On Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, unapologetic racists marched in the face of local and national opposition. They carried torches and chanted racist slogans like “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” Our correspondent Nathan Guttman, a seasoned political journalist, was shaken by the experience of covering it.
To this our president responded by condemning what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
Let us be clear: Hatred and violence has appeared not on many sides, but on one side.
Contrary to the words of the president, the hatred, bigotry and and violence come from the side of those who wear white hoods and chant anti-Semitic slogans. The hatred and violence come from those who deliberately drive cars into groups of counter-protesters. The hatred and violence comes from those who constantly spew racism on social media, those who repeatedly picture Jewish journalists in gas ovens and those who threaten with rape women who stand up for their beliefs on Twitter.
These sad individuals and groups, commonly known as the “alt-right,” are a dangerous minority. Their hateful practices, speeches and ideologies need to be called out and opposed.
But even they are not the real threat.
The real threat is that the moral majority of this country will not be heard. That the very institutions of the republic that safeguard freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are themselves being trolled. The real threat is that the good, decent folk of America who might not be affected directly by this public rise of American white supremacy will not put their bodies and names on the line to say “This is wrong.”
Already the commander in chief has looked at an American city in the 21st-century where racists chanted Nazi slogans and, seemingly, deliberately killed a peaceable demonstrator, and he has refused to condemn either their ideology or their actions.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” is the great promise that America has held up in the face of monarchs and despots. When a branch or two of government swerves or threatens to swerve from its responsibilities, it’s crucial that the people — of whatever political belief — stand up to demand what’s right.
Today, that means to face up to the social media bullies, the street racists, the purveyors of fake news and those who benefit from the politics of fear. And to say enough with this hate and division.
The time to stand up is now. The millions who marched for women’s rights need to show that, rather than the solidarity of a single day, that was the beginning of a mass political demonstration for basic political decency. This is no time to be a bystander.
Facebook, Google and Twitter need to take further steps to prevent the dissemination of hate speech, racist lies and libels, rather than hiding behind the First Amendment and their share price.
When the Black Shirts tried to march in London’s East End they were met and stopped by the anti-fascists at Cable Street. When the neo-Nazis tried to march in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977 they were met with legal and social protests that stopped them marching there.
Charlottesville can — and must — be as legendary in the fight against our current “alt-right” racists.
The Forward, the Anti-Defamation League and The New York Times have all documented the rising tide of racism and its ties to the Trump campaign and then the Trump White House. Today we saw white supremacists holding up their arms in the Nazi salute, saying, “Heil Trump.” The explicit fanning of bigotry and anti-Semitism by a president with Jewish grandchildren is abhorrent, but this is not Nazi Germany.
It is about the United States of America, home to millions of Jews and people of color. Something unacceptable happened today, and we must unite against it and hold our leaders — but more important, ourselves — accountable.
Democracy means, literally, people power. Hundreds of millions of people in this country may disagree on the details of how to take this country forward, but nevertheless believe, along with President Washington, that we should give to bigotry “no sanction, to persecution no assistance.
To those people, I say march loudly and peacefully in the streets for as long as it takes. We applaud those who went to Charlottesville to speak out against the neo-Nazis, because that’s the right way to counter their vile ideologies. Put your bodies on the line, not just your email address on a petition.
Demand that the private corporations that run search engines and social media platforms are held accountable for the hate speech they promote.
Make it clear that, like the governor of Virginia and the mayor of Charlottesville, white supremacist behavior and ideology are unacceptable.
And, most important, make it clear that elected politicians must condemn hatred and bigotry when it appears in their constituency. Read what was said in Virginia by the “alt-right” and then make sure your representatives — no matter what party you or they are from — condemn it on behalf of your constituency in the name of human decency.
This country belongs to Americans of all colors and creeds. We cannot allow the faction that marched under the banner of hate in Charlottesville to steal it.
Dan Friedman is the executive editor of the Forward.