The Ku Klux Klan in America. Graphic: Pixabay The Ku Klux Klan in America. Graphic: Pixabay

US Nazis on manoeuvres is a wake-up call for everyone, argues Sean Ledwith

The vile politics of hate that have characterised the political career of President Donald Trump were horribly visible in the Virginia city of Charlottesville at the weekend. Amid the biggest rally of the US far right for decades, shocking scenes of a car being driven at speed into a crowd of peaceful anti-Nazi demonstrators flashed around the world. 32 year old legal assistant, Heather Heyer, was mowed down and killed, and another 19 people were badly injured. Shortly after police arrested 20 year old James Alex Fields from Ohio and charged him with second degree murder.  Fields had been photographed earlier in the day attending a rally in the city by white supremacist group, Vanguard America. His now deactivated Facebook page allegedly had images of Hitler, the German Reichstag building and other well-known iconography of the far right. Two state troopers were also killed near the same location when their helicopter crashed as they were monitoring the rally. The event had been organised months ago by the most extreme and noxious elements of the re-energised alt-right, white supremacist and neo-Nazi organisations that have long existed on the margins of US society, but which now  perceive the rise of Trump as the green light to mobilise on a bigger scale.  They chose the city as it recently voted to remove a statue of civil war general, Robert Lee. He was the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces that had fought to preserve slavery in the 1860s

Nazi parade

The night before Heather Heyer was murdered, a torch-carrying and baton-wielding mob of hundreds of Nazi thugs had marched in military formation through the University of Virginia campus, chanting slogans such White Lives Matter and Jews Will Not Replace Us. On the day of the Unite the Right march, an estimated 500 Nazis were confronted by twice that number of counter-protestors, including Heather Heyer who had a courageous personal history of tackling racism. One witness commented on the explicitly violent intent of those who came to support the rally:

On command from their leader, the young men charged and pummelled their ideological foes with abandon. One woman was hurled to the pavement, and the blood from her bruised head was instantly visible. Standing nearby, an assortment of Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades — and did nothing.

Driven off the streets

The Nazis had scheduled a five-hour rally in the city’s main park but such was the scale of the opposition from both residents and anti-racist activists that the police ordered the event to be abandoned after just fifteen minutes. The Nazis had brought their own armed security, equipped with KKK flags, batons, automatic weapons and other assorted far right paraphernalia. Many commented on how the US police confront marchers by Black Lives Matter and other progressive groups as if they are entering a war zone, but are hopelessly under-prepared when the far right comes to town. The fact that the Nazis were driven off the streets so comprehensively in a location of their own choosing should be seen as an inspiring blow against America’s revitalised far right.

Trump to blame

The mayor of the city, Michael Signer, identified with pinpoint precision where the primary responsibility for that chilling revival lies. Referring to the occupant of the White House, he declared:

Look at the campaign he ran. Look at the intentional courting … on the one hand, of all of these white supremacists, white nationalist groups…And then look on the other hand at the repeated failure to step up and condemn, denounce, silence, put to bed, all of those different efforts just like we saw yesterday. There are two words that need to be said over and over again ― domestic terrorism and white supremacy…anti-Semites, racists, Aryans, Nazis and KKK members previously had been kept in the shadows….they’ve been given a key and a reason to come into the light.

Calling out Trump

The Mayor was responding to Trump’s hopeless reaction to the killing of Heather Heyer. Trump shockingly equated the two forces that collided at Charlottesville – Nazis and anti-Nazis – as if they were both responsible for her death. Taking a break from golf and threatening to plunge the world into a nuclear firestorm, he said:  We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

Even senior Republican leaders were forced to call out Trump for failing to name and shame the Nazi groups that had stocked the violence. Senator Orrin Hatch tweeted: We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. The far right groups that have flourished since the rise of Trump are not slow to recognise him as a key source of their hate politics. Speaking at the Charlottesville rally, former KKK leader, David Duke commented: We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. 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.

Record of racism

Also attending the rally was another prominent figurehead of the alt-right, Richard Spencer. He is the leader of the white nationalist group, the National Policy Office, who earned notoriety last year when he greeted Trump’s election win with a public Nazi salute at an event in Washington. For American fascists like Spencer, Duke and those who joined them in Charlottesville, Trump’s own racism has legitimated their ideology and given them the confidence to crawl out of the swamp. This President is intellectually incapable of seeing how hollow a condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence is coming from a man who has built a career out of propagating all three. Let’s not forget this is the man who –

– Promoted the birther movement that questioned Obama’s nationality

– Threatened to punch a heckler at a campaign rally

– Insulted the family of a Muslim soldier at the Democrat convention

– Launched his election campaign with a reference to Mexican rapists

– Failed to condemn the KKK when they backed his campaign

– Imposed a travel ban on people from Muslim majority countries

– Denounced the judge who suspended the ban as a Mexican (actually from Indiana)

Of course there’s plenty more examples of Trumpian verbal diarrhoea where that came from. The fascist terrorist attack in Charlottesville  came on the same weekend Britain’s  anti-racist movement commemorated rated the Battle of Lewisham in 1977 that drove Nazis off the streets of South London. Liberals on both sides of the Atlantic will argue the best way to combat racism is to allow its proponents to express their views openly without physical confrontation. The tragic death of Heather Heyer highlights the futility of such a mentality. Her last Facebook post should act as a wake-up call to the new menace of fascism that has been outrageously condoned in Trump’s America:   If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters