Monday, August 14, 2017

Violence in Charlottesville: The Dangers of Painting with a Broad Brush

The national conversation is filled with discussion of the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend. The death of one woman is both a tragedy and a crime, as is the injury of nearly two dozen others. Our justice system has much to do to address these terrible acts, and I have faith that it will.

As is often the case, I am more interested in the broader conversation and the conflict that it represents. I have a couple of points I want to make; because of the raw nature of recent events, we'll see how well I can make them.

First, the supporters of White Supremacy often like to wrap their political activities in the flag of Free Speech. The right to peaceably assemble is sacred to all, whether we agree with their views or not. This much is true.

But it is debatable whether "peaceable assembly" includes showing up with shields, helmets, body armor, and sticks. That's not a "peaceful" demonstration, it's intimidation and preparation for combat. So I'm not buying the "peaceful assembly" line. There was never any intention for this to be "peaceful". This is not a movement much interested in peace.

Second, at some point - probably already happened by now - some apologist for the marching racists will argue that it's not fair that they all be blamed for James Alex Fields' actions. He acted alone, they will say. You can't all paint us with the same brush just because of one violent man in our midst.


The entire White Supremacist movement relies on painting with broad brushes. All blacks, all Jews, all gays, all Muslims, all Latinos - "they" are all the same. This is the entirety of their "argument". They don't care about individuals, only about groups. All of "them" are always the same.

If you marched on Friday night, tiki torch in hand, and you don't think this describes you, get the heck out now. You have taken up with a violent movement. Perhaps the icons of knives and axes might give you a clue. Or the hardware your fellow marchers are carrying.

So fine. Your group - each and every one of you - is violent to the point of being murderous. And we, the rest of civilized society, are justified in rounding you up and prosecuting you under the law.

Finally, this is the really key thing that these White Supremacists, neo-Nazis, and various KKK hangers-on don't yet realize. They've already lost. The vast majority of American society - including whites - rejects them, rejects their ideas, and most especially rejects their murderous attachment to violence. To borrow Ronald Reagan's memorable phrase, they are already consigned to the Ash Heap of History.

They just aren't smart enough to know it yet.

Let us not forget that it was the forebears of these rampaging rage-monsters that slaughtered 168 Americans, including 19 preschool children, twenty-two years ago in Oklahoma City. The mix of rage, incoherent fear for their white identity, and rejection of government authority has killed before.

I hope that the death of Heather Heyer will serve the same purpose as the deaths of those many innocent victims in 1995: a wake-up call to the nation and the start of another effort to drive this kind of violent hatred back underground. Given the current occupant in the White House, I'm not holding my breath, but I hope at least that his fellow Republicans will see the Faustian bargain they have struck and repent.

Many people have been quoting MLK's "arc of history" line. In this case, he is absolutely correct. The men (and yes, they are mostly men) who have bought into this violent insanity have been brought out into the light. But they have already lost. The nation unites in horror against their dystopian rage. They cannot win, not even a little bit, anything that they hope to achieve. They can't even keep the statues they are so keen to protect standing in the public square. All they can do is shriek helplessly as the arc of history leaves them behind.

Or, they can repent and join the rest of us. I, for one, would be happy to have them back if they can find a way to set aside their rage, fear, anger, and hatred. We need people working together to build a more perfect union for all of us.

1 comment:

  1. What concerns me is how young these guys are. Yes, the arc of history .... Yes, the dustbin.... But isn't that where we left their fathers and grandfathers? Yet, here we are again with a new crop. You are right that they cannot win. Their numbers are fewer than those of their ilk that preceded them. But to look around and see so many white, angry, hateful young men. It's intensely troubling.