Friday night, Aug. 11, 1,000 neo-Nazi white supremacists marched past the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
They were armed (for Virginia is an open-carry state). They were prepared for violence with clubs and shields. And they carried torches.
Officially, they were there to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, but their real goal was to demonstrate that they were not just an Internet movement, but also a physical force that was ready to show strength and garner support.
The torches, of course, were meant to bring forth images of Ku Klux Klan marches and the burnings and lynchings that spread like fire.
Their slogans — these young white men, well organized and full of hate — began militaristically with harsh grunts of “Hu! Hu! Hu!” and morphed into “You will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” “Whose streets? Our streets,” and “Blood and soil.”
“Blood and soil,” as a marching chant, is the translation of Hitler’s blut und boden, which means, of course, “only Aryan blood belongs on this land.”
This night they did not wear masks, but many an American flag with a Nazi swastika superimposed on it was waved, a rallying point for others like them, unabashed saber rattling.
Ethnic and racial slurs were spit out at the counterprotesters like knives.
The next morning, a neo-Nazi white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at 80 mph, injuring dozens and killing a woman named Heather Heyer.
Who were the counterprotesters? Blacks. Jews. Asians. Whites. Priests. Imams. Pastors. Rabbis. Senior citizens. University of Virginia students.
Who were the counterprotesters? They were all of us.
I’m not here to talk about the merits of leaving or destroying symbols of the Confederacy that, for many, spark memories of enslavement, rape and unspeakable pain. We Jews know the swastika. You don’t need hateful symbols explained to you because you understand it in your kishkes.
I’m not here to talk about the legal permit that the neo-Nazis had obtained to march, a permit that the counterprotesters did not have. Nor to debate whether we need permission to protest those who would seek our annihilation.
I’m not even going to begin the conversation about President Donald Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville or his claims of equivalency.
These topics are worth talking about, but I’m choosing not to here.
What I do want to talk about is that 1,000 Nazis marched through a university town, and they were pleased with everything that went down.
The speaker for Unite the Right is a white nationalist named Christopher Cantwell, who told a reporter for Vice that he and his group were there to show that they were more than an Internet movement and could organize openly in a physical space.
Asked whether they were a nonviolent movement looking to demonstrate peacefully, Cantwell said, “We are not nonviolent. We will f—ing kill these people if we have to.”
Robert Ray, who runs the neo Nazi website the Daily Storm, spoke to the reporter about the reason why 1,000 people were marching with torches, guns and Nazi flag: “We are showing this parasitic class of anti-white vermin that this is our country, built by our forefathers. … It is going to remain our country. … Today, our people are coming out. Today, we greatly outnumber the anti-white, anti-American filth. … We will clear them from the streets, forever. We are starting to slowly unveil our power level. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Asked about the intentional hit-and-run that killed Heyer, Cantwell showed no remorse. He said, “The death of Heather Heyer was justified. … I think that a lot more people are going to die before we are done here.”
This is an outrage. It is appalling.
Before our very eyes, what has been scoffed at, laughed at and excused as “the margins” for 40 years has emerged in broad daylight, unmasked, to rally national attention with bullhorns, guns and vitriol dripping from their tongues. My friends, this threat is real.
I am not scared. And if I am honest with myself, I am not surprised. Yes, I am sad that we once again are fighting battles that we thought were won long ago. I’m sad for our kids, and I’m sad that we have to deal with this.
But deal with it we will.
We have learned, we Jewish people, what happens when we stay silent in the face of Nazi ideology. Charlottesville is our Kristallnacht.
The other American minorities, and good people of the majority, know that in Charlottesville, the line was crossed. We need to stand up, reach out for allies, and, shoulder to shoulder, show no daylight. This message is being preached loud and clear:
- Hate has no place in our streets.
- Hate has no place in these walls.
- Hate has no place in America.
We are not alone. We are as one, and this connection has awoken sleeping people all across our great country, awoken us like a sleeping giant.
Hineni: We will be ready to act as our history and as our ethics demand that we must. We will not be silent in the face of anti-Semitism, racism and evil. We will not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor, nor will we stand for our own blood to be shed.
Torah empowers us for times like these with the words chazak chazak v’nitchazak. Be strong. Be strong. And through one another, be strengthened.
Rabbi Spike Anderson is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El (templeemanuelatlanta.org).