It was a year since the march of the Naxos, tiki torches in hand. The media geared up for it. The cops put on their finest riot gear. The Antifa wore their blackest blacks and the protesters were worked up into a lather.
It was supposed to be the start of another show of force by white nationalists: Unite the Right 2, the follow-up to last year’s disastrous and violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, which concluded with a Nazi sympathizer ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring several and killing one.
But Dan, who said he was a supporter of “peaceful” ethnic cleansing, was the only white nationalist to be seen at the march’s starting point, the Foggy Bottom metro station.
This was around 5 pm, when the march was supposed to start toward Lafayette Square for a two-hour rally. I asked Dan, who said he had turned 19 on Sunday, where his friends were. “I don’t know.” What are you going to do now? “I don’t know.”
Are you afraid of Dan?
This is Dan from Long Island. Dan believes in “peaceful cleansing” of Latinos and blacks from the United States. He turned 19 today. pic.twitter.com/wBplDshIxn
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) August 12, 2018
Reports vary, which seems odd given that most reporters can count to 21 under the right circumstances, but all seem to concede that the vast numbers of Naxos who want to destroy other people’s humanity by genocide didn’t show up. Maybe they couldn’t get their beer bellies into their khakis? Who knows? The point is that the nation geared up for an enemy that failed to materialize.
So how to make a story out of nothing?
But even with the low turnout, almost no one walked away with the sense that the nation’s divisions were any closer to healing.
Indeed, the streets of downtown Washington were charged on Sunday with tension, emotion and noise, particularly in the afternoon, as the right-wing agitator Jason Kessler and perhaps 20 fellow members of the far right — some wearing bright red “Make America Great Again” hats, some draped in American flags — marched under heavy police escort from the Metro station in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood to their barricaded and heavily protected rally area near the White House.
Poised for a takeover of the nation to impose their white supremacy? They were, to be modest, outnumbered.
They were surrounded by a vast, rolling plume of counterprotesters, who hurled insults, waved middle fingers and chanted “Shame!”
In Washington, the mere threat of another large turnout from the far right, coupled with a large turnout from the far left — among them, hundreds of black-clad, masked and helmeted anti-fascist protesters known as antifa — seemed to indicate that the United States was not over its turn toward European-style politics by street protest.
It was barely worth the effort to make a cool sign to signal one’s virtue.
In fact, counterprotesters outnumbered white nationalists by the hundreds at the DC rally — to the point that some counterprotesters left early because it was kind of boring. As I arrived at the counterprotests, one of the people leaving said that there “aren’t enough Nazis to troll.” So she took her sign — a mock-up of a Confederate flag with “losers” written along the flag’s stripes — home.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an enemy worthy of hatred, deserving of the fury of the counterprotesters, the Antifa, the media obsessive attention.
Of course, this does not mean that racism has been defeated and all is well in America. It has, after all, only been a year since Charlottesville. That’s a year since Donald Trump, as president, said that there were “some very fine people on both sides” at the Charlottesville rally, in which one side contained literal neo-Nazis. And that followed a campaign for the presidency in which Trump made all sorts of racist remarks, from characterizing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists to suggesting that all Muslims should be banned from America.
There is no question that there are white supremacists, racists, in America. Some people would contend that all white people are white supremacists, so the fact that white people exist is more than sufficient to prove the horror of racism. But few contend that inside every white person is a Naxo waiting to salute the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Every movement needs an enemy. The more feared and hated, the better. And from there, it’s a tiny slippery step to do whatever needs to be done to eradicate that enemy. We’ve seen it in the War on Drugs, when fear of crack gave rise to mass incarceration, mandatory-minimum sentences, ever-increasing evisceration of constitutional rights, sentences of life plus cancer. We’ve seen it from super-predators to satanic panic, from sex offender registries to commie blacklists.
In retrospect, after the hysteria abated, we realized it was nuts, dangerous and ridiculous, but at the moment, when we were swept up in the passion of fear and hatred, we happily rooted for our rights to be eliminated if it served the greater good of destroying the enemy.
So some mope named Kessler, whose name you would never know if it didn’t appear in a thousand posts about an event that was so puny as to not warrant a mention in the local Patch, and maybe 20 of his nutjob pals, are elevated to mythic status to be the enemy of the moment to the thousands of unduly passionate woke protesters, ready, willing and able to write the First Amendment out of the Constitution because these pimpleboys must be stopped.
But, at least for today, the white nationalists couldn’t field enough people for an actual rally.
But just in case they could, let’s do as much damage to the fabric of a nation in the name of goodness. After all, the enemy is literally Hitler and we can’t possibly let the handful of fruitcakes win. Isn’t it worth our constitutional rights?