August 22, 2017 (San Diego) Context matters Act for America announced the cancellation of 67 rallies across the country to be replaced for a day of action on the internet. People are celebrating. We are positive more than a few police agencies are also breathing a sigh of relief.
There are layers to this onion. These do matter. The first and most obvious surface layer are both Charlottesville and Boston. This is why both matter. The images we saw emerging from Charlottesville were disturbing. However, people marching around with lit torches have been in the main of American history for decades. Yes, this happened in 1980. It happened in the 1960s and 50s. In the 1920s the Klan and white supremacy as a philosophy was publicly supported.
These days a lot of our public policy, like mass incarceration, is part of it. So is the war on drugs. So we have a lot of work to do as a society. We are hardly a post racial society, as we told ourselves in 2008.
However, in 2017 this open display of hate was shocking to most Americans. For some it was not just a hit to the gut. But it was something they were not openly aware off. Even though the country was founded on white supremacy, and at one point this was openly displayed, still is in some areas, to some Americans it was shocking. This divide is still in some was is rural vs urban as well. Urban areas tend to be more culturally diverse, for starters.
The next morning protests were hard to control for officers. Part of the reason was the open display of long arms. If this event had remained in a few, at times violent fights, we would still be having a polite discussion of who does what and whom provoked whom. Why am I saying this? It was the pattern throughout 2016. We had many fights break out at Donald Trump rallies. We can honestly say, from what we saw in San Diego, that the fights were started by Trump supporters after they came out of the rally. That was also a national pattern, one that disturbed us as well.
But that would be the extent of the discussion. It would still be whether people should challenge these people verbally, and who started the fights? That is even after young white men marched around with Tiki torches screaming “you will not replace us.”
Why am I saying this? This march fit a long historic pattern. It shocks us, and then they are promptly ignored.
What changed this was a terrorist attack carried out in broad daylight.
For hours, before we knew the identity of the driver, James Alex Fields, The Daily Stormer (no longer online) forums had a spirited discussion regarding who this man was. He could not be one of them. It had to be a Jew or this was a government false flag or both. This pattern is very common. As soon as he was identified, Vanguard, a group he carried the shield for and wore their uniform, threw him under the proverbial bus. In case you are wondering, Dylann Roof could not be one of them either, of be a white supremacist. Some of this might be a very legal consideration. The Order was brought down using RICO statues in the 1980s. But that vehicle, and the death of Heather Heyer, changed the dynamic.
The vehicle attack sent a wave of raw fear across the country. This got people into the streets for both vigils and counter protests. Among them 3 thousand in the city of San Diego. It may very well be a fracture in American history. Time will tell on that front.
Here is a critical point. After Charlottesville counter protesters never took the bait. Verbal assaults did not translate into fights, which are propaganda and recruitment gold for white supremacists. The event at Boston was a parallel march. At Laguna Beach there was a counter march on Saturday. The one on Sunday remained peaceful, mostly. From what we understand there were two arrests.
There has also been a spirited discussion in how to refer to them, and the Associated Press finally said no more to “alt. right,” unless used in quotes and spoken by members of the movement. They also explained that this was a marketing scheme started by Richard Spencer. In many ways the press is done cleaning their image up. Whether they should have done this, to begin with, is an excellent question. But remember, most of the press corps are generalists. So to expect most reporters to know the difference between Nazis and Neoconfederates is asking too much. Yes, there are nuances and deep disagreements, as well as agreements. But at the top level they hate the rest of us.
Finally this is another reason why in my view they decided against more rallies. Boston was an impressive sight. Thousands of people (as high as 40 thousand in some media accounts) never surrounded, but stood close to a gazebo at the Boston Common, where anywhere from 50 to 100 America Firsters gathered. It was there, that as we recounted yesterday, non violence took on empathy and humanity. There is nothing more toxic to a hate movement, than to experience basic humanity from their perceived mortal enemies. Black Lives Matter escorted some of these people to their rally. These men and women kept people who fundamentally hate them safe.
Think about that one for a second and how mind bending that can be.
The actions of a few in Boston are likely spreading and seeding doubt in a movement that relies on hate and dehumanization.
The overwhelming crowds that showed them as a minority politically, never mind they have close friends in high places, and not so random acts of human kindness did this.
It is hardly time to relax, or sing kumbaya. It is also time we as a country confront that history. Because until we do, this will continue to happen, predictably, at least once a generation.