When a car barreled into counterprotesters amid the neo-Nazi/Klan/white-supremacist/alt-right swarming through Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, Aug. 12, it was an act of white-nationalist terrorism.
Like people who wouldn’t call vehicle-ramming attacks in England and France acts of extreme Islamist terrorism, anyone who refuses to call the Virginia murder what it was is ignoring the obvious and enabling the violence. We must acknowledge the problem and name the enemy to defeat it.
When President Donald Trump issued a lukewarm condemnation of all hate and violence and made a point of spreading the blame by twice saying “on many sides,” he abdicated any remaining claim to moral leadership in the United States.
Opposing the racist, anti-Semitic, nativist, know-nothing hatred espoused by the likes of Richard Spencer and David Duke now is the job of Congress, the states, local governments and individuals who truly believe in American greatness.
It starts with faith in the U.S. Constitution. We must trust its safeguards to see us through the storms of marches, rallies, protests and their inevitable counters — and we must not try to prevent such demonstrations, regardless of how we feel about what they promote.
We also shouldn’t repeat the kind of anti-speech action that happened at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in downtown Atlanta even as the violence was flaring in Charlottesville on Saturday morning. Supporters of a black Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams, made it all but impossible for a white Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Evans, to address the same crowd Abrams had spoken to two days earlier.
While the neo-Nazis, Klansmen and alt-righters who descended on Charlottesville share a hatred for anyone who doesn’t look, speak, think, act and worship as they do, they also share a repugnance for American democracy and exceptionalism. They hate the Constitution because it stands in their way, which is why we must cherish and preserve its protections, especially the Bill of Rights.
It’s the lack of such a trustworthy, proven document that allowed Weimar Germany to spiral downward into Nazism.
Neo-Nazis thrive in chaos and feed on faux victimhood, the conditions enhanced when well-meaning people talk about stifling the First Amendment. Fascists want the government to suppress protests and decide what opinions are acceptable.
So let them hold their rallies. Let them spew their hate. Let them dress for battle in riot gear — and just ignore them. Record what they say and do, see who shows up, but don’t give them the fight they crave.
Sadly, I suspect that Lexington, Ky., Mayor Jim Gray had the most appropriate response to Charlottesville when he announced that his city would remove its Confederate statues.
My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I had Confederate battle flags in my bedroom when I was young to show that I wasn’t ashamed of them or my Southern heritage, not as an expression of white pride, nationalism or supremacy or some bizarre wish that this great nation of ours remained torn asunder or half enslaved.
But what that Confederate emblem meant to me became irrelevant as I realized how many others saw it as a symbol of hatred and oppression, so those flags are gone.
Also gone is the statue of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard I could see from my grandparents’ old apartment near the entrance to City Park in New Orleans. It saddened me when the statue came down this year because it was tied to 30 years of wonderful family memories.
But if those Confederate monuments are so precious to the people who march with swastikas, attack Jews and other minorities, and want to undo everything that makes America great, then tear them down.