14 August 2017

Some thoughts on the Charlottesville riot

Sometimes it's hard to know where to start.  Neo-Nazis instigating murderous violence is not, in itself, terribly surprising.  It comes with the territory of the ideology with which they've chosen to associate themselves.  People who aren't violent probably don't become neo-Nazis in the first place.

What immediately struck me about the attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured many others was that ramming a car into a crowd of people is an established jihadist tactic -- they've used it several times in Britain and France, and nobody had any hesitation in labeling those incidents as terrorism.  The driver in this case may even have gotten the idea from reading about those attacks in the news.

The circumstances fueling our neo-Nazi, Confederate-revivalist, and militant Christian Right movements also resemble those fueling jihadism.  In both cases a culturally-conservative society (the USA outside its urban cores, the Middle East) has for decades seen a massive influx of liberal ideas eroding the dominance of a traditional monoculture, challenging that monoculture's deepest taboos, and shifting the entire society towards cultural pluralism.  In both cases, reactionaries angry and frightened at that loss of dominance are trying to re-assert it by embracing extremist ideology and militance against cultural change.  The demand is, put everything back the way it was before -- before blacks and women and gays started getting uppity, before anti-Semitism became unacceptable in polite society.  Back when our belief system was dominant and no one dared question it.

Next, Trump and his "many, many sides" blithering.  Many, including quite a few Republican leaders, have called him out for his failure to condemn white-supremacist ideology and violence specifically, so it's fair to say there's a broad consensus on this point.  Nevertheless, anyone who is surprised at this is being disingenuous.  Trump's campaign gave plenty of dog-whistles to the racist, Alt-Right element, and stood by them even when controversy erupted.  His inner circle includes people like Bannon and Gorka.  Anyone who has been claiming it wasn't obvious what this means was being willfully obtuse.

But self-blinkering has its limits.  With hours of the riot, everyone had seen those pictures from Charlottesville -- the swastika flags, the KKK outfits, the fascist salutes.  There is no ambiguity about who these people are and what their message is -- hateful rejection of the very humanity of Jewish, black, and gay Americans, identifying with people who exulted in mass murder and other atrocities.  This needs to be condemned as an ideology, independently of whether or not it instigates violence in any specific incident.  Yet Trump wouldn't even do that.

This brings me to the issue of the First Amendment.  A few weeks ago I posted about the principle that free expression must apply even to the most hateful and evil groups.  Yes, demonstrations by actual neo-Nazis test this principle to the limit, and yes, I still stand by it.  It must apply to everyone or it means nothing.  There must, of course, be a hard line between expression on the one hand and violence or harassment on the other, and anyone who crosses that line needs to be smacked down with the full force of the law -- and yes, that also must be applied regardless of who is doing it.

More to the point, harsh condemnation of an ideology does not violate the free-expression rights of its exponents.  On the contrary, it exemplifies how free expression is supposed to work.  Everyone is free to state their beliefs, and everyone else is equally free to express their reactions to those beliefs.  Free societies don't silence people (that's what Nazis do).  As for Trump, if he had followed up his statement about violence with a clear and forceful rejection of neo-Nazi and racist ideology -- as any other President in living memory would surely have done in this situation -- he would not have been infringing the neo-Nazis' First Amendment rights, but rather making it clear where his government stands.  Purging his staff of Alt-Right figures would have done so even more effectively

In a way, of course, his actual statement did make it clear where his government stands.  This is useful information.  In fact, the lack of ambiguity inherent in this whole event further vindicates the value of extending free expression to even the worst people.  It's good that those photos of their flags and Nazi salutes are out there.  We need to know that these people exist and what they believe.  That too is useful information.

A few other blogger reactions:

Hackwhackers has some questions for Charlottesville officials, and for the Trump administration.

Politics Plus looks at our newest domestic terrorist.

Progressive Eruptions reminds us that the national fish is rotting from the head down.

Hysterical Raisins has some strong words for that rotting head.

P M Carpenter, too, calls out the "stinking abomination".

Green Eagle looks at the numbers, and sees both-siderism oozing into view yet again.

From the other side, RedState manages to say what Trump should have said.

From the other other side, there's this.

[Update (10:05 AM):  Trump has issued a new statementUpdate (2:40 PM):  Shaw Kenawe is unimpressed, noting the delay and the fact that the statement was clearly made under pressure.]

[Image at top by Manu Saadia, found via What Would Jack Do]


Blogger Tommykey said...

And what was the hill they chose to fight upon? The vote to remove a status of Robert E. Lee. Because what can be more patriotic than honoring a racist, slaveholder whose actions as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and likely prolonged the war.

14 August, 2017 11:16  
Blogger NickM said...

I have read a few bits about the riot and they are generally on the money. And that is from a variety of viewpoints. You are very on the money. Very clearly the alt-right (I have heard them called the alt-Reich and Vanilla Isis). Let's call it as it is. I dunno the full score and whilst I suspect there may have been rabble rousers on both sides I know full well that anyone who pitches-up clad in Swastikas or KKK garb automatically wants a fight. You just don't wear that unless you are up for fisticuffs. It is apart from anything automatically extremely offensive across a very wide range of the political spectrum.

Oddly enough it reminds me of something... The inchoate rage against life as it now is is Huck Finn's Dad who is a drunken, violent drifter who shames his own son (and that son lives in a barrel) feels cheated because he thinks he deserves to be at the top of the tree simply because he is a white male. I'm a white male but I don't feel violated that there are black lesbian women who earn more than me or are more famous or more whatever.

This was a load of people who have achieved nothing in life but believe they ought to have but haven't and therefore it is the fault of... Well, basically, anyone but themselves. And that is why the rage is inchoate. They hate themselves and externalise it.

14 August, 2017 12:57  
Anonymous Zog said...

Trump does have a strong moral code: the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.


15. Acting stupid is often smart.

28. Morality is always defined by those in power.

82. A smart customer is not a good customer.

144. There's nothing wrong with charity ... as long as it winds up in your pocket.

182. Whenever you're being asked if you are god, the right answer is YES.

237. There's a sucker born every minute. Be sure you're the first to find each one.

14 August, 2017 20:35  
Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

Infidel - I'm curious to see if the Trump regime restores funding ($10M) that they put on hold several months that was meant to counter right- wing extremists (called the "Countering Violent Extremism" initiative. Apparently they would like the official policy to be "Nothing to see here. The only violent extremists we need to be concerned about are Muslims and Black Lives Matter." Needless to say, I won't be holding my breath.

15 August, 2017 08:31  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not the only one who is going to point out that there is a line somewhere between free speech and incitement.

-->If roving gangs of Nazis and skinheads armed with AR-15s and wearing body armor shouting out that they are going to kill the Jews, fags and niggers doesn't cross that line, I don't know what would.

15 August, 2017 15:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tommykey: Yes, because it's a symbol of dominance. Most of these Confederate statues and monuments were put up long after the Civil War, as an assertion of supremacy over blacks, not as a matter of "heritage". And it's the loss of that dominance which is the real problem for these people.

Nick: I've always noticed that most racists seem to be losers in life. They cling to skin color as something they think makes them special, because they have nothing else. Successful people don't need that.

Zog: Unfortunately, since he actually is stupid, he can't apply them very intelligently. No intelligent person, even a racist, would have floundered like he has in his statements bout the riot.

Hackwhacker: Someone should ask him about that, especially in light of the recent thwarted terrorist attack in Oklahoma.

Unknown: We always have to draw the line between speech and action, or at least draw it in such a way as to give speech the broadest latitude possible. If we violate that principle by saying that "incitement" is not protected speech, we'll quickly find that all kinds of people define all kinds of speech they don't like as "incitement".

I want Nazis to be able to wave their swastika flags and give their stupid salutes. I want them to be able to shout "kill the Jews, fags and niggers". We need to know who and what these people are. We need it to be inescapably clear to onlookers who would rather not acknowledge how bad the problem is. We need the reality of the situation to be visible and clear in all its ugliness, so that no one can deny it or obfuscate it -- and so that those who try, like Trump, are exposed with the full evil of what they're doing.

16 August, 2017 01:59  

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