They want to rule the streets. We can’t let them.

July 24, 2018

Alpana Mehta, an International Socialist Organization member and participant in the huge counterprotest in Boston last August that helped put the far right on the defensive after its violence in Charlottesville, looks at some of the challenges for anti-racists as white supremacists seek again to “Unite the Right” in August in Washington, D.C.

AFTER HEATHER Heyer was murdered by a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 of last year, Donald Trump sneered that there was “blame on both sides” and added that there were “very fine people” among those who marched with tiki torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

One year later, the far-right organizers of the Charlottesville violence have a permit to rally in Washington, D.C., on August 12. They can’t be allowed to spew their hate — in a majority African American city no less — unopposed.

The main organizer of this year’s “Unite the Right 2” rally is Jason Kessler. In the days after Charlottesville, Kessler tweeted: “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million people [sic]. Looks like it was payback time.”

White supremacists like Kessler have been around for years, but Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 and the racist and reactionary policies being implemented by his administration have created a fertile environment for fascists to get a hearing with a larger audience, and begin to organize it.

Nazis on the march during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville
Nazis on the march during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville (Karla Cote | flickr)

The consequences are deadly. In the past two days, two people on opposite sides of the country have been murdered by racists — Nia Wilson in Oakland and Chad Merrill in Pennsylvania.

The same frightening situation exists internationally, with far-right organizations in Europe and other parts of the world, like India, seeking to build organizational relationships.

Whether they call themselves the alt-right, white nationalists or something else, this represents a dangerous resurgence of neo-Nazi and far-right organizing. It is a threat to democracy, the working class and all marginalized people — and it has to be confronted.

How should we oppose the rise of the far right? What are the most effective tactics and strategies to achieve that goal?

MANY PEOPLE believe that confronting the far right means curbing free speech.

The goal of the left should be the expansion of free speech and democracy. In fact, we oppose the far right because it would curtail those rights as soon as it gained power.

But more immediately, the strengthening of the far right means more physical attacks on immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBT people, the disabled and so on. Its growth isn’t just a threat to ideas. The growth of the far right goes hand in hand with a rise in physical attacks on people, including left organizations.

This is clear from this most recent resurgence of the right. In the days leading up to Trump’s victory in 2016, a homeless Latino man was attacked by two Boston men who shouted anti-immigrant slurs along with “Trump was right.” Last year, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by 17 percent over the year before.

Rather than scattered, disaffected individuals who happen to hold bigoted ideas, we are seeing a dangerous growth of an organized far-right movement on a greater scale than anything in decades.

This movement has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, by the green light to ICE to round up and detain immigrants; and by the near-daily barrage of attacks on women, LGBT people and others among the oppressed. The far right also exploits discontent with the economic misery that so many people still suffer a decade after the Great Recession.

This is all a product of the polarization of society in this era. Some of the same reasons that millions of people have taken to the streets to protests Trump’s policies and other failures of the economic and political systems have led to far-right organizations gaining a hearing for their ideas.

They now seek to recruit to their ranks and build their organizations into an active and violent movement.

WHEN ORGANIZATIONS like Resist Marxism, Patriot Prayer or the Proud Boys organize rallies, they often do so under the banner of “free speech.”

But their speech is hate speech. Here’s Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right 2 rally, writing in a 2016 article titled “The End of Identity Politics: To Ensure Peace, Prepare for War”:

[T]he age of innocence is over for whites politically. We are becoming a displaced minority in our own country, thanks to Democrat policies. They tax the hell out of middle-class families who might want to have more children while paying for welfare queens to have five or six babies they can’t support. They provide sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants who flood in from south of the border and import Islamists from the most dangerous countries on Earth. The time for supplication is over. We need to fight back!

If further proof of the right’s violence is needed, witness the coordinated brutality committed by Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys against Antifa and other anti-fascist protesters in Portland, Oregon, in June. The right’s street fighters had trained for the confrontation.

These actions are designed to recruit people to a genocidal ideology and train them in violence.

If we want to stop the growth of the far right, we need to rely on our greatest strength — our far larger numbers — to counter their hateful message and prevent them from reaching people to recruit and consolidate around organizations.

We can’t rely on politicians to stop the right. Whether they are Republicans or Democrats, they consistently lecture us to ignore Nazis, and they’ll go away.

To take one recent example, liberal U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters faced ugly intimidation when she spoke in favor of activists confronting the reactionaries responsible for Trump’s cruel family separation policy.

Waters told the media about the far right’s threats, but nothing more. It was only when activists organized to confront the far-right Oath Keepers — against Waters’ urging to “not be baited into confronting” them — that the reactionaries called off their planned protest.

Similarly, we can’t rely on the police or laws, which are far more likely to protect the far right and instead target protesters.

For example, when anti-racists organized a counterprotest against the Nazis in Georgia in April, police dragged out an obscure anti-mask law as an excuse to arrest anti-fascist activists. Republicans in the U.S. House are trying to duplicate this law at the federal level — they explicitly call it the Unmasking Antifa Act.

WE NEED to use our right to free speech to oppose the reactionaries, including reclaiming our public spaces as fascist-free zones.

Our goals should be to expose the fascists for what they are; mobilize the largest numbers we can in order to drown out their message, and demoralize and splinter their side — and ultimately take back our streets and push the Nazis out.

This is entirely possible. Mass mobilizations have proven to be the most effective way of diminishing the organizing capacity and strength of the far right.

In Boston on August 19 last year — one week after Heather Heyer’s brutal murder — 25,000 people came from every part of New England and beyond to send a message to the 30 neo-Nazis who gathered for their mobilization at Boston Common. We drove the Nazis out of town, and our city was transformed by the experience.

That same weekend, the far right was forced to cancel 60 other demonstrations called under the slogan of defending “free speech” for a bigoted Google employee.

And one week later, several tens of thousands mobilized against rallies organized by Patriot Prayer in San Francisco and Berkeley.

These protests and many more in the wake of Charlottesville last year helped to curtail the growth of the far right. They are necessary every time the Nazi menace rears its head.

We should be confident that millions of people oppose Trump and the right. They are also willing to take to the streets to express their opposition.

More people have participated in protests during Trump’s year and a half in office than ever before in U.S. history. We protested during the Women’s Marches, in opposition to the Muslim ban, to abolish ICE, for Black Lives and to say #MeToo. These demonstrations have had an impact, too, in making bigotry more and more unacceptable for growing numbers of people.

There is tremendous hope in this solidarity. It shows that there are millions of people who are on the right side of history, and who can help to beat back the fascist threat.

An ISO activist who was on the scene in Charlottesville explained in an interview with that the best weapon against the fascist threat is to build anti-racist opposition as widely as possible:

I left Charlottesville more convinced than ever that we need not only confrontation, but overwhelming numbers, and for that, we need to build with solidarity in mind as we organize for these kinds of demonstrations. We need to appeal to the layers of folks who are either too afraid to show up or haven’t yet fully absorbed the threat posed by the far right, and hence make the case why it’s important to mobilize.

Because our only safety is going to be in the kinds of numbers that overwhelm the other side so that they can’t pick us off, so that they can’t just keep us buried in skirmishes, and so they can’t even have cars near us, much less assault us with them...We need entire towns marching when the fascists come to town.

We need more Women’s Marches. More protests to abolish ICE. More struggles for abortion rights, trans rights and LGBT rights. More strikes for better conditions for workers. But we also need mass mobilizations to confront and defeat the far right where it raises its head.

In August, the far right will attempt to mobilize not only in Washington, but in Berkeley, California; Portland, Oregon, Boston and many places in between. They want to revive the legacy of Hitler and cheer on ICE detention centers.

It’s up to us to revive the slogan of “Never Again” and make sure the Nazis cannot advance.

Further Reading

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