Monuments to Oppression: Civil and Uncivil Wars
Mark Twain had been working on a book, but had reached an impasse, and he set it aside for some years. Then on one of his numerous trips down the Mississippi, he had a sudden realization: the promise of America envisioned by our Founders would never come to pass until we had dealt with the race problem. He went back to the unfinished manuscript, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1885. As the recent tragedies on Aug. 12th in Charlottesville, VA should show us, we’re still dealing with it, and not very well.
The focus now is on confederate statues and monuments, and whether they should be removed from public places. A couple years ago it was the confederate flag hanging from state capitols and courthouses. Nearly all are gone today, but flags are one thing, and tons of stone or brass are another. Both celebrate the idea of white supremacy, despite what the traditionalists may say about preserving history. If you visit Germany you will not find any statues or memorials to Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, or Joseph Goebbels. And displaying the swastika in public or making the Nazi salute is illegal. I know, this isn’t Germany. So then what? Take down statues of Washington and Jefferson because they owned slaves?
The issue in Charlottesville was the city’s plan to remove the statue of General Robert E. Lee. He may have been brave in battle, but he, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Jeb Stuart, and all the other southern heroes were all traitors. They raised arms against their own country, in order to preserve the enslavement of another people. To celebrate them, to me, is un-American. But there over 718 such monuments and statues, 12 of which are displayed in the halls of Congress. Over 100 public schools are named after confederates. Are we going to take them all down, and change all the names? What about Stone Mountain, in Georgia? It covers over 3 acres and is larger than Mt. Rushmore. If we re-label them as, say, traitorous dogs, it would create more problems than it solves. I heard a good idea, I don’t remember where. Leave them all there, but attach a placard to each: “Second Place — Civil War.”
Shouldn’t they at least be absent from public places, like courthouse lawns or parks? I’d be fine with putting them in museums, as part of an educational display. For defenders of these statues and monuments who cry “Political Correctness!” while unaware of how deeply offensive these things are to other people, I propose a compromise. If they want them to remain in place, then we get to erect other statures and memorials that reflect the views of many more Americans. How about a monument celebrating the right to same sex marriage, as endorsed by the Supreme Court” It would be a statue of two men, kissing passionately, locked in a fierce embrace. I liked Bill Maher’s idea of a statue of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, taking a knee during the national anthem. All that said, I wonder if we’re treating the symptoms, rather than the disease.
Much more concerning is the growth — and I mean growth as in a malignant tumor — of the white supremacist movement in the last decade. Rather than a giant step forward in race relations with the election of the first black president, it brought racists out of their dark holes. There was a fungal bloom of Right-wing hate groups. Then another white supremacist named Donald Trump used their xenophobia and rage to ignite his campaign. Now that the son-of-a-bitch is President, he has as much as endorsed their behavior, encouraging them to come out into the daylight. He helped legitimize and embolden them.
The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally was on Saturday. The night before, they marched across the campus of the University of Virginia, a school founded by Thomas Jefferson. There were about 200 of these neo-brownshirts, carrying Tiki torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” This last is the English version of an old Nazi slogan, ‘blut und erde.” They were all white guys in their 20s and 30s, a veritable river of raging testosterone. Huge crowds chanted back, “No Hate. No KKK. No racist USA.”
On Saturday they paraded down the main street, most of them armed, with helmets, shields, and clubs, and swastika flags. They were intimidating, and you could see they were spoiling for a chance to crack some heads. There was pushing and shoving and some violence, but that’s all, until a guy plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and wounding 19 others (an ISIS tactic). I call them all Nazis because that’s what they are. If you’re marching in a parade that has swastika flags, don’t blame people for thinking you’re a Nazi. Two state troopers also died when their helicopter crashed. A black school teacher, DeAndre Harris, was viciously beaten with sticks by six white thugs. And what did our poor excuse for a president say? He condemned bigotry and violence from “many sides, many sides.” To be fair, he said this before the car incident, but over the weekend he got fierce criticism from many sides, many sides. On Monday he sluggishly read a prepared statement in which he specifically mentioned white nationalists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. It had all the passion of warmed up spaghetti.
On Tuesday, at a press conference on infrastructure, he not only doubled back on his Saturday statement, but went further: “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? I don’t know if you know, they [the alt-right] had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.” Well of course — Nazis always have their paperwork in order. And the counter-protesters didn’t have o permit, unless you count the First Amendment. This kind of false equivalency, equating Nazis with those against Nazism, is an old fascist tactic. They try to provoke violence, then cry the victim. Anyway, Trump got more shit than a honey bucket at the county fair, except from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who tweeted: “Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists.” On Friday, the 18th, six days after she died, the “Unite the Right” organizer, Jason Kessler, tweeted: “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.” He later apologized, saying he’d been on Ambien, Xanax, and been drinking. He said he’d been getting death threats; I can’t imagine why.
What happens next? Is this going to be the new normal? Nazis marching in our streets? It doesn’t look like it. On Aug. 19th, a week after Charlottesville, there was a “Free Speech” rally in Boston. It was permitted for only 100, and no weapons. Less than that showed up, and they ended up huddled in a gazebo, surrounded by 40,000 anti-hate protesters. Tens of thousands came to other anti-hate rallies in a dozen cities, because Americans will simply not put up with this shit. These Nazis may have Trump’s endorsement, but hardly anyone else’s, and I think they’re starting to get the point. Other “free speech” type rallies have been canceled. Time for them to crawl back under their rocks with the other cockroaches.
On Aug. 14th in Durham, NC a crowd of people toppled a confederate statue. A few arrests were made, and the next day 100s showed up at the police station to confess, and to be arrested. They were turned away. Also in Durham, early the following Saturday the 19th, the statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from the iconic Duke University Chapel.
Overnight on the 15th in Baltimore, four confederate statues were quietly removed, including statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Roger B. Taney. Taney was the Supreme Court justice who authored the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which denied black Americans the rights of citizenship.
Overnight on Sunday the 20th at the University of Texas in Austin, four confederate statues were quietly removed.
In Houston the next day, a man was arrested for trying to plant explosives in another confederate statue. That’s unfortunate, because violence and provoking violence are tools of the Nazis, and we shouldn’t stoop to their level. When they go low, we go high, right? Ridicule is a much more effective weapon.
Racism is America’s original sin. It’s part of our national DNA, so it may take another 400 years to get past it. I hope not. The Right or alt-right may always be with us, but we have to draw the line at fascist movements. They use the same playbook as 1930s Germany, Franco’s Spain, and Mussolini’s Italy. I have a message to all the Nazis, neo-Nazis, and would be Nazis out there, baying at the moon. White people are about to be in the minority, and that freaks you out. I understand that. But you need to know that the first humans appeared in Africa, and that’s a scientific fact. Some things are true whether you want to believe them or not. That means all you animals on the alt-right have the blood of black people in your veins, and probably some Jewish blood, too. So put that in your ethno-state and smoke it.