It feels surreal that in 2017 there should be demonstrations in favor of white supremacy and nationalism. Did these men study history at all in school? Do they have any sense of obligation to the generation that fought against and defeated Nazism in World War II? Do they think Hitler was a good leader rather than a psychopathic killer? Do they not realize that white supremacy is a direct descendant of Hitler’s superior Aryan race theory? Have they not seen the photographs and films of the concentration camps and the Holocaust? What are they thinking or has hatred so twisted their minds that they refuse to see?
It is just as surreal that we have a White House slow to condemn such hate movements, that advisors to President Trump debated how he should respond to the domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, condemning “violence on all sides”. Equally surreal is that there are people in the White House who are sympathetic to these white nationalist groups.
My father, my aunts and uncles, my grandfather all served in World War II. My father was held prisoner for four years, attempting escape some five times. 16 million Americans served in that war. I have had the privilege to have known many WWII vets through my work as a pastor. They saved the world from Nazism. What is the matter with America today that we should have such hate groups in our midst?
The Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio that “hate speech” is protected under the first amendment to the Constitution, unless “such advocacy is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” That “unless” clause may be wider than first appears since Nazis have a long history of resorting to intimidation and violence. And we must always be vigilant against them gaining a foothold in the political process. Even Hitler was at first a democratically elected leader.
The time may feel “surreal” but we must not let a sense of powerlessness gain ground. Timothy Snyder said in response to Trump’s hesitation to condemn the violence of far-right groups, “if you’re not resisting, you’re partaking”. His little book, On Tyranny, is a challenge to all of us to resist tyranny in any form. I highly recommend it to you for practical things you can do.