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We All Live in Charlottesville

Aug. 15, 2017
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Photo credit: Rodney Dunning

It hasn’t been difficult to write about major political issues in Milwaukee and Wisconsin even though, as many friends know, more than a year ago my wife, Kit, and I moved to Charlottesville, Va.

In the era of dangerous political extremism in which all of us are now living, Americans everywhere are facing exactly the same issues. That is especially true after the deadly, violent weekend in Charlottesville that has many friends asking us what we got ourselves into.

One of my best friends in life e-mailed from California: “Nice place you moved to. Got your white hood yet?” I assured him, yes, he was right. It’s a very nice place. That’s exactly why it’s suddenly a target of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and more ugly, racist, anti-Semitic, white supremacist hate groups than most decent Americans ever knew existed. White supremacists don’t like progressive Southern college towns with community leaders who vote to move a sacred statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a Downtown park and change the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park.

 

Taking Our Country Back? 

But folks in Wisconsin and everywhere else aren’t going to be sheltered from these vile groups for long; they’re coming out from under their rocks. Take it from David Duke, the virulent racist former Imperial Wizard of the KKK you probably thought was dead. He’s not. He was in Charlottesville Saturday to stoke the violence.

“We are determined to take our country back,” Duke vowed. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump.” Klan members and other white supremacists coming to Charlottesville, often openly carrying handguns and long rifles, weren’t wearing their silly white hoods this time. Now many wore silly red hats bearing the slogan: “Make America Great Again.” 

The Lee protest was just an excuse for nearly 20 hate groups from around the country to throw themselves a “Unite the Right” hate rally in Charlottesville. The real purpose was to brandish guns, spread fear in the community and listen to each other spewing racial and religious hatred. That was clear the night before the rally when torch-bearing marchers gathered outside a church across from the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, shouting threats at out-of-town and local clergy attending a service inside making plans to help keep the peace.

The marchers with flaming torches then proceeded to an outdoor campus rotunda chanting “You will not replace us!” and an anti-Semitic variation, “Jews will not replace us!” They even revived an historic Nazi German slogan, “Blood and soil!” popularized by Adolf Hitler’s agriculture minister equating farming with racial purity. And, yes, they shouted: “Heil Trump!”

Could there be a more perfect example of hopeless losers than an angry mob of ignorant racists creating an ugly scene on a university campus to proclaim their desperate desire never to be replaced by more intelligent, more tolerant, better educated young people? They will be, and America will be better for it.

 

What About Trump?

There’s an obvious bond between white supremacists and the president whose successful, openly racist campaign revealed their numbers to be far greater than many decent people realized.

When a white supremacist from Ohio sped his car into a crowd of pedestrians sending bodies flying into the air, killing one woman and seriously injuring 19 others, not even that was enough for the president of the United States to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis—also known as his core supporters. Instead, Trump issued a generic, inaccurate message: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” There was only one side displaying white racial and religious hatred in Charlottesville and committing deadly violence. Every decent American is on the other side.

Even Republicans were embarrassed. Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said it best: “White nationalists, white supremacists, they’re not a part of anybody’s base. They’re not a part of this country. They’re a part of hatred, they’re a part of evil, and we need to stand up to that.”

But a few individual Republicans calling on Trump to say certain words doesn’t change anything; Trump’s words never mean anything, anyway. Steve Bannon, a driving force behind the white supremacist “alt-right,” remains Trump’s chief political strategist. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in charge of investigating domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, continues to dismantle civil rights enforcement and back voter suppression. House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of those Republicans attacking the white supremacists in Charlottesville, jitterbugs frantically back and forth between criticizing Trump and his ugliest supporters and passing legislation to please them. 

But until the Republican Party actually ends its once subtle but now open pandering to the racial and religious bigotry of white supremacists and neo-Nazi extremists, those violent hate groups will be coming soon to a community near you.

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