Is our ability to tolerate Nazism in the United States vis à vis our First Amendment protections really something for which we should feel an extra measure of American pride, or have we missed a breaking point other democracies have refused to exceed?
In 1924, a KKK rally was held on the property of a Quaker college just two miles from my current house. I’m guessing few actual Quakers were present for the event.
Klan organizers were clearly out for murder and mayhem. Two members of our local police department were shot when they were spotted monitoring the Klan’s activity which had been deliberately located adjacent to the black section of the nearby town. One officer ended up with a bullet lodged in his spine and he died a few weeks later; the other crawled through a swamp after a bullet shattered his ankle. He eventually reached the safety of a neighbor’s house and the residents contacted his department for help.
The local police chief was so incensed that he put out a “shoot-on-sight” order on the head of any Klansman even spotted in the township. Needless to say, the Klan left faster and with far less fanfare than when they arrived. When a member of the chief’s own police department turned out to be a Klan member, the officer was mercifully just fired and permanently ridden out of town — I hope with tar and feathers included.
No doubt our current police chief would neither maintain nor condone a shoot-on-sight policy, but then again, the KKK never returned, so there’s that.
Fast forward to 2017 and the ugly sight of neo-Nazis marching and murdering their way through America with their ridiculous tiki torches and not-so-funny military armor, bats, and guns … and speeding cars.
Holocaust denial, a tenet of KKK ideology, alone is illegal in 16 European democracies. Many have banned Nazi symbolism as well. In some countries, public Holocaust denialism is not only illegal but deemed a criminal offense worthy of prison sentences measured in years. It’s not surprising that those societies in which denialism is most harshly punished were once listed among the primary perpetrators of systematic genocide; societies that ripped themselves asunder by the hate, intimidation and violence they allowed to fester, unchecked.
Understanding what Nazism stands for and its impact on the world has placed its continued existence apart from the normal rights afforded in most free societies, even in nations deemed more democratic than our own. And FYI, the U.S .was rated at No. 21 on The Economist’s “Democracy Index” in 2016 (pre-Trump America).
In many stronger democracies, Nazism is considered a scourge and active danger to the community — a clear call to murder and mayhem. It is considered the equivalent of not just yelling “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded theater but urging that crowd to partake in actual arson.
Holocaust denial and the display, speech, and parading of Nazi thoughts and symbolism are part of the price we pay in order to preserve the “American way.” But what is that price, and is it really protecting the intended spirit of our First Amendment if it infringes on the rights of everyone else? Or simply put, does the right of a group of individuals to intimidate and threaten targeted innocent citizens supersede the right to life of those targeted? I believe the answer to that question was spelled out by Charlottesville citizen Thomas Jefferson, in his famous petition to King George III.
Is our ability to tolerate Nazism in the United States vis à vis our First Amendment protections really something for which we should feel an extra measure of American pride, or have we missed a breaking point other democracies have refused to exceed? After all, these same European democracies once flirted with permanent destruction thanks in part to their own complicity with, or disregard of, the pure evil that Nazism represented — and still represents.
The incident in Charlottesville on August 11 transcended issues of free speech, for it was really a terroristic threat in motion and aimed directly against pre-targeted segments of our citizenry.
We (finally) imposed protective distance minimums on members of the Westboro Baptist Church goons so grieving families could avoid harassment during the funerals of our fallen heroes. How would we react if Westboro members were permitted to walk into memorial services wielding military armor, bats, and guns and began shouting at, intimidating, and threatening the grieving?
Welcome to the problem that was Charlottesville. From the ominous, torchlit, and anti-Semitic, epithet-ridden march through town to the “Heil Hitlers” strategically bellowed in front of a local synagogue, Krystallnacht was threatening a return engagement in Virginia, USA.
Code words and modified symbolism didn’t cover up the stench. Rather, they underscored the fact that the perpetrators of these “viewpoints” have a basic understanding on some level as to just how deranged their beliefs actually are. Hence most see fit, like their KKK brethren, to mask their Nazi identities even while chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” in place of the Third Reich’s call for “Blut und Boden.”
Still, a recent CBS poll showed a landslide 67 percent of Republicans believe Mr. Trump’s frightening defense of Nazi terrorism was the right thing and only 82 percent of Democrats and a paltry 55 percent of all respondents seemed to find anything negative in his handling of the situation. All of which raises a more serious question, for while we’re sitting shakily at No. 21 and dropping on the Democracy Index, how high have we managed to climb on the Idiocy Index?