The most frightening thing I’ve ever seen was a group of Nazis standing on an intersection in New Orleans some years ago: middle-aged men and women wearing the classic brown uniforms and armbands with the Nazi symbol. I asked the taxi driver if they were shooting a movie. “No ma’am, they’re Nazis; they’re holding some kind of protest”, he replied. What?! There are real-life Nazis in America? In public?
Yes, there are. And as my friend Paul wrote on Facebook: “Man, those Nazis didn’t just come out of the closet on election day, they came out running.”
Now we have a tragic result – and a clear sign from the US President where he stands, if we weren’t sure before. He stands with the Nazis – and with white supremacists and the rest of these domestic terrorists.
White supremacists – Nazis, KKK, and what some call the alt-right – held a ‘Unite the Right’ rally in the state of Virginia on the weekend. Counter-protestors, who all reports have described as peaceful, turned up to oppose the group’s racism, bigotry and fascism. Skirmishes broke out, and police dispersed everyone. As the counter-protestors were marching down the street, one of the white supremacists deliberately ploughed into them at high speed with his car, killing one young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring many others.
Airplanes have been used as weapons of terror, along with bombs, trucks, and now, as Londoners and Melburnians too have sadly experienced, cars.
President Trump responded to the horrific event by tweeting: “Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!” – a response devoid of sensibility, of appropriateness, of grace, of leadership. He also spoke later from his golf resort and condemned what he referred to as a “display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” He then repeated the phrase “On many sides” – implying in his emphasis that this had been a clash of different opinions, and that both ‘sides’ were responsible for the reprehensible violence.
However, as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican House member from Florida, tweeted: “White supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antithesis of our American values. There are no other ‘sides’ to hatred and bigotry.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia spoke the words that should have come from the President: “I have a message to the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today,” McAuliffe said during a press conference. “Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but patriots.” He later added, “Let’s be honest, they need to leave America, because they are not Americans.”
However, even the president’s refusal to label white supremacy and domestic terrorism for what they are was not quite supportive enough for these groups, who obviously see him as one of their own. David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard, tweeted to the President: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists”. Duke has previously stated that the president’s policies line up with the KKK’s vision for America.
This is scary – and it also makes me angry. How could this be happening – again? Do people never learn from history? And what are our leaders leading the country in to?
Make no mistake, these white supremacists are in Australia too. And, some of our leaders are encouraging them – either directly, or by their wilful disregard for the humanity and rights of people who are not just like themselves.
When people can be dehumanised to the extent the asylum-seekers on Manus and Nauru have been; when people who promote the rights of others are dismissed and scoffed at as ‘lefties’ or ‘the politically correct brigade’; when civil rights become a matter for an opinion poll; when families are torn apart because they tried to escape war, destruction and torture by boat; it is a sign that the powers that be have lost any sense of compassion and caring for their fellow humans.
Virginia terror victim Heather Heyer’s last Facebook post applies now to us all – in the US, in Australia, everywhere: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”.
Ann Byrne was born in Philadelphia, PA and grew up in New York State. She lived in New York City and then San Francisco before moving to Australia some 25 years ago.
Image: Ed Husain/Twitter