There is literally too much to cover. And that’s saying something. From the outset, I knew what I wanted to call this piece but struggled to really put anything of substance together. I wrote an article, recorded a podcast (reading the article on then commenting on it) and decided it was shit and am sitting down to write another one. I immediately recognized that I left things out I wanted to talk about and what good was it. Especially since I don’t want to talk about this after I finish. I’ll let people hash out the details – especially as they are not in the least bit concerned with my opinion.
Let’s talk about the genesis of this piece first. It’s been a long week. The country witnessed a domestic terrorist attack that while not as devastating as others physically (we were lucky that only one pour soul lost her life), it certainly was devastating to our collective conscious. The US does not have a healthy relationship with its demons. We gloss over a large deal of things in school including the internment of Japanese citizens, our roles in propping up disgusting foreign regimes, and why a bunch of states in the south revolted (spoiler alert – it’s because they thought blacks were inferior and they were entitled to enslave them). Being faced with a group of people that still adhere to an ideology we thought disappeared with the end of the Civil War (just 150 years ago) is not something we’re prepared to handle. As such, when we were faced with just that, the conversation turned to what to do about it.
I’m in the minority here because I don’t advocate for violence against Nazis. Holy shit, did I just type that?
Let’s talk about that statement which is controversial because it involves the seeming defense of Nazis – even though its NOT a defense of Nazis, it’s a defense of civil discourse and societal standards. What started out as a “protest” (reasons for quotes to be explained later), became a dark chapter in American history in which a young, angry, white male ran a sports car into a group of people who thought whites were not less than and not more than other people. I’ve made a chart in emojis. Email me if you want a copy. The response to this enormously bigoted dipshit has been violence against the group he represents – some “very fine people” (this time quotes courtesy of a resident from Pennsylvania Ave in DC) that prefer to call themselves something superior.
Keen observers of CNN will be aware that I skipped a lot of detail and they would be correct. As I have no interest in boiling a movement down to a single paragraph (or series of tweets), I will expound upon details below. Try to keep up but bear in mind that there really is a shitload to cover. For a brief overview, we’re going to discuss the nature of the Civil War (or Asshole’s Rebellion as I call it), the nature of the erection (giggle) of statues about said war, the history of the Nazis (promise I’ll be brief), the history of Antifa (that’ll be brief but could frankly be an entire dissertation), and end with a summary of what happened in Charlottesville where we will then decide just what the fuck we’re supposed to do about Nazis. Since we haven’t figured that out after 70 years.
I have been emotionally compromised in this entire ordeal and it’s effectively destroyed my ability to think objectively on the subject. I’ve been extremely active on Twitter discussing the legality of the event (the perpetrator of the attack was booked on second degree murder charges), the history of confederate fanboyism, and what the fuck we’re supposed to do about Nazis. Frankly that last part has really been the driving force behind this project. People don’t like my view and as I’m tired of being called a nazi sympathizer I’m going to go ahead and distill all of my thoughts into a podcast/bog and be done with it. You all can go about your lives deciding when and how to deal with Nazis without me. That’s hardly true, is it? Yeah, you’re stuck with me.
The “Assholes Rebellion” deserves no respect by the larger group of American citizens. Let’s make one thing perfectly clear about why the south went to war with the Union – they wanted slaves. There are a host of postmodernist movements that try to sociologically justify the war – economic pressures and “states rights” are the most common – that second one is even the bullshit we tell our children in school. They are complete and total crap. If you want to know why the war was fought, just take a look at the secession letters. I’ll quote just a few but feel this image is far more telling. And a provided link to an amazing article that spells it out much more clearly than I ever will:
Didn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination there, did they? Let’s go one further and quote a few of these states, shall we? No, sit down, this is important. You think these states were concerned with states rights? Here’s the SECOND SENTENCE of Mississippi’s Article of Seccession:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.”
Why not quote Texas? I mean, maybe slavery was only an economic measure and it’s not anything personal. No racism involved. You’ll have a difficult time defending that…
“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”
Even the term “white supremacy” doesn’t fully embody the ideal we’re looking to defeat. For that, you need images. And I have them. These are images most of us would struggle to see on dogs, let alone humans who were thought of as mere tools to be tossed in the shed until needed. The pictures depict many awful things – severely beaten African slaves, hung African slaves (writing a letter to a white woman – a hangable “offense”), an African slave tied to a tree and then burned to death (count all of the smiling white people looking at it), and of course depictions of the conditions when they came over. We talk about the Holocaust as the single worst act of genocide on a race – the American slave trade – if even in second place – is not a distant follow. In fact, given how the Nazis chose many quick-working methods for killing Jews, you could argue the slave trade was worse as most slaves died slowly on the voyage across the ocean or before reaching their 1st birthday on plantations.
It’s important to point out that every single state that sent a letter of secession made mention of slavery as the principle cause and used “state’s rights” as a justification to allow them to carry on with it. So let’s nip this in the bud right away – the Assholes’ Rebellion was a story of white supremacy justifying black slavery. Full stop.
The question here becomes why would I go out of my way to establish the nature of the civil war? I mean, I know we’re talking about monuments to that war being taken down but how is that relevant? It’s actually only part of the relevance. You see, we are going to bring up the nature of these monuments and the timeliness of their build. Given how I just showed you (hopefully) how insanely prevalent the thought of black inferiority was, it’s now going to transfer into the 20th century.
I was privy to a Twitter conversation with an historian when the topic of taking Confederate monuments down came up. There’s a surge of protective instinct by Americans as these monuments represent history, however awful that history might be. Now I disagree with the tearing down of things like old battle sites but monuments are a different thing altogether. Especially monuments that read like this historian’s (Mr. Kevin M. Kruse) example. At the dedication of “Silent Sam” in North Carolina, Julian Carr gave a speech that included how he
“horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady…”
I will not make an argument for or against removing most confederate statutes right now. I’m firmly for it, but I merely want you to get a firm grasp of where these statutes come from and when they were erected. That statue of “Silent Sam” – a nameless confederate soldier holding a rifle as tribute to the millions who died for the confederacy – was built in 1913. What? 1913. Why is that relevant? This is why. The vast majority of those statues were built during an enormous time of racial strife as deliberate messages of racial superiority.
After Plessy v. Ferguson, a staged test case designed to establish legal precedent legalizing segregation, the monument building began in earnest – with very few monuments or dedicated schools with confederate names having been built before that. The only other period of history that saw a marked increase in the building of these monuments was the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gee… I wonder if anything about civil rights conflict happened then?
When you combine the nature of the civil war, the nature of slavery, and the nature of the monuments built to honor those two ideals, you begin to see what these statues actually represent. With that information in hand, you make the decision on whether or not they should stand. We are only providing backstory to events that unfolded a few days ago.
And there are only two more backstories to cover before we get to the piece du jour. Unfortunately (or fortunately for time’s sake), the first one is the Nazis. Now there isn’t a whole lot I can provide you that you didn’t already learn on your own. The Nazis are the universal boogeyman. We all hate Nazis and their image is so devastating, we often use it as the supreme worst of something. The terms “grammar Nazi”, “attendance Nazi”, and even “parking Nazi” all come from someone effectively being the absolute worst enforcer imaginable regarding each of the subjects above. They have achieved near-universal repulsiveness for the crimes they committed on all of humanity. Fortunately for you, I’m not going to provide any images as that would be overkill – most of us saw everything we needed to see in high school.
The Nazis earned their umbrage because they took an idea – Aryan or white supremacy – and built an entire religious fortress out of it right down to complete and total genocide of the European Jewish population (to start). Other goals? Aside from some fairly whacked-out shit about finding the true origins of an Aryan race they believed had near-mystical powers, they believed their brand of fascist regime and total thought control was the way, the truth, and the light. They used an insane level of propaganda and social intimidation to root out the non-believers and either kill or enslave them.
Ultimately, Hitler’s “Final Solution” was to kill all of the Jews along with other people of “impurity.” The concentration camps as we know them were used to supply things for the war effort, conduct experiments on human beings (much of what we now know about hypothermia was learnt during this time), and to of course speed along the process of “ethnic cleansing” by killing those of impure blood. We callously attach terms like “evil” to the Nazis despite the fact that this was carried out by a lot of human beings – people. I’m currently reading “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker and he rightly points out that no matter how terrible a person you’re dealing with, you have to realize they are still a human and have human instincts. Something about us led them to it and we have to square with that. We also have to square with the idea that but for the luck of the draw, we were born in modern times and not in central Europe in the 1920’s.
When the smoke had cleared, the Nazis had extinguished roughly 6 million people in their camps in the name of white supremacy. I’m going to repeat that. They killed six million people because they believed they had to due to their own belief that their race was greater than all others. This is what white supremacy is capable of if given the money and influence necessary to rule. This is the best summation I can give of the Nazis in so short a time.
Following the destruction of “the Third Reich,” a group that had actually been around a few years before the Nazis rise showed up to clean Nazi house. They are a group that originated in Germany known as the Antifa – which is effectively short for “anti-fascist.” Frankly the actual thing it is short for bores the pants off of me, but suffice it to say I’m not really cutting it short by leaving it at that. The Antifa became a loud force for change and consisted of further-left individuals (predominantly members of a German communist party) that aggressively sought to remove Nazis from public office in the aftermath of the war. They were successful and even fanatical about it until they were largely replaced by what you might call “cooler heads” around 1948. Since then, the Antifa have been a group that mobilizes in response to the rise of fascists or, more specifically, neo-Nazis. Whenever neo-Nazis demonstrate, you find the Antifa not far behind.
The Antifa as we see them today are a phenomenon due in no small part to the rise of news agencies like Breitbart. Breitbart doesn’t hide it’s white supremacist leanings and in fact, puts all Jews mentioned on their website bracketed with globes. I think the new derogatory term for Jews is “globalist,” and since the star of David is a lightning rod for antisemitism, the folks at Breitbart have adopted a new star to thinly veil their hatred for “God’s chosen people.” When anyone of or related to the Breitbart (now called alt-right but we’re working on just replacing alt-right with white supremacist) crowd has a speaking event or a public demonstration or protest, Antifa shows up.
Antifa utilizes propaganda that is rather effective. They have some rather noble end-goals and that’s frankly the nature of good propaganda – people can get behind what they’re selling. What they are selling is a world free of male domination, the patriarchy, white supremacism, etc. Most of us would love to see that future and hope it comes in our lifetimes – but we also believe in a stable government, rule of law, and the slow, steady march of progress. Most of us are willing to let various people have their mindsets and let the social consciousness change over time. Antifa lacks the patience for this and has effectively declared a state of emergency. While you or I would agree in this state if things were actually quite dire for the vast majority of Americans, we know that isn’t true even if it is true for some (namely African Americans – who still face an uphill climb daily). And if you follow history close enough, you should know that radical change rarely ends well for society. In fact, the very utopian society they’re trying to create can quickly become a dystopian nightmare. For historical relevance, please look at France after 1789. It doesn’t take long before the guillotines come out for anyone that isn’t a friend of the revolution.
And they are seemingly aware of this and shun the government (as a symbol of patriarchy) and the police. They openly declare themselves anarchists and as such behave in a way that is not defined legally. It is rather fitting that they show up dressed identically and with masks – because their cause requires them to remain anonymous? Ya know, I’m struggling to think of another anarchist group that used violent tactics while maintaining anonymity…
Anyway, Antifa shows up at white supremacist rallies to instigate the exact thing we saw in Charlottesville. They will poke and prod the Nazis where they can to provoke a response. Knowing US laws about hate crime, they are well aware of what these hate groups face if they do commit a crime and so goad the supremacist into action. The problem is that many of these groups are difficult to goad into action so you have to be fairly violent yourself. The less likely they are to be violent, the more violent the Antifa become. Take Berkeley for example.
The speaker at Berkeley, professional shit stain Milo Yiannopolous, was an editor at Breitbart and is an all-around skid mark on the underpants of journalism. Milo is likely a white supremacist but at the very least he’s an avid Trump supporter and was scheduled to speak at Berkeley and would have had the crowd not turned violent. Worth pointing out here that the students of Berkeley had a lot less to do with what unfolded than Antifa did. Did they protest? They absolutely did. Did they burn shit and beat Trump supporters? No they did not. Antifa did. It’s what they do. It’s a unique brand of fascism in its own right. Carry the party message or our thugs will beat you for resisting. What makes this brand of justice particularly satisfying for most of us is they do seem to be focused on white supremacists only. But given their hatred of “the patriarchy,” one has to wonder what they’ll do if white supremacy is stamped out.
Okay, small sidebar here. I’d like to talk about slippery slope arguments. Mostly because I can’t stand them. From a purely philosophical standpoint, they are a cop-out from debating anything openly and honestly. For instance, a popular opinion among conservatives is that they cannot give an inch on anything of or related to affirmative action because if they do, they’ll only push further and further and liberals will make them memorize 38 gender pronouns and sue them or shame them for fighting it. This leads to their resistance of actual things that matter and it’s this stalemate that robs us of social progress in all other areas where our core political parties disagree. Slippery slopes allow people to resist something that otherwise should not be resisted and would not be resisted. So while I made a slippery slope argument above about Antifa’s goals after white supremacy is stamped out, I’m also basing that off of information they freely give. If you’re wondering how I know that, take a look at one of their popular propaganda outlets, crimethinc.com.
And that brings us to the recent events in Charlottesville, North Carolina.
I am linking to the Vice documentary, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” because it frankly explains and demonstrates the events far, far better than I can. Go watch it, it is a unique window into chaos that the average American never gets for any sort of event. It really is unprecedented for a news organization, with cameras, to follow around a white supremacist before an event starts, be with them through everything (including ground zero of the domestic terror attack), and have a chance to interview them afterward. It is also a unique insight into the incredibly fucked-up set of mental gymnastics it takes to be a white supremacist. The focus of the short documentary (it’s only about 20 minutes long) is a man named Chris Cantwell who you’ve probably seen by now because of the countless hilarious videos of him crying due to a warrant out for his arrest. Sorry, but like punched Nazis, crying Nazis are hilarious.
And when I said go watch it I mean right now. Pause this or stop reading this and go watch that documentary. You’ll have… feelings. Especially as I’ve provided a great deal of context behind the emotional overload we all get when talking about slavery, the confederacy, and Nazis. Speaking of Nazis…
I haven’t really been commenting much on the images (if you’re listening to this in podcast form, please visit the blog at pioneer-outdoors.com to see the various images that go with it), but this image is striking and serves to illustrate an important point. The guys holding their flags and doing German salutes are not Nazis. They are much, much worse than Nazis in the sense that after the fact, they seek to espouse the very essence of Nazis. Think about it – Nazis during that time in history faced many pressures to join an oppressive regime or be subjugated. If you were an able-bodied male, you pretty much had to be a Nazi. From there, you were asked to do a great deal of things you were uncomfortable doing but with the overwhelming pressure of the moment, you did them. Eventually you may have even enjoyed what you did but let’s save that psychological thought experiment for another day.
The guys marching in Charlottesville face none of those pressures and are instead confronted with the full force of what Nazism really is. They know about the Holocaust (though they deny it), they know about the Nazi desire to create a master Aryan race, and they know about the Nazis distaste for anyone that wasn’t white and Aryan. They know what the world thought of that and they know about the Nuremberg trials and yet they still choose to identify with this horrid group of people. And even if they don’t (you’ll note in the photo above that only one carries the swastika), when someone bearing that flag marches in line they take no truck with him and do not push him away. If there were ever a tacit support of Nazism, it’s the confederate white supremacist movement and every time they’ve been offered the chance to distance themselves from the world’s worst mass-murderer, they have declined to do so.
The Nazi flag is in effect the lightning rod that draws the Antifa to strike – and strike they did. Depending on your source of information you will hear all manner of conflicting reports on what actually happened. Both left-wing and right-wing sources will cite the other as principal instigator of what transpired. Given the unreliability of news in the immediate aftermath of situations like this, I’m not going to make any passing judgments or calls on who started what. But what I will offer is a basic analogy for what happens between the two groups that are quite ready to fight – Antifa and the white supremacists. The white supremacists are a giant keg of black powder and the Antifa are the match. Who takes blame in that analogous situation? The match for being the trigger for violence, or the black powder for being so ready to erupt? Is there a side any less culpable for any “collateral damage” that ensues?
Now is where we get to the important part of today’s piece. Someone died.
I actually feel the need to go into a very long philosophical argument on the importance of protecting human life, given what’s at stake here. We are entirely too ready to throw lives away if the cause is sufficient, forgetting what that actually entails. An argument I’ve made before is on the nature of culpability in the event of an event causing a death knowingly. Take, for instance, Ford Motor Company. Sit, this will only take a second and you’ll learn a lot about corporate America.
In the early 70’s, Ford designed a car called the Pinto. Not long after the car was released and sold, Ford learned of a tragic defect. Between the fuel tank and the cockpit of the car was an ineffective firewall (or no firewall). Ford’s engineers worked out that a low-speed collision (around 35 mph) would cause the gas tank to ignite and the resulting explosion would go into the car, likely killing or severely maiming all of the occupants. Ford’s analysts then went to work studying the possible rate of failure which I’m sure resulted in looking at traffic data, amount of collisions, number of cars per capita in various areas – the point being that while complex, its not difficult to determine how many people could potentially die from this defect. This defect, by the way, that required a piece so inexpensive (I had heard 11 cents but think that’s a bit low) that most people, if aware, would probably volunteer to pay some portion of it if made aware (your honor, I object – conjecture. Sustained). Okay, they wouldn’t pay for shit but would demand this deadly defect be fixed. When Ford’s analysts had worked out how much it would cost (take into account the number of people expected to die or be injured and multiply that by the average out-of-court settlement dollars), they get a number and that number is how much it would cost to just deal with death out of the court. If that number is larger than the cost of a recall (which is very easy to calculate), then they would execute a recall. If it’s less – that is it costs less to kill people than to fix the problem – then they don’t and they deal with each case as they come. This, by the way, is the nature of the narrator’s job in Fight Club. From my understand, Ford estimated within about 15 people that almost 300 people would die and they were right.
Now in each individual case, someone made a driving mistake and ended up in an accident that killed someone due to this defect. Who is at fault? If you don’t think Ford Motor Company is responsible for those deaths, just skip to the next paragraph because this doesn’t apply to you. If you do think they are culpable then I submit a comparison to you. If Antifa lights the supremacist powder keg knowing the likely response is violence that will get someone – likely a bystander – killed, who is culpable? The obvious answer is the shithead that ran over a crowd of people in his Dodge Challenger. But if you deal with a large enough sample size and you know your actions can create just these sorts of reactions – are you just as culpable as the person committing the crime? No? I’ll make one more plea that is not meant to exonerate the perpetrator of violence but rather explain the complexity and layers of effect that color all of these events.
A study performed at Oxford University by a team of psychiatrists resulted in the categorization of extreme racism as a mental disorder. This was roundly discounted by the American Psychiatric Association. Why? Because their methods were not sound? Experimental results were not repeatable? Nope. Without devolving into a debate on free will (you see how this Charlottesville mess is complicated? Humanity isn’t simple and simple answers get people killed), the reason the APA rejected it is because it “may undermine personal responsibility.”
There are multiple studies and cases where someone has had a tumor or other brain malfunction that is quite literally physical and results in damaging social behavior as a direct result. There’s the well-understood cases of fast-growing brain tumors that are known to increase violent behavior and mood swings. Before these conditions were understood, its highly likely that people were convicted of various crimes despite having very little control of their senses. At present, there is some indication that violent, racist beliefs are indication of a brain abnormality. If you’re a group like Antifa and you willingly poke what may actually be a mentally disabled person (let’s hold the jokes for now) that is ready to erupt in violence, who is at fault here? I will book-end this by saying that its clearly not understood, but many colleges with primarily liberal social science departments are not in a rush to exonerate racists with psychological science.
We are in a blame-centric culture. The likelihood of giving anyone a free pass due to cognitive impairment is as close to zero as possible.
So let’s pretend that doesn’t apply. I don’t think you should, but for the sake of argument we will assume free will is 100% true, that none of these assholes are mentally impaired, the Antifa is an organization reacting to a violent characteristic of otherwise-civil society. Are their actions the most prudent course?
To examine that, we really have to look at every single possibility and I’m going to be somewhat bold here and say most people have not. I mean, if you look at the list of things people are prepared to say “we’ve tried that” to involving organized white nationalists, it’s going to be shorter than my dad’s grocery list (spoiler: its milk, bread, butter, eggs).
Non-violent protest? That’s the stand near them and shout at them while they walk around holding guns, signs, swastikas, confederate flags and various other “white power” paraphernalia. Chock that one up to “doesn’t work.” I’ll admit that the act of meeting them with shouting has been ineffective as it’s been in just about every other form. During the Proposition 8 vote in California, my town, Temecula, became a lightning rod of protest with each side of our main road, Winchester, dotted with supporters and detractors. It was bedlam and led to… nobody changing their mind. That isn’t really protest so much as an announcement of current positions. Imagine if I did that over my favorite color. Blue! Blue! Blue! Ineffective (I think. If you changed your favorite color to blue just now, please email me and join the revolution).
Letting them speak? I think Russell Brand tried this on his show a few years ago. It didn’t go well though there weren’t any fist-fights I’m aware of. He pissed them off something fierce but that’s to be expected when he’s so ardently opposed to them. Did it change anything? Not really though I’m sure a few people were impressed they could even have a conversation. But, as my philosophy teacher once told us, if someone isn’t willing to be persuaded with an argument, they also aren’t worth arguing with. Nothing can be gained from a conversation where both interlocutors aren’t acting on good faith that they’re trying to reach a consensus. Frankly it’s why I don’t really engage in debate with many religionists.
What else has been tried? I’m willing to say not much else. And that’s a shame because the next option – violence – has proven to be only so effective. Not least of which because they are not only back, but their reach has gotten all the way to the White House. I think it’s disingenuous to call the President himself a white supremacist as that entails a whole lot of careful reasoning. I will call him a racist as that’s not entirely the same thing as it usually involves a certain amount of intellectual laziness. They aren’t committed to the idea that their race is best (hence, white supremacists), but they sure think those minorities are weird. So violence has been the only repeated method – Antifa’s efforts are not new. They didn’t randomly show up at Berkeley with black masks and say “you know what, we should organize!” They were organized for quite some time before that. The fruits of that labor have put us in a position where there is a white nationalist in the White House (Steve Bannon, et al) and we just had the largest demonstration of white supremacists in quite a long time. This is Nazi whack-a-mole and most of us are not interested in retreading this topic every five or ten years or so. We want permanent answers – which is the real reason we have to look to another method.
Something I shared and will talk about now is a terrific story from a small town in Germany. I will preface this by saying that what they have done is not exactly completely transferrable to us given the specific rallying points but the spirit is worth conjuring up and repeating. I’ll link to it so as not to retread somebody else’s work and to give people an insider’s perspective. The article I’ll link to is actually called “I don’t like the Antifa” but is largely about the town of Bad Nenndorf’s efforts to get rid of a particularly awful neo-Nazi rally that is countered by Antifa.
To summarize, the neo-Nazis have a long tradition of finding places to rally. Whether it be marked graves of notable Nazis or a prison that held Nazi war criminals, they would flock to these places and demonstrate. Antifa would show up and everything would go to shit. Well they were running out of places to go because the prisons ran out of war criminals (dying of old age) and were demolished and the graves were basically dug out and cremated. So they settled on this town and for several years the townsfolk had to deal with it. In a stroke of genius for small-town ingenuity, the locals hatched a brilliant plan. Partnering with a group that did various things to help “recovering former Nazis,” (which is an awesome thing, by the way. Nazi AA!), the town decided to have a pledge drive. You’re familiar with the type. Somebody knocks on your door and says “hey, could you donate a dollar to cancer for every mile I walk at this event.” Sure, you say! What a great idea! You work hard and your hard work is rewarded with a donation.
So the town decorated everything real nice and pretty (the above photo is from one such day – lots of parade tape and ribbon and pink stuff everywhere) and put chalk marks on the road. The idea was that for every meter or kilometer or whatever the neo-Nazis marched, they would donate to an anti-Nazi recovery group. Now the towns people were super-pleased these guys had showed up! The more the merrier! Many would show and march and every time they passed a marker, more money to the Nazi AA. The Nazis, rather expectedly, were put off by this. So put off, in fact, that they didn’t even bother show up in 2016. I have left a great deal of crucial detail out, including some rather unpleasant dealings with the Antifa (turns out if they can’t find someone that’s obviously Nazi they just look for white people with short hair to interrogate). Go read that article at your earliest convenience.
The article utilizes one of the most powerful tools in our societal playbook and combines it with the most powerful one: mockery and shame.
If you’re reading this instead of listening (and I’m reading the quotes by Dr. King), then you’ve no doubt noticed my overt political messaging. I’m obviously advocating for the non-violent approach to neo-Nazis and while I am quite sympathetic to the “punch all Nazis” movement, I think Dr. King would have the exact same approach.
I tried in the first recording of this podcast to adequately state the relevance of Dr. King and other non-violent protesters and frankly completely failed at it. It was a disjointed mess and I suppose I shouldn’t make any guarantees that this won’t be either. This is a bit of a “call to authority” one of a few philosophical fallacies I may have engaged in above (don’t fault me, I’m learning more philosophy by the day), but I think its fair to recognize who we remember from history. We remember either of two people – those that achieved enormous conquest through enormous violence (think Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Hitler, etc.) and those that achieved enormous social change through non-violence (Ghandi, MLK, even Jesus if we treat him as an historical figure). Very few musicians have achieved transcendent success with messages of overt violence while the list of hippies still played ad nauseum today is only growing. While the premises do not necessarily befit this conclusion, it still feels prudent to say that there are possibly only two ways of dealing with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, alt-right idiots, whatever you want to call them. I’m trying to avoid dichotomies here but that seems to be either an insane level of violence or an insane commitment to non-violence. The in-between strategy here – occasional violence punctuated by periods of relative peace – isn’t working.
Dr. King’s approach was one of many during the civil rights era – arguably the most transformative non-wartime era in American history – and his worked with an astounding level of participation. Think about it, the women’s march on Washington – armed with tools like cell phones and social media – likely garnered around 100,000 people in a country with 300 million people in it. When Dr. King marched with an estimated 250,000 people in 1963! The March for Jobs and Freedom resulted in the most iconic American oration – the “I Have a Dream” speech.
I’ve had an affinity for Dr. King for a very long time though it comes and goes as easily as my breath during a meditation session. When I was in high school, I spliced in the complete “Dream” speech with a few colorful edits to build up a chorus, set to Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here Right Now.” I get chills just thinking about that combination and how it wasn’t particularly relevant in the mid-90’s but would be enormously so now. A few years later I’d read a ton about him (in which you learn of some of his flaws of which he had several). And in 2013, I actually used him as a major explanation point for a video I created for my team when I was a general manager of a sporting goods store. The images of Dr. King marching, being arrested, having fire hoses sprayed at protesters in Birmingham (above), are stuck in my mind.
Okay, we’ve covered my thought process and why I think punching Nazis is ineffective. I won’t even go into the philosophically strong arguments against it. This is where things get ugly for me personally. I feel this is a great time to provide some back story on my travels tangling with my fellow liberals.
My first real taste of what we now call the “regressive left” was around the time of the Democratic convention (2016). While I don’t think I’d vote for Bernie now due in no small part to the populist rhetoric he uses, I was firmly in his camp around this time. If you were following things, you’ll know the Republicans were trying to weasel out of giving Trump the nomination if they could. If they did, they were effectively “splitting the ticket” which would have been a death sentence if the Democrats unanimously selected a candidate. As they did not (as we neared the convention it was obvious Bernie couldn’t win the nomination but he could also opt to split the Democrats if the Republicans did it, too), the Republicans were left with a difficult decision. They ultimately decided to play it safe (you might say… conservative?) and give Trump the nomination. Bernie knew this decision would be made before the Democratic convention and bided his time until it was official. If they robbed Trump of the nomination, Bernie would take his chances in what would now be a four-horse race for the Presidency. I frankly liked his chances in that situation.
Now during this time I was beginning to engage on Twitter with Hilary supporters frankly in the hopes of uniting to take down Trump. Many of us saw that once Trump had landed the full backing of the Republican party, that he could not be allowed to win. To Bernie’s credit, he basically said exactly that and threw his support at Hilary though he did withhold it until he had some assurances that they would take up the banner of some of his ideals. This did nothing to win over what were pejoratively called “Bernie Bros” and the resultant hissy fit between Democrats was on. When I engaged with Hilary supporters to discuss this very distinct possibility, I was met with rather stinging criticism, to put it mildly. People on the left were perfectly willing to alienate those they now needed to get their candidate elected. Super.
My other dealings with the regressive left involve my stance on Islamic terror. I frankly don’t want to go into detail here but having a nuanced position bothers a lot of people. With politics as polarizing as they’ve been, you’re asked to adopt from a dichotomy of choice. You’re either open to all people of all faiths or you’re a bigoted Islamophobe. The thought didn’t occur to me at the time but these same people had a real problem with conservatives during the run-up to the Iraq War. Most liberals had a nuanced position – they were patriots and didn’t want to go to war. But the sentiment from the right was you were either for the war or you needed to leave the country because you were against America. I struggle to see a distinction in the left’s position regarding Islamist extremism.
The comparison is apt because anyone that criticizes the religion of Islam as a very powerful vehicle for motivating terrorists is met with shouting down, public shaming, and vicious character attacks. These are remarkably effective and have gotten people fired from jobs, speakers cancelled for engagements, and public intellectuals driven to defend themselves from obscurantist nonsense. It has been effective. Are these tools used against a group perceived to be neo-Nazis? They are not.
The bloodlust by the left and the language used to justify it is remarkably similar to the language used by the right. This isn’t entirely unexpected if you subscribe to the “horseshoe theory” of politics. An image helps illuminate the point:
We often call things by the name “political spectrum” but that has ignored the phenomenon we have witnessed from the extremes of both larger categories of ideology. The left will use the same tactics the right uses and not see any similarity whatsoever. I’m in the infant stages of exploring these similarities but having a position in the center (which is hardly a position as my claws aren’t dug in to any ideals) affords a fantastic viewpoint above the hubbub of emotional drama. Having this viewpoint, one immediately sees just how desperate both sides are to create an emotional narrative that sucks the reader in to one side or the other. Whether this is deliberate is up for debate (I don’t actually think it is), but the crux of the matter is there isn’t a huge difference and if anything, there is one consistent motive that I’ve identified so far – a complete lack of trust of experts. Fast climbing up my list of “must-reads” is a book by noted Republican (and “#NeverTrumper”) Tom Nichols called “The Death of Expertise.” There are some cynical projections about Marxism that predict Tom’s premise but he avoids it and instead offers to shoulder the blame on the people that matter – people that don’t trust experts.
But I’m digressing. The issue I have is how aggressive the left is becoming toward people that do not share their viewpoint. I am what many would call a “classical liberal,” that believes in individuality (and thus, free speech) while also promoting the general welfare of the people. This position requires careful examination of situations and reasoned, measured responses to crises. We do not do that which makes people feel good – we do that which promotes harmony among all. Any decision on how to handle a radical group like white nationalists has to bring to bear the full force of logic and reason. They are western ideals that were part of the apparatus that built the amazing country we are in. A country, I might add, whose constitution is so robust that a racist with white supremacist leaders can enter the White House and do fuck-all if the people oppose it. When these ideals are pushed to the side in favor of violent action against a group – in this case the Antifa’s actions against white nationalists, we all lose. All of us. Yet that is what is happening and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better.
I’ve been ganged up on and have had the displeasure of watching “The Wave” mentality permeate through otherwise rational actors. If you haven’t read that book (isn’t it still required in high schools?) then you should. It’s actually based on true events though only in the sense that a teacher got his students to learn about fascism and adopt a series of slogans with remarkable speed. What worries me personally about the left’s behavior is similar. The Wave demonstrated how a group of people, through the cunning use of slogans and seemingly “good” ideas could be made to follow a movement to whatever logical end the leaders of said movement had. Its an excellent look at how an entire population of Germans embraced killing Jews, how entire swaths of populations in the United States pledge unwavering support of political parties despite their horrible gaffes, and how a group of otherwise-tolerant people can set aside their most dearly-held beliefs for people they’ve been told to hate. Due process, equal protection under the law, free speech – all of which can be discarded if the villain is evil enough. In which case were they actually dearly-held beliefs to begin with? Is it just convenient that you support healthcare for all? Is there a tribalistic mechanism at work for your beliefs? If not, what exactly are your beliefs and how malleable are they?
I have grown completely fatigued with the current conversation (among others) and this is my attempt to make a statement and then move on from it. So long as the conversation lingers on the topic of white supremacists and appropriate reaction I will be overtly democratic about it. You have my vote of non-violent mockery and shame and that’s where I’ll end it. I am exorcising that position and that’s really what this is. Though if it were as simple as that, I wouldn’t have put this much time and effort into it. I feel extremely strong about my message of non-violence and frankly as someone who is studying human conflict and cooperation, you really shouldn’t be surprised by that.
As I close this out I want to reiterate a number of things and provide a personal direction for the future. What happened in Charlottesville is many, many things. It is not an isolated incident and there is no shortage of explanations that can be offered for the events in totality. I have tried to demonstrate an abbreviated history of everything leading up to it to give it the mass it requires so people can debate about it in good faith and with a proper understanding of the weight of the events that precede it. White nationalism has its roots in some of the absolute darkest pits of human existence and when the ideas sprang for into the light and were given their chance to be embraced by an entire society they showed just how deranged and sick the human mind was capable of being on a societal level. The violence that results some 70 years after the climax of white supremacism is a response to those events and we should frankly be glad that it is limited in both its frequency and scope.
But the effects are still felt by the black community today whereas they were felt by the Jewish community then. If anything, the depressing collateral damage is a state of perpetual poverty for our black brothers and sisters as symbols of white power are used to justify their continued disadvantage in a corrupt system. But does any of that offer us the right to violently lash out at any and all perpetrators of that system? And, more importantly, have you prepared yourself for the consequences of that violent lashing out if they prove unfruitful as they have so many times in the past?
You have my opinion.