I have to admit that the title of this blog post still seems more appropriate a title for a future book in The Defenders Saga than it does about the serious content I intend to capture today.
Look, I get it. They’ve never really disappeared. They’ve held rallies for years. So have the Klan. And a whole bunch of other folks we really would rather sweep under the rug with an embarrassed look on our face, as if to pretend we’ve cleaned up the worst of our history.
And actually with that in mind, the fact that these folks have held public rallies for years now, one may be tempted to question why the one in Virginia three weeks ago (I know, I’m behind the times. I was on vacation) was so different.
The easy answer is that someone got killed. Someone got ran over by a car because they disagreed with the sentiments of someone else.
Of course, there’s a lot more which goes into all of this. The stakes on racism have risen greatly in the past few years. We, as a nation, have been forced to become more aware of the serious issues at hand for people of color through movements such as Black Lives Matter, while the many different groups who band together under the Alt-Right banner have become much more vocal about how they feel that White Lives Matter More.
Over 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr was shot on his hotel room’s balcony, we’re still fighting the same battle this country has been fighting since it’s inception: Are all men actually created equal?
But the stakes have gotten even higher than that. Why were so many alt-righters gathered together in the first place? To protest the removal of a statue of Confederate hero General Lee. Well, there were probably a few other items on their reason list, but this was the primary excuse. This landmark was added to the list for removal in part as a response to the shooting in a Charleston church 2 years ago.
So, taking a step back for a moment…a protest to keep a statue which was being removed due to an act of violence, ended in violence.
Actually, you can take a step back even further a look at how these alt-right protesters came to rally. They came with guns. Big guns. And shields and sticks and torches and armor and…They came to show force. Not a force of will. Not a force of people. But a sheer physical force. One of violence. One to show that they weren’t to be messed with.
There may even be a place to question why local law enforcement didn’t respond to these protests as they had in Dakota, with water and tear gas and other forms of non-lethal deterrents. I can’t speak for Virginia, but our cops around here don’t generally carry semi-automatic rifles for basic crowd control. My guess is that they had no idea of how to cope with the militia which appeared in front of them.
And, to be completely fair, the counter protests weren’t exactly all hippy peace, love, and flowers. They may not have carried the weapons, but chants like Kill All Nazis definitely don’t send a positive message. And yes, I know, we’re talking about Nazis, positive messages are not necessarily deserved. I’m merely stating that the air was filled with the scent of blood before any blood was shed.
There are so many questions about our country which should arise out of these events in Virginia. Questions like whether weapons should be considered okay under the right to assemble. Questions about whether these Confederate memorials truly should continue to exist. Whether they should be considered offensive tributes to a period of racism or a remembrance of our own history.
And…most importantly, questions about who we really are as a nation.
In the social media aftermath of the tragic event two weeks ago, many of my friends began stating things like how Nazis and White Nationalists and Confederate Sympathizers shouldn’t be allowed the same freedom of speech as we give the rest of our country. My immediate response was to recoil at the idea of censoring the public. Then I took a step back to consider what this might actually mean. What if we were to flat out tell people that this type of discussion weren’t allowed. Germany outlawed the swastika after World War II, would it be so bad if we were to do the same with the Confederate flag?
So, first, no matter how I look at it, telling people they aren’t allowed to express their opinions is treading on thin ice. But I think we can all agree that threats of violence simply shouldn’t be allowed. There does appear to be some inclusion of this in how we perceive the First Amendment, but not necessarily directly. However, with that thought in mind, both sides of this battle would have already found themselves on the wrong side of our freedom of speech banner. Stating that all Nazis should be killed is the same as saying all PoCs should be killed. It’s a threat of violence and would not be allowed under this consideration.
But can we truly censor what we allow the people of our nation to talk about? Can we say it’s illegal to say whites are better than blacks? When you begin to censor, you open the floodgates for further censoring. It is an unquestionably terrible belief to think that one race is superior to another, but you’re also setting a precedent which could used in ways which may not be so great. We already have a president in office who has removed all discussion of climate change from federal literature. What if he were to say that it were illegal to talk about it entirely? I can’t help but think of the McCarthyism of the late 40s and early 50s. It’s a dangerous road. One we’ve gone down before. One I would hate to see us go down again.
But what about the centerpiece of this rally? What about the symbols and memorials and flags?
There’s a lot which goes into the history of the Confederate States of America. Yes, it’s quite easy to simply boil it down to slavery, as that was certainly a keystone of the Civil War. And, unfortunately for the discussion of allowing such things to continue, white supremacy seems to be one of the major supporters of this symbol today. As such, whether or not there is a great deal of history behind the Confederate flag, it has been taken as a symbol of racism and oppression. And of violence. Then again, a debate could be had to say that the American flag itself also stands as a symbol of such…but that’s for a different discussion.
So, the question should be, why are we removing these symbols of the Confederacy? As a statement that we are above slavery? Above racism? Or is it to, as I stated before, sweep under the rug a moment we want to forget? Many people label these symbols as being offensive, which is certainly a viable label as well, especially when folks such as the alt-right utilize them as symbols for their cause.
So then the greater question is: is there any reason to keep them?
One of the secondary reasons for secession which led to the Civil War was about the very topic of free speech. The South, whether or not their reasons were on the right side of history, feared the loss of their voice in the Union. And when they saw themselves as being completely lost, they began the largest protest of them all. And it led to violence. Terrible violence. From both sides. Violence which ultimately led to a decision which ended up bettering our country, even if we’re still working out the details 150 years later.
I can see wanting to take down these monuments to this moment in America’s history. In many ways, the secession of the South could be seen as an act of treason. Yet, it could also be seen as the greatest example of our First Amendment our country has ever seen.
And by now, you’re probably wondering where my answers to these questions are. I’ll admit, I don’t have very good ones. I’m filled with questions myself.
But if I were to be backed into a corner and asked how we should look at these situations moving forward, I would state that there are some things our country can do to avoid similar situations in the future. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of open carry (or concealed carry), but I think it should be easy to agree that bringing guns or weapons in general to a protest should be considered illegal. Sure, these things have turned into riots all too often in recent years which may make one want to protect themselves, but that, to me, makes it even more important to help keep these things from escalating further by bringing weapons into the mix.
But I hesitate on how much further our country itself can go in litigating these moments. We can choose to take down the monuments to the Confederacy, and there is good cause to do so, but I think the rest of it relies on us, the people. The Civil War occurred for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it happened because our country saw itself as two different opposing factions, instead of a community of people. Now, I’m not saying that it’s even all that possible to go head to your nearest Breitbart subscriber and discuss with them the merits of equality, but maybe we need to be able to realize that there is something there. That there is a reason they exist. I’m not suggesting they exist because one race is actually better than the other, but that there is a reason they believe these things. That whether they were brought up to believe these things as a kid, had a bad experience with a person of color which led them to this conclusion, or perhaps just found a group which accepted them and are along for the ride, there is something which causes these people think this way.
And as is true with enacting any change of heart, violence or litigation or just plain yelling very infrequently does the trick. The Civil War is a great example of this. The Union may have won. Slavery may have been abolished. But we’re still fighting that same fight today because the hearts of the people haven’t been changed.
Are there purely evil people within the alt-right movements, people who are just simply lost causes and should be thrown away into the fire, people who are beyond conversion, beyond saving, beyond caring about? Possibly. But they too are going to be difficult to change through hate.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be angry. We have plenty of reason to be angry. We SHOULD be angry.
But sometimes we also need to take a step back, take a breath, and use a little empathy to figure out what makes these people tick, to figure out why the heck they might think the way they do. To determine what could get a man to think driving his car through a crowd of people who think differently than him is okay.
A person doesn’t change their mind or behavior simply because you make it illegal for them to think the way they do. They change their mind through empathy and compassion, through seeing things in a different light. You make it illegal and it will just get louder.
There will be more violence before this is over. And we will need many people on the side of equality to be willing to fight those battles. But we need even more people who are willing to fight the battles of the heart. To work with our friends and neighbors to convince them that these ways of thinking are pure garbage.
Sorry, this is a really long post today. I’ve long battled with the image of the Confederate flag. I don’t consider myself a racist, but the history behind this image is immense. At the same time, so is the history behind the swastika. And both images hold some incredibly similar connotations, at least when it comes to oppression/genocide of an entire race. Yet there was also a certain callback to the Revolutionary War held within. An ideal, even if its main support was that of slavery, that we, as a people, have a voice and should have a voice…which is, of course, hypocritical when you recognize how these same people flying this flag were unable to consider a great portion of their population as people with a voice.