On Charlottesville

In Volume 95, Issue 3 of The Quadrangle, printed on Jan. 31, 2017, I contributed an opinion-editorial article titled “The Punch is Not the Problem”.  Within the piece, I urged Americans to loudly and overwhelmingly reject Nazism, a subject brought about after white supremacist Richard B. Spencer was punched in the face.

I ended the article with a call to action, which stated, “Make your voice heard, and assert to this new administration that America cannot and will not become a place where white supremacy is even the least bit acceptable.”

My own words haunt me as seven months later, on Aug. 12, 2017, I watched Nazis march in the streets of Charlottesville, Va.

I was horrified and refused to believe that it was happening – and in America, at that.  But I was shaken to my core when I learned that a counter-protester by the name of Heather Heyer was killed in an act of terrorism by a white supremacist at the rally.

I will not deny that the American presidency is a difficult job, but condemning acts of hate should be one of its easier components.  And yet, somehow that was a tall order for President Donald J. Trump.

The leader of our country and of the free world struggles to condemn the people that our uncles and grandfathers fought against in World War II.  For some of us, our families were survivors and even victims of the genocide that took place at that time.

It is not at all difficult to say, “I condemn any and all acts of white supremacy and don’t want the vote of anyone who believes in such a reprehensible ideology.”  And yet, he failed to say it.

But at the end of the day, the safety of American citizens like Heather Heyer does not matter to President Trump.  Clearly, all he cares about is getting re-elected, because he refused to condemn an ideology to which several of his voters subscribe.  He did eventually use the words “white supremacy” and condemn the actions of the protesters, but only after widespread media and public outcry.

The main issue people had with President Trump’s original statement was how he condemned violence “on both sides” of the protest.  There is no “violence on both sides” in this situation.  The white supremacists killed an innocent woman that day.  The counter-protesters did not.

Belligerence is not the same as murder, and false objectivity is propaganda.  There are some things we as journalists cannot afford to be objective about.  And Nazism is one of those things.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a prominent leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, said, “In the end, we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  President Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy by name is anything but insignificant.

So how can we as Americans stand up against Nazis, since we can no longer rely on our administration to do so?  Attending a counter-protest or joining the “antifa” movement isn’t for everyone but there is more that everyone can do.

One of the most effective ways anyone can stand against hate is through education.  Educate yourself on the history of anti-Semitic and racist persecution, particularly the atrocities committed by the German Nazi Party during the 1930s and 1940s.

One of the best places this can be done is at the American Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City.  The museum is described as “a living memorial to the Holocaust”, and I was fortunate enough to visit recently.

As I travelled through the museum, I came upon a display case filled with eyeglasses, and learned that they were taken from prisoners upon their arrival at the concentration camps.  I was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of them, stacked higher than I thought possible.

Anyone can tell us that 11 million people were killed in the Holocaust.  But illustration really works best.

I had to sit down as I was overwhelmed with the realization that every pair of eyeglasses represented a human life taken by Nazi ideology.  And that is what the people marching in Charlottesville want.

We as journalists have a more intense obligation than anyone else.  We provide a powerful platform for people to speak and for people to be heard.  Nazis should not be among these people.

I already know what many people will say.  They will say that I as a journalist should champion free speech.  But then I am haunted by the image of those eyeglasses, and to them, I say, “No.  Not for Nazis, and never for Nazis.”

Stokely Carmichael, a  prominent leader of the both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, once said, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem.  If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s his problem.”

White supremacy always has been a problem and always will be a problem.  The real issue is the fact that Nazis now feel safe enough to march in the streets with torches.

By covering Nazis, we are giving them power.  And by refusing to cover them, we can take it away.  Yes, they can spew their racist, anti-Semitic bile as much as they want.  But we remain under no obligation to cover it.

There is no need for investigative journalism pieces to ask who the “alt-right” are and what they stand for.  We already know.  Many of us know too well.

Free speech only extends to the point where violence is instigated.  Clearly, enough was said to incite the terrorist in Charlottesville to kill an innocent woman.

The Nazis marching in Charlottesville are smart enough not to yell “kill the Jews” at their rallies.  But in my opinion, they don’t need to say anything.  The swastika that they raise says it all.

There is no such thing as a “peaceful Nazi protest”, because the ideology itself is founded on principles of violence and eugenics. Those eight straight lines call for racial and ethnic genocide.

I urge anyone who argues that Nazis should enjoy the same rights as anyone else to visit the museum that I did.  Look at the eyeglasses that I did and remind yourself of what they represent.  Nazis kill, and by covering them, we are fueling them.