America needs to be clear about what happened in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend, even if President Trump is not. This must NOT be dismissed as a case of dueling protests that turned violent on both sides. This was a planned, coordinated act of domestic terrorism by organized groups of white supremacists and neo-Nazis and should be investigated and prosecuted as such.
The people of Charlottesville, who had peacefully debated what to do about a Confederate-era statue, and whose representatives had arrived at a decision, were invaded by thousands of helmeted, torch-carrying thugs armed with bats, brass knuckles, and in some cases firearms. These thugs marched through the streets toting torches, waving banners and spewing chants that were racist, anti-Semitic, and even (“Blood and Soil!) naked evocations of Nazi Germany.
Yes, they have the same right to free speech as every American, but that right does not include the right to violence. But inciting violence is what they did. And they did it deliberately.
Faced with such vile provocations, the decent people of Charlottesville had two choices. They could confront hateful rhetoric and acts of violence with non-violence, or they could fight back in defense of the ideals that America stands for (or perhaps, now, we can only say SHOULD stand for.) Some, including many of the city’s pastors, tried non-violence and were beaten for their trouble. Others stood and fought.
If I were there, and I were a younger man, I would have been one of those who chose to fight back. If the example of Nazi Germany has taught us anything, it is that non-violence is no defense against a determined army of Brown Shirts.
Today, America is reaping the harvest of years of calls from the right to “take America back,” and of racist, nativist, and anti-Semitic dog whistles from too many on the “legitimate” political right. And, yes, America is paying a price for Donald Trump’s own bigoted remarks and acts, and for his occasional calls for racial, religious, and ethnic tolerance delivered with a wink to his many friends in the Alt-right. Whether Trump knows it or not (and I think he does), his words and acts, his example of putting extremists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller into positions of power in the White House, and his paling around with Alt-Right extremists like Alex Jones, have given aid and comfort to this enemy in our midst.
What America needs now is for the organizers of this weekend’s events to be prosecuted for conspiracy to incite violence and conspiracy to commit an act of domestic terrorism. There’s little hope that Trump’s Justice Department will pursue this course, but perhaps we can hope for better from state and local authorities in Virginia. What America needs now is for local and state police to confront the NEXT Brown Shirts invasion (and it WILL happen again) with an overwhelming show of force and mass arrests.
This is a national emergency. If law enforcement does not act decisively, there will be blood in the streets. The very fabric of our democracy is at stake. The American Brown Shirts must be stopped.