Tuesday, August 15, 2017


On Saturday violence erupted on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia escalating in vehicular homicide wherein a car was driven through a crowd of people. That's probably the most bloodless, tame way I could describe what occurred a few days ago, but this is an opinion-based blog, so it's probably time to put that aside.

Would highly recommend watching this New York Times video giving a simple breakdown in the events that occurred in Charlottesville. Violence in Charlottesville was likely inevitable on some scale. Neo-Nazis tend to stir up strong feelings, surprisingly. However, there were at least two groups who were anathema to one another. The first was a demonstration and march by White supremacists and neo-Nazis who gathered in park and intended to march through the city to Emancipation Park. A group of counter-protestors gathered at nearby park and intended to countermarch to disrupt their gathering.

While I think that it has been pretty disturbing all on its own, I don't particularly want to discuss the nature of response to these events. Though from what I've seen I am none-too-pleased by some of the media coverage. Some have seemed to find far too much comfort in the "their both to blame" narrative.

I think we have to take a moment now to reflect on how the hell we came to a point in 2017 where people are chanting racist, literal Nazi slogans, waving Nazi, Confederate and other right-wing flags in America. While I cannot substantiate the veracity of the tweets I saw a number of posts apparently from veterans (this is where it gets dubious) about having fought the Nazis and now their flags are waved by Americans claiming to be patriots. Something has gone deeply wrong here.

In a certain sense this is nothing new. In the far-right and white nationalist movements of the United States there has always been a blend of American patriotic and Nazi/German imagery. Right-wing militias, survivalists, Aryan Nation, and certain biker gangs have all formed a cohort of white supremacists. The Nazis are the go-to villains in much of American culture, yet we see with far greater public acknowledgement that there are those who view Hitler as one of the good guys.

It's a baffling about face, especially given the degree to which America's history in World War II made the country what it is today. Still, I don't expect twenty-first century racists and fascists to have a strong grasp of history.

White supremacy has always been tied to terrorism. This is a fact. If you don't believe me do a casual search for the history of the KKK and lynchings. There is a certain dark poetry that the vehicular murder of a protestor and the injury of nineteen others mirrors attacks by Islamic radicals in recent years.

I am going to try to keep my remarks balanced here. I do not believe we're seeing a mass movement of grassroots American Nazis. I do believe that in the last few years that far-right rhetoric has been normalized to a certain extent. A few years ago these people would be far more marginalized and few would be willing to publicly defend them. Parts of the far-right, the racist right, is now part of normal discourse. I don't put this on Donald Trump. This has been an element of American culture for decades, and normalized particularly in the wake of 2007 and during the Obama years and the Tea Party.

America in 2017 is not Weimar Germany. I hate that I have to say that so sincerely. What is socially acceptable, or reasonable within the public discourse though is increasingly embracing these people, and if it doesn't they create their own media to share their own twisted ideology. This problems is only likely to get worse. Racism, fascism and Nazism are inherently violent ideologies and we should sadly be braced for more incidents such as this. There is no part of that that isn't heartbreaking.


Anonymous said...

My somewhat cynical assessment of Charlottesville is that Nazi head-bangers can be drummed up at fairly short notice with a bit effort. And in this age of The Culture Wars, the Left holds most of the cards.

The extreme Left (having suffered a significant defeat with Trump) has been highly effective at baiting the ‘rent a mob’ element in American society. Swastika waving nut jobs on our screens are a gift from heaven on our screens for the Left – the socio-political equivalent of using ‘chum’ to attract the sharks. Now, with a bit of media manipulation and jaw dropping self-righteousness, the spectacle of the Neo-Nazis can be ‘weaponised’ and used to smear everyone who doesn’t adhere to the Left’s agenda. I do also note the Castro-Pinochet Paradigm: the Left produces ‘activists’ whilst the Right has ‘extremists’. (Castro was ‘controversial’, whilst Pinochet was a dictator).

The terrible murder of the British MP Jo Cox last year demonstrates the utter cynicism of the Left to use death to its own political advantage. The assailant was, of course, labelled a ‘far right extremist’ (he had a book shelf of books with swastikas, just like Herr Goebbels, I am sure…) for political consumption, despite his decades of mental illness. I am sure BBC’s ‘The Thick of It’ will pick up on it soon enough.

But we are still left with the uncomfortable question: where do those of us in the centre right fit in? What of the person who wants good race relations, peaceful protest and a happy cohesive society - but who finds the sight of a mob destroying statues disquieting? Lee today, Washington tomorrow? Or put bluntly, even if I find Trump an unpalatable President and a vile person, I don’t want its society ripped apart to spite him.

On a lighter note, I see that Canadian opportunists are using the violence in Charlottesville to further their efforts to remove Cornwallis’s statue in Halifax. Gee, ain’t that cute, them Canadians are trying really hard to be Americans! Both shameless and funny beyond parody. Another case of the Canadian cultural ‘mini-me’ syndrome? Sad, we used to be the country known for moderation and common sense.

Anyhow, welcome to the next – and almost inevitable - violent phase of identity politics. Rapidly moving north of the 49th Parallel.

SJL said...

I disagree entirely with the above comment.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Nor I yours, so vive la difference.

“White supremacy has always been tied to terrorism."

The irony of your statement on the day hell was unleashed in Barcelona is certainly not lost.

As a public commentator, you should rise above the specific and look for trends, so how about: [Extremism] has always been tied to terrorism?

“Neo-Nazis tend to stir up strong feelings... “

Moral dilemma for you: if you hear of a group of masked people, armed with baseball bats, gathering in a public space, would you first enquire as to the nature of their politics before you condemn them?

In Charlottesville, the neo-Nazis should be condemned more than their opponents; but make no mistake - organised and public violence by whatever persuasion - harms the very fabric of our society.