In the Wake of Charlottesville
September 28, 2017
A Partisan President
Deadly demonstrations of racism and anti-semitism flooded the streets of Charlottesville as President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters protested the removal of Confederate statues in the South. In response to this, Trump took a side: his supporters. The side that shouted “You will not replace us,” a chant targeted at Jewish Americans, the side that waved Confederate and Nazi flags and the side that blatantly tried to kill anti-protesters.
Even if a president may receive harsh opposition from one half of the country and full support from the other, their job is to represent all Americans, not just their voters. Although there were two sides engaging in violence during the protest, the far left and the “alt-right”, it was clear that the “alt-right” was at fault for the vast majority of the violence.
“Most white supremacist and Nazi groups arrived armed like a paramilitary force,” Buzzfeed News Reporter Blake Montgomery said in an article. “Carrying shields, protective gear, rods and, yes, lots of guns, utilizing Virginia’s loose firearm laws. They used militarized defensive maneuvers, shouting commands at one another to ‘move forward’ or ‘retreat,’ and would form a line of shields.”
In Trump’s first press conference after the event, he immediately diminished the violence caused by his supporters.
“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump said. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”
It’s easy to see Trump’s intentions through his first response to this event. Although he later corrected his words and addressed the violence done by the “alt righters,” he shows his immediate bias toward his supporters when he doesn’t have advisors telling him what to say.
It even took Trump two days to denounce the event where an alt-righters car blatantly rammed into counter protesters as an act of violence. The day after the incident, he insensitively retweeted a meme on Twitter showing the “Trump Train” running over “fake news CNN.”
Trump knows that these white supremacists and anti-semites are his loyal voters, and he stays loyal to them to keep them by his side — without care to physical damage or moral damage those racist supporters do to others. And Trump’s failure to condemn violence by his own supporters isn’t new — it traces back to the 2016 campaign trail, where he encouraged violence toward anti-protesters at his rallies.
If Trump continues this loyalty, you can expect violent events like Charlottesville to occur again. His supporters are encouraged to fight alongside their leader while the left is left hopeless and frustrated. He gives his supporters confidence, suggesting that they are allowed to lash out, and that it’s the patriotic thing to do because it’s in favor of the President’s agenda.
If Trump could condemn his supporters at Charlottesville, he would diminish violence and hatred between the two political sides and achieve more peace throughout the country going forward.
After the protests in Ferguson, Missouri due to an instance of police brutality, Obama immediately addressed violence on both sides of the issue. While he said that the protesters had a reason to be mad, he condemned the violence caused by it.
“There are productive ways of responding and expressing those frustrations, and there are destructive ways of responding,” Barack Obama said in a press conference after Ferguson. “Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk — that’s destructive and there’s no excuse for it.”
Unlike Trump, Obama is not oblivious to the violence caused by his supporters and denounces it, rather than suggesting more polarization between the two sides. Obama sees everyone as people he represents — that’s what he and presidents before have demonstrated, and it’s an essential trait of a leader.
The U.S. has not seen such a polarized political atmosphere in a long time, due to the fact that we have previously elected presidents who are experienced politicians and leaders, not businessmen. If we don’t learn from these events or find a common ground between the two sides, a second term of this madness is inevitable.
An International Perspective
My name is Maximilian Weirauch. I was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany and I moved to Los Altos and began attending LAHS in January 2017. The events in Charlottesville reminded me of my childhood and alerted me of the dangerous direction our nation is heading in.
As a child of a German father and a Russian mother, I have a different understanding of patriotism than what I have observed from my American peers. Habits that are completely normal for many U.S. citizens, like wearing T-shirts with an American flag or having a U.S. flag in the front yard, are unimaginable to me.
In Germany, patriotism is rarely expressed in the vibrant manner that I have experienced here. Even though the U.S hasn’t always made the correct decisions in the past, Americans are proud of their history. Germans — not so much. As opposed to Americans, we try to distance ourselves from our past. Americans are proud of their history, and many believe everything America does is the correct and best choice. This ideological problem is the underlying issue that catalyzed the riots in Charlottesville.
When I heard about the events in Charlottesville, I became concerned about America’s transition to a more hateful and racist world. By intensifying the nationalist collective consciousness and the construction of a “we” against the “other” attitude, man-contemptuous ideologies, like the belief that white people have more value than black people, are experiencing an upswing. Its consequences are, among other things, plagues and attacks, which can end in deadly cases like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
I became unsure what the goals of the protesters in Charlottesville were and what message they wanted to carry after seeing how some protesters were rallying with Nazi-Flags, Hitler salutes or anti-semitic remarks. These protesters cannot possibly understand the history and meaning of the swastika, or they really believe that white people have more worth than any other race. This belief has to be condemned by society. Even with freedom of speech rights, these deeply racist beliefs cannot spread in public.
When seeing these pictures from Charlottesville, I remembered one experience which transformed my mindset about racial hate. It was the day I visited the concentration camp, Neuengamme, and had the chance to talk to a survivor of a concentration camp who lost her parents and siblings during the Holocaust. I walked on the path hundreds of thousands of young, innocent people, like me, had walked before me. But I could go home in the evening, hug my parents and tell them how much I love them. Six million people never had the same opportunity. All this grief, pain, and suffering evolved from racism. In Germany, radical nationalism caused the Holocaust, and when I see it in the U.S. so intensely, it causes me to shudder.
Today, Neo-Nazi’s are rallying in cities across America, spreading hate and racism in a world, masked under “freedom of speech.”
The brazen display of hatred under the false flag of patriotism has become so accepted in our society that we almost see it as tolerable. Because of Germany’s devastating history, people are not proud and more careful about racism, trying to move away from their stereotype as “Nazi-Germany.” In the U.S., because people are proud of their history, they are less mindful of minorities.
In Germany, people are highly careful about any event where a minority is a target of any kind of racism. In the U.S., this is different. People are not that cautious about their history and racism, and people do not clearly condemn racism as people in Germany do.
Most importantly, the U.S. president does not clearly condemn these racist marches. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, has shown indignance at the right-wing extremist riots in Charlottesville and the racism displayed.
“This is terrible, it is evil,” Merkel said in August 2017. “This is racist, right-wing violence. We must act with all its might, no matter where in the world this happens.”
We, as humans, have to remind ourselves, more than ever before, that we are all created equal, equal in our rights and free in our beliefs. We must stomp out this white supremacist trend from the very beginning. We, as well as President Donald Trump, should clearly distance ourselves from the belief that white people are worth more than any other race or ethnicity, to avoid repeating our history.
Guest Writer: Eitan Weiner
Here’s my take on the events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia:
- Nazis are disgusting wastes of space for whom I have no sympathy for. Period. But, we live in America, and as long as this country abides by the Constitution, those Nazis still have a right to assemble, shout anti-Semitic slurs, promote racial hatred and wave Nazi/Klan/White Knight flags.
One of the common questions raised when debating the rights of these animals is “Is it okay to punch a Nazi?” According to the Constitution — the lens for all of my political beliefs as a constitutional conservative — the answer to that question is no. This leads me to my next point.
- Contrary to what many are saying, “hate speech” is free speech. I put hate speech in quotes not because I don’t think it exists, rather it is not a legal term that has any real weight in a courtroom. The heart of the First Amendment is specifically to protect “hate speech.” The Founders wouldn’t have felt it necessary to have the protection of free speech for commonly accepted speech; it was specifically designed to protect the most controversial of speech. The only speech that is not allowed in the U.S. is speech that explicitly calls for violence.
Obviously, there is a moral argument to be had about speech, and I want to give you my take on socially acceptable speech. I don’t think anyone, under any circumstance (unless it’s in an obvious, joking manner), should spew racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic or white nationalist speech. These types of speech are not productive in a society that relies on verbal communication.
- Violence is bad, no matter where it comes from. Aggression from Nazis and white nationalists is unacceptable, that goes without saying. Yet it still astounds me to see how there was a limited presence from the police and a late show from the National Guard. When hate groups are exercising their First Amendment rights, the last thing you want is to allow them to have contact with violent people on the other side, Antifa. The violence could’ve been avoided if the police separated the Nazi and the anti-Nazi protests.
Trump’s failure to denounce Nazis and white nationalists emboldens them. As they have openly expressed, Trump is “their guy.” They voted for him, they support him and they feel empowered by his silence.
The same is true on the left: the media failing to recognize any wrongdoing from Antifa only emboldens the radical left. It sets the tone for the future and tells violent leftists that their violence will be tolerated as long as it’s directed at anyone associated with the right.
Yes, I realize that we’re talking about Nazis and, no, I’m not drawing a moral equivalency between Fascists and Antifa. But the fact is that the outcome of both groups’ actions are the same: violence. In contrast to what the current political climate might have you believe, you don’t have to take one extreme side or the other. You can condemn Nazis while also condemning Antifa for their antics. Antifa have a history of suppressing free speech in the name of defeating “Nazis.” The problem with this is that their violence is directed at a broad group of people (peaceful protesters, conservative speakers and Trump supporters), not all of them being actual Nazis. Clashes in Berkeley and Sacramento are two prime examples of the kind of un-American sentiment that this group is fostering. Also, if it wasn’t for the heavy police presence in anticipation of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s talk at UC Berkeley, more people would have been hurt as police arrested nine weapon-wielding young men and women associated with Antifa.
This leftist group’s violence doesn’t help advance what many on the left claim is their goal: progress. I have no qualms with counter protests of Nazis or even protests against conservatives in general; exercise your right all you want. But violence simply isn’t helpful when it comes to politics, especially when many of their targets are not violent nor do they pose a threat to other’s safety.
I feel that we should condemn all acts of violence and set the tone for how politics should be played. An America in which political clashes are fought with fists instead of voices and the open exchange of ideas is not an America I want to live in.
The Next Step
In a country where political dissent has become the norm, it’s rare for a protest to capture the public’s attention for more than a split second. However, through blood and violence, the Charlottesville rally did. The counter-protest was seen as a moment of unity and bravery, and in the few weeks since, counter-protests have become a regular occurrence at “alt-right” protests nationwide. People standing up for justice is incredibly important, but is yelling curses and throwing punches the best way to get the liberal message heard?
Counter-protesting was once an effective way to fight hateful causes — peaceful and united, counter-protesters stoically opposed violence. The image of one side raging and the other serene made it clearer in the public’s eyes who was on the right side of justice.
But black and white situations like this rarely exist anymore.
Today, it seems nearly impossible to keep a cool head when so many people’s lives seem to depend on opposing white supremacists. When faced with torch carriers and confederate flag wavers, human instincts kick in and all chances of a peaceful counter-protest can seem lost. Counter-protests that turn violent not only defeat their intended purpose but they also give white supremacists ammunition to continue their crusade.
Public organizations have taken a stance on the issue — some ask counter-protesters to stay far away from rallies, others say it is critical to be there and show your opposition. The Anti-Defamation League firmly stated that people should not engage with protesters under any circumstances after armed protesters surrounded a synagogue in Virginia.
When people do engage with protesters, the demonstrations often turn ugly, as shown by the rally in Berkeley in August. The rally was originally a counter-protest against an “anti-Marxist” march, but this march was cancelled due to safety concerns. Counter-protesters then made the rally into a protest of their own, peacefully standing up against the “alt-right.” But when leftist group Antifa arrived, the rally turned chaotic. The group, known for its violent tactics, created such a commotion at the Berkeley rally that police had to escort white supremacists to their cars in fear of their safety.
In cases like this, white supremacists are given the chance to play the victim and garner sympathy. When counter-protesters are viewed as violent intruders, they lose their purpose and give white supremacists the attention they need.
White supremacists are also given a platform to spread their message when their opposition counter-protests in droves and attracts the media. Though the media doesn’t agree with white supremacists, when reporters interview them or show footage of the protests, they give them the ability to get their message heard, spread their hate countrywide and expand their ranks.
Though getting right in the face of white supremacists might feel like the clearest way to make your voice heard, there are more productive methods to get your message across. When a German town became the unwilling host of a yearly Neo-Nazi march, the residents turned the march into something positive, pledging to donate 10 euros to an anti-extremist group for every step marchers took. They spun useless hate into something productive and peaceful, something we all must strive to do.
If a white supremacist rally is planned, host a different, peaceful protest across town instead of directly protesting their views. Have your protest celebrate unity, tolerance and diversity. Instead of simply denouncing the way white supremacists act, set an example for others to follow. The best way to get your message heard is to be calm, composed and nonviolent — everything the “alt-right” is not.