There are things Americans can take for granted, things that people in other places can’t do. We have freedom of speech, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to petition our government to redress wrongs, and the right to protest. But no one has the right to terrorize other people.
Groups of gunmen in paramilitary costumes showed up in a university town in Virginia last week at an event organized by neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. The gunmen claimed, as they often do, that they’re members of a militia. But militias are formed for defense and not to intimidate people their members hate. Militias are regulated and operate under the command of legitimate civil authority. This wasn’t a militia. It was just a gang of heavily-armed thugs.
There were Klansmen and neo-Nazis who claimed they were there to preserve European culture from the influences of what they consider inferior races. Does anyone really think these people have any grasp of or appreciation for the traditions of Western civilization? Don’t we all know that they’re only interested in promoting white supremacy at any cost?
Then there was violence. And death.
And then Donald Trump refused (and refused and refused) to condemn what happened, refused (and refused and refused) to say Nazis and Klansman and gangs of thugs were at fault. There were, in his estimation, “many fine people” in their numbers. Klansmen aren’t fine people. They’re Klansmen. Nazis aren’t fine people. They’re Nazis. Gangs of thugs wearing costumes aren’t fine people. They’re gangs of thugs no matter how they’re dressed.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised that Donald Trump ended up saying what he said, that he ended up on the side of bullies who use fear and threats of violence and, finally, violence to promote their agenda of unrelenting hatred. It would have been more surprising if, just once, he’d behaved like a President, like a leader, like a decent human being.
It’s shocking how few Republicans at any level have expressed dismay or even disappointment at what he said or that he and his enablers are contributing to an environment where hatred can thrive.
The neo-Nazis and Klansmen don’t have to make Nazi salutes in private or wear hoods when they burn crosses at secret meetings in the woods. They’ve come out of hiding. They’re entitled to their opinions and their ideas, no matter how heinous they are. They have the same rights the rest of us have, even though they’re trying to trample on other people’s rights. But the things they stand for deserve our scorn, and the scorn of all decent people. We have to stand up to them, not by trying to deny them their rights, but by opposing their ideas, and by speaking out for what’s right.
All that’s necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to be silent.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column. Tom Madden is the DTC’s Chairman.