Roundtable – White Supremacy, Counter Protests, and Violence

The Roundtable is Torchlight’s weekly discussion of news and events. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity, and most citations were added after the fact. This conversation occurred on August 20, 2017.

 

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. This week’s topic is the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, which ended with an alt-right supporter plowing a car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one. The rally was characterizing groups actively flying Nazi flags and shouting white-supremacist slogans. With these groups evidently feeling bold enough now to take to the streets, the question on everyone’s mind seemed to be what is the most effective way to oppose openly fascist marches in the United States. Counter-marches, as happened in Charlottesville? Tina Fey’s suggestion of letting them shout into the wind and staying away? Some other tactic? Thoughts from the crew on what is the best response to a mob flying a Third Reich flag marching down Main Street.

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

The best response to a Nazi mob is a snarky sign, a raised fist, and 15,000 friends. We have more people than they do, we have more courage than they do, and we have better memes than they do. All it takes–all it ever takes–is showing the fuck up and saying no.

 

David Spitzley, Contributing Writer

I think that 15,000 friends is the critical piece.  It’s one thing to leave white supremacists to themselves in their little human nests online, or even in lily-white enclaves in Idaho, but when we just let them “cry it out” in major cities with multi-racial, multi-denominational, multi-orientation communities, we’re basically saying “yeah, you guys are on your own, just ignore the torches and genocidal threats, it’s nothing.”

 

James Griffith, Tech Manager

Y’all stole most of my thunder, but I would offer a combination of what was already said. Non-violent is ideal, but sometimes it’s not possible when you’re outnumbered. Additionally, as a member of the least threatened group, I’m really uncomfortable chastising others for punching Nazis (unprovoked), working with law enforcement against allies, etc. Fuck Nazis unilaterally.

 

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor

Replying to Spitzley, I think that acknowledging that the hate and violence they espouse against specific groups of people is crucial.  They aren’t just evil because, they are evil because of the ideologies and the worldview they espouse.  We need to not just show up, but to actively stand with those they wish to victimize (black, Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, whatever).  It’s not just about standing up to these white supremacists, but standing up together.

 

James

Also the more people that show up the less likely serious violence will happen. Nazis are fucking cowards that are cowed really easily.

 

Tom

James, just to make sure we’re clear here, you’re not saying “go punch a Nazi, for such is right and good,” but rather “if you protest a Nazi, and that Nazi takes a swing, it’s understandable if you swing back.” Am I following that correctly?

 

James

I’m saying the latter is where I make my stand, and I’ll be showing up with medical supplies later this week in Berkeley and SF, but I think this is a time where we need to embrace diversity of tactics and not fuck over allies for drawing their line elsewhere.

 

Josh

Let’s not get sidetracked into who it’s okay to punch or not punch. Last weekend they killed a woman and injured about 40 people. This isn’t about suckerpunching Richard Spencer, it’s about a literal torch-wielding, Hitler salute-throwing mob armed with guns and clubs. I’m not judging any response to that from a person facing it on the ground, and I refuse to let false equivalency narratives being pushed by Fox News and Donald Trump and morons on the internet frame this conversation.

 

James

Yup. And as someone who has been on the ground in the past with antifascists, they generally show plenty of restraint of their own accord.

 

David

On the other hand both the leftist Redneck Revolt and the conservative Three Percenters were present and armed at Charlottesville with expressed defensive intent, both held their fire, and in the case of the Three Percenters, issued a national stand down order in the aftermath of the protest and dissociated themselves from any further white supremacist actions going forward.  These marches are very complex political affairs, and I’ll admit to uncertainty about how the use of force versus the capacity for such balances out at them right now. Particularly given the scale versus both police staffing and police inaction

 

Sam Dieffenwierth, Researcher

The thing to remember is just how few people we’re talking about. FBI figures put KKK membership at about three thousand and declining. Three thousand! In a nation of well over three hundred million people. That’s less than .001 percent of the population. The citizens who show up to these protests in sheets and shaved heads, they’re a minority of a minority. If the Nazis march down Main Street by all means line the sidewalks and boo, but if you want to bring clubs you’re wrong- you’ve already won.

 

David

Estimates of Unite the Right protester numbers were easily 1000, so I think the affected population is larger.

 

James

It’s not just them though. It’s a host of white (and non-white) conservatives that are okay allying themselves with white supremacy for various reasons that are totally not racist. And law enforcement that protects them.

 

Sam

Yes? Everyone has a right to freedom of speech, it’s in the Constitution.

 

James

They beat a black man half to death across the street from a police station, unmasked, have been identified, but there have been no arrests thus far.

 

Sam

And antifa cracked skulls and beat up reporters. No arrests.

 

James

Beating up reporters is a bad move, that will receive no defense from me. Reporters need to be more sympathetic to counter protesters requests not to be filmed though. They are putting their lives on the line here, and reporters capturing their images and putting them online can put them in danger.

It doesn’t justify assaulting them, but there needs to be a dialogue.

 

Chris

Well, part of that complexity is that they have wildly differing goals, and don’t actually like each other very much. They range from fundamentalists to randian objectivists. The whole point of the hashtag UniteTheRight is that this was supposed to be an organizing rallying cry for all of the various racist groups. The organizers thought that all that was needed was an event like this to bring them all under one banner. It turns out the dislike each other for concrete reasons, and this UniteTheRight stuff will more than likely fizzle.

 

Josh

Antifa is not strictly speaking an organization, it’s just “people who are against fascism.” Sometimes they dress in black and get more destructive/violent but there’s a difference between that and a named hate group.

 

Chris

It’s an attempt to equate Black Bloc anarchists with everybody protesting against fascism.

 

Sam

There’s a lot of overlap between both sides- smashing bank windows at G20 attracts a lot of the same people who enjoy hitting skinheads with sticks. I think one thing we can all agree on is the inadequacy of the police response in Charlottesville. Streets were not blocked off, the protesters weren’t separated, basically the police just stood by while both sides whaled on each other with homemade clubs. The ACLU says that this was due to orders from higher-ups. If there’s one thing I hope comes out of this tragedy is that mayors in the future don’t let protests “burn themselves out”. Otherwise we’ll see more bloodshed, especially since both sides have started bringing firearms.

 

James

They threatened the survivors with tear gas and stopped first responders from providing CPR to the lady that died from the white terrorist attack…

 

David

I think part of the poor police response was that the Charlottesville PD got a lot of flak after they tear gassed counter-protesters while escorting the July 8 KKK rally away from the courthouse steps.  They either overcorrected on use of force, or were so committed to staying neutral they refrained from intervening in beatings right in front of them.  Neither is a good thing.

 

Josh

I want to jump off of that and shift the conversation from what individuals can do to what the government can do. These organizations are ultimately dedicated to achieving a fascist regime and instituting genocidal (violent or not) policies. That makes them fundamentally a threat to the country and the government should react as such. And they have to the tools to do so, just as they have the tools to go after other forms of terrorism. You go after their money and their property, you infiltrate their groups, you purge the feds and police forces of their infiltrators, you track their leaders and you look for every opportunity to shut them down. But this administration won’t do it, because Trump and many of his people are on their side.

We did this in the 90s, and we should do it today, because right wing and hate group extremism is the majority of American terror.

 

James

It was the 80s. 90s is when they started going all ghost skin and infiltrating law enforcement as a response.

 

David

I think there’s a strong argument that Trump may be xenophobic (e.g. his focus on safety threats from immigrants), but simply doesn’t care one way or another about white supremacy, and just acts the way because he’s  like a fish swimming in it, completely clueless.  Still bad, just a different kind of bad.

 

James

I think that argument falls apart when you look at all the white supremacists he’s filled his administration with.

 

Josh

Whether or not Trump says in the mirror, “I am a white supremacist,” he is a white supremacist in belief and action.

 

James

Dude is racist af. And circling back for a moment, there’s a balance to be struck between escalating use of force and letting a riot happen unabated. I think ideally you do your best not to deploy less than lethal munitions because they’re still lethal sometimes. Keep groups separate, and fucking arrest people who commit felony assault after the fact.

 

Chris

Basically, the police whether by malice, incompetence, or neglect, still have no idea how to handle this sort of situation in some places.

 

James

The absence of any arrests (and this isn’t just in Cville, and is also based on personal interactions with forces in the Bay Area) leaves little doubt in my mind that law enforcement has a conservative white supremacist bias.

 

Josh

Which is why the literal Nazis are only the tip of the iceberg. Our society needs to root out its hate, particularly in our law enforcement and government leaders.

 

Tom

We’re almost out of time for the Roundtable this week. Final thoughts from the crew?

 

David

I think the police piece of this is central.  If both sides trusted the police (a) could and (b) would protect both sides of protests, there’d be far less inclination of some of the “peace keeping” armed folks to show up at these things, and there’d be a lot less ambivalence on the left about calling out antifa.  But when you’ve got them saving the asses of Cornell West and  a bunch of elderly clergy in the absence of police, they may begin to feel like a necessary evil, and that’s a bad thing in my view.

 

Chris

This seems to have been a turning point. At least, I hope it is. There seems to be a collective anger over how this was handled by the president that more attention is turning toward the issue of racism inculcated within our society. I hope it isn’t temporary (but it very well might be), and I hope it is sustained. We need to keep working for this, because it will just go dormant again. It may burn itself out, but it’s much more likely to fester and metastasize into something worse.

 

Sam

One thing I don’t think anyone’s thought about is the electronic aftermath of Charlottesville- protesters (Nazis though they be) have lost their jobs, been thrown off dating websites, had Uber and AirBnB reservations cancelled, had child services called on them to take away their children, etc. simply for exercising their freedom of speech. The organizations to which they belong have faced the same thing in the business world- PayPal has deleted several accounts, CloudFlare has dropped websites, YouTube and Facebook have removed videos and pages etc. essentially “deleting” them from the Internet entirely. I think it’s worth taking a long, hard look at just how much power corporations have over us- although you might agree with it now because screw Nazis, what happens when they come for the unions and workers’ rights activists?

 

James

Okay, but the thing is, I don’t give a fuck about all that. They should be losing their jobs, etc. They are advocating for genocide and are a danger to their communities.

 

Josh

Corporations are just exercising their freedom of association.

 

James

As far as Charlottesville, future protests, etc. If you aren’t out there making a stand against hate, I have very little time or respect for anybody handwringing about antifascist violence. If there was a more overwhelming show of opposition there wouldn’t be serious violence. But if you’re sitting on the sidelines, similar to voting, your opinion doesn’t matter to me. Anybody who is able to needs to be out there holding a sign when the Nazis come to town.

 

Josh

Yeah, the problem with the “both sides” argument is that, whatever their respective methods, one side advocates for white supremacy and the other side does not. But here’s how you solve that one. There was another right-wing Free Speech rally in Boston this Saturday. A handful showed up–and then the counter-protestors brought 15,000 friends. This is how we’ll win: when ordinary people stand up against hate, and show just how little support white supremacists really have.

 

James

Some estimates were as high as 40k at peak. I think that whether corporations that are the gatekeepers to the internet should be able to express freedom of association has more meat. One I am adamantly non-sympathetic to, the other has more further reaching ramifications.

 

Tom

That’s all the time we have for the Roundtable this week. We’ll try to return to Sam’s point about the social and employment consequences of marching openly in a white-supremacist rally next week, provided, of course, that nothing else happens to push it off the schedule. Until then, thanks, everyone, for a lively conversation.

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