This week has reinforced my belief that it’s not only unethical to punch Nazis, but also ineffective. Punching a Nazi–literally or in effigy–may be satisfying, but if anything, it reduces the number of people who are empathetic to progressive causes. It’s a reactionary doubling-down on rhetoric that indicates that Nazis are so far beyond the general population that we–in the moderate-to-radical left–would not welcome them even if they tried to re-integrate themselves. One of the most chilling developments among post-Trump activism is the way liberals cling to the Nazi-punching rhetoric inspired by the protestor who punched Richard Spencer on Inauguration Day. It isolates neo-Nazis even more deeply in their narrow, self-justifying ideology–and it isolates anti-racist activists from their moral high ground, which was, “we’re all seeking to be recognized as human.” If you want your enemy to love you (or at least respect you), you have to illustrate that you are willing to love (or at least respect) your enemy.
.. The journalist quoted MJ Sharp, “rebels love talking about the past.”
MJ understood that the violent rebels he approached “were nostalgic for a mythical home and aimed to rewind history to a time that never really existed in the first place.” MJ described this as a sense of “dreaming of home”–and those who dream of home are deeply homesick.
.. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, are homesick. For all their violence and their rallies, they don’t really know how to get home, aren’t even sure what home they’re trying to get to, they just know this moment doesn’t feel like home. The stability of this country relies on the mainstream envisioning a future white supremacists can come home to. The vast majority of Americans must remind white supremacists that the past is not the only place to find comfort.
.. Anabaptists are uniquely situated activists–they have the legacy of pacifism, but also the legacy of ostracism, shunning, and doubled-down factionalism. And they have the legacy of white supremacy. And the historical memory of homesickness. Anabaptism in America has all the tools to be bridge-people, to be allies and peacemakers.
.. We need to create a way for white supremacists to come home without violence. We need to envision and offer de-radicalization.
.. Michael Sharp recalls the message that MJ and his Congolese companions tried to deliver to rebel leaders (fighters who had moved into the Congolese forests during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide):
“You… you’re over 50 years old, it’s too late for you to take over Rwanda. But your children are growing up uneducated in the bush. Don’t you see that your children, who are the future of Rwanda, when they go back they’ll be the slaves of those who are there! Because they are illiterate!”
.. they persuaded at least 1,600 Rwandan rebels to lay down weapons. The left–the mainstream–has to use every pacifist bone it can muster to create a message like this, a message white supremacists can hear.
To the older ones: it’s too late for you to get what you dream of, but if you want your children to get that dream, you have to teach them something different. And to the younger ones: You can get back home, but this road will not lead you there.
.. It’s tempting to respond to white supremacy in reactionary ways. But pacifism–true creative nonviolence–is proactive. It sees what violence dreams of, and morphs that dream into something nonviolent, thriving, and interdependent. For Anabaptists to be allied with anti-racism, we must do the work of building exit-ramps from white supremacy. We have to develop the template for re-integration.
The “Unite the Right” rally had little to do with “defending” Confederate memorials, or any particular reading of southern history, however misguided.
.. Two of the billed speakers were anti-Semitic podcasters from New York; another fancies himself an American version of France’s Nouvelle Droite. The Robert E. Lee statue was a MacGuffin — or, rather, he was Antifa bait, and the college town that it happened to be in was just a place where Antifa could be expected to swim. The organizers don’t want heritage, they wanted footage.
.. Really, what they wanted to do was to set a trap for conservatives. The explosive growth of Antifa during the 2016 campaign and since the election of Donald Trump has become a fixture in conservative media. Conservatives had warned that mainstream-media figures were summoning an awful thing into being by cheering on masked left-wingers who punched Nazis. Soon, anyone you wanted to punch would start looking like a Nazi.
.. A spectacle would attract Antifa, who would predictably use violence. Some mainstream-media figures would endorse that violence, and some conservatives, they believed, would feel obliged to defend the ActualFascists because, hey, these left-wing mobs are attacking America’s legal and social norms of free speech. In other words, even if the assorted Jew-haters and fashy dorks can’t persuade conservatives to adopt a “no enemies to the right” posture, perhaps Antifa would.
.. That fact scuttled the rally organizers’ talking point that it was Antifa or poor policing that initiated and caused all the violence.
.. The murder of Heather Heyer was a revelation, and so too was the way that rally co-organizer Christopher Cantwell, met news of her death — by sneering, “The fact that nobody on our side died, I’d go ahead and call that points for us.”
.. There seemed to be a real upside to cultivating a reputation as the edgiest and most transgressive political movement going. You’re free of the pieties that come from longer-lived movements. You look authentic, even fresh. And your stock goes up. But there’s an iron law at work here: As soon as anyone identifiably on the right gets the reward of attention for being transgressive, the Neo-Nazis swiftly show up, and the value of transgressive right-wing politics returns to its true value in America, near zero.
.. Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction. The rally organizers came prepared for violence, and they wanted it. They wanted footage of themselves getting punched and maced so that they could use conservative antipathy to Antifa to erode conservative antipathy to ActualFascists. Don’t fall for it.