry racist men are perpetuating terror upon people of color. It’s OK to be furious that they would call it “patriotism.”
Do you remember sitting in history class, and thinking, “If I was alive then, I would’ve…” You’re alive now. Whatever you’re doing now is what you would have done. So what are you doing now?