You’ve already heard about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. There is already a Wikipedia page for the events (there were multiple pages, but now are being directed to this one). I don’t intend to repeat the news here; I want only to express a few thoughts.
• The President’s Statements
First, I wasn’t shocked, surprised, or saddened by our president’s empty public statements, as many on the left pretended to be. When he repeatedly and intentionally avoided naming Nazis, neo-Nazis, the KKK, or white supremacist views in general, this should have been expected. By now, it’s clear that he is no enemy to white supremacist causes; anyone who has missed this hasn’t been paying attention. Not only was his entire campaign a racist dog whistle, but he has included known white supremacists in his administration and has consistently been supported by the most bigoted people in our country, including former KKK leader David Duke. (After intense public pressure during his 2016 campaign, Trump did eventually disavow Duke.) Duke continues to support the president, and called to him by name during this weekends “Unite The Right” rally in Virginia: “We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do.”
Weirdly, even right-wing sites like Brietbart and InfoWars have specifically named the culprits (source). Both those sites regularly incite the idea that white people are an oppressed minority, but even they recognized the ugliness of what went on.
Meanwhile, the president blamed “many sides” for the violence, never once drawing a distinction between the white supremacists and those who opposed them. If he ever does change his tune (and he might, because he regularly changes tunes), it will only be due to repeated insistence from the public at large. But the damage has already been done; already millions of mistaken people have posted on social media that the counter-protesters are just as much to blame for the violence as the Nazis at the rally.
UPDATE, 15:17: Within minutes of me publishing this entry, the president woodenly and sullenly read a statement clearly prepared by someone other than himself: “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans.” I found it repugnant that he has freely and repeatedly denounced Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, women, prisoners of war, etc. — both in prepared speeches and in off-the-cuff remarks — but when it came to denouncing white supremacists, it took two days of intense public pressure.
• The False Equivalencies
False equivalency is a favorite logical fallacy in situations like this, because if worded carefully it can sound reasonable to the uncritical reader. I’m convinced that most people don’t do it intentionally (because they’re not even aware of any list of logical fallacies, much less what any of them mean); but sometimes the words go together well.
“Black Lives Matter and Antifa must share the blame”, many have written over the past two days. “If they hadn’t showed up, this would have been just another peaceful rally that no one ever heard about.” Most people who wrote this seemed to be copying-and-pasting; I saw hundreds of comments with word for word regurgitation. There are probably websites somewhere that provide regressives with talking points; otherwise it’s difficult to explain how so many wrong people can use the exact same phrases in every discussion.
Regardless, Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) is not an organization; it is a movement that “campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people”. Similarly, Antifa is not an organization; it is an umbrella term to refer to “any militant anarcho-communist associated anti-fascist group”.
Campaigning against violence (BLM) is not “just as bad” as campaigning for violence (the white supremacists). One group wants to improve the fortunes of black Americans by drawing attention to unwarranted police violence. The other wants to eradicate all non-whites from the United States (or the world, depending on which group you read about). Almost no one in the history of the world has equated defending oneself or one’s group with attacking another group unprovoked. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I read hundreds of comments doing exactly that — equating defense with attack.
There were plenty of other false equivalencies, but this was the most common in my experience.
• The Red Herrings
Another argument tactic I saw deployed yesterday was the diversion, or “red herring”. It’s easy to fall for, because the unrelated topic brought up is also something you’re interested in. For example, you’ll be condemning white supremacists, and someone will reply “Then why didn’t Obama condemn BLM for killing police officers?” (exact quote from a conversation yesterday).
First, Obama did condemn the killing of police officers, and also condemned violence of all kinds (which I wrote about in 2014). Second, “BLM” didn’t kill any police officers, because Black Lives Matter is as described above, a movement, an idea that black people shouldn’t have to fear for their lives simply because of the color of their skin. Third, Obama isn’t the president and had nothing to do with the violence in Charlottesville.
But more importantly, to respond as I just did has derailed the conversation. Because the 10-word deflection has already served its purpose, and we’re no longer talking about the Nazi rally in Charlottesville; we’re talking about an entirely different subject. And if you do respond as I did, they can either argue with you about that (knowing they’re now safely off topic) or they can deflect again. You’ve already lost.
• The Victims
I don’t know any out-and-proud white supremacists (I didn’t recognize anyone from the photos taken in Charlottesville either), so I can’t ask them. But I do wonder what they think about the victims. All three people who died over the weekend were white. The woman hit by the car, Heather Heyer, was white. The two Virginia state troopers who died in the helicopter crash were both white. Dozens of others, including people of color, were injured, but they are expected to survive.
Do the members of Nazi groups, Confederate sympathizers, or other white supremacists see those deaths as acceptable collateral damage in their cause? Or do they mourn that they accidentally contributed to the “white genocide” they’re always complaining about? Also: how fucking stupid do you have be to believe either one of those?
• The Silence
I think what saddens me most of all is the number of people who didn’t say anything and won’t say anything about it. I don’t what I expect them to do, exactly. This part isn’t very clear in my mind yet. But I want them to do or say something. Many people (quite a few of them in my family) won’t talk about this unless a question or comment is directed at them specifically. And even then, they’ll equivocate or demur. It’s not that important to them, because they’re white. Or “I was taught not to talk about politics.”
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” And I agree.
Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” And I agree.
In the marketplace of ideas, the idea of white supremacy has been rejected consistently by reasonable people and there is no more reason to hear its bigoted sounds.
• What Happens Now?
I predict we won’t hear much more about this particular rally, except as a single word in future arguments: “Oh yeah? Remember what Antifa did in Charlottesville?” Because this year is not a year of in-depth focus on a handful of important topics. This year is an ever-accelerating race to cover every nonsensical thing our president does and says, and I don’t think for a second that he’s going to stop now and focus on Charlottesville.
What’s going to happen is that later today, or maybe as late as tomorrow, President Donald J. Trump will say something indefensible on another topic, or nominate another completely inappropriate person to his cabinet, or start tweeting about how great his family’s businesses are doing, or brag about the economy — but most likely something that we don’t see coming, because that’s what he does. And we’ll all be pulled away from the emotional scar tissue that is Charlotte and go chasing after something else.