Neo-Nazis in Your Streets? Send in the (Coup Clutz) Clowns

In Olympia, Wash., in 2005, a march of about a dozen brown-shirted neo-Nazis was met by protesting clowns, goose-stepping, Nazi-style. Hundreds of counterprotesters turned the occasion into a celebration of diversity and unity.

.. Two years later in Knoxville, Tenn., residents countered a white supremacist march with a hastily assembled group calling itself the Coup Clutz Clowns. The clowns pretended not to understand the shouts of “White power!”

“White flour?” the clowns cried, throwing some in the air. “White flower? Tight shower? Wife power!” For wife power, some of them put on wedding dresses.

.. Responding to far-right demonstrators with mockery originated in Europe, where one outstanding recent example took place in the German town of Wunsiedel. Unable to dislodge annual marches with ordinary counterprotests, the town took a new tack in 2014. For every meter the neo-Nazis marched, the town donated 10 euros to an organization that helped people leave right-wing extremist groups. Residents hung silly signs along the route and threw confetti at the end, leaving the neo-Nazis responsible for raising $12,000 against their own cause.

.. Here’s what white supremacists want to do when they stage a rally:

• Legitimize their views.

• Strengthen their self-image as part of the downtrodden.

• Unite their squabbling factions.

• Attract new people to the movement.

• Control media coverage.

• Feel powerful and heroic.

They can accomplish all of those goals when the Antifa, or anti-fascists, respond to violence by throwing fists or rocks.

“For the far-right groups, violence is central to their way of looking at the world,” said Peter Simi, associate professor of sociology at Chapman University. “The idea of having violent confrontation and conflicts fuels and energizes them. They feed off it.

“It also helps perpetuate their own narrative about victimization and persecution —‘Look, we can’t even have a free speech rally without being attacked.’ ”

.. After all, which plan is more attractive to young macho men? “We’ll face a small group of masked tough guys” or “We’ll face a large number of men, women and children wearing silly hats and big red noses”?

..  A good joke creates a memorable, clear message, allowing the protesters to reframe the issue and attract supporters. Humor engages people on an emotional level and — if it is not meanspirited — it can open them to your messa

.. the Barbie Liberation Organization could. A small group of pranksters bought Teen Talk Barbies and Talking Duke GI Joes — and switched their voice boxes. Then the toys went back onto the shelves.

.. “Eat lead, Cobra!” surgically altered Barbie said. “Vengeance is mine!”

.. The members used the media to magnify their effects. When they repackaged each toy, they included a phone number to call “if you experience problems with your doll.” The number was really that of a local television news station.

..  GI Joe’s macho aggression and Barbie’s obsessive mall-visiting and dream-wedding-planning had been internalized by society. The gender switch suddenly made them visible and revealed their absurdity. And it was unforgettable.

.. “People remember stories much better than they remember information,” Bichlbaum said.

.. Bichlbaum often impersonates a representative of corporate interest to announce good behavior — as it did with the W.T.O. The spoofed organization must then, embarrassingly, deny it.

.. One of the group’s common tactics was to mock the state through exaggerated obedience.

.. The police found themselves in a conundrum. They couldn’t let the protesters continue. But by making arrests, they acknowledged that no one could possibly believe in the Communist orthodoxy — and anyone who said they did must have been joking. Most Poles already knew that, of course, but the Orange Alternative forced the state authorities to make it visible.