A good way to combat idiocy is to turn up the volume and do nothing. Sometimes, it seems, people forget this. They let anger get in the way, and they combat idiocy with idiocy, thereby clouding their cause in contradiction.
A prime example of such a scenario occurred on April 20 last year, when neo-Nazis made a futile attempt to hold a rally in Minneapolis. Demonstrators like the University-affiliated Anti-Racist Action group, egged on by Mr. Skip Humphrey himself, proceeded to chase the cue balls across the street, throwing punches and knocking out car windows, thereby effectively running them out of town.
At first glance, this may seem like a noble endeavor. The problem is, merely running them out of town only pushes the bubble of neo-Nazism to another town rather than popping it altogether.
When you think about it, the demonstrators had no faith in the intelligence of the Minnesota community at large. By running the riff-raff out of town, they must have thought the skinheads posed the threat of a contagious idea. Instead of allowing the idea to nakedly expose its foolishness through the megaphone of the media, they succeeded in simply silencing it. This is the kind of short-sightedness that fosters the weak, but nonetheless bothersome, faction of neo-Nazism.
But perhaps this sort of reaction is understandable. If I recall, most of the demonstrators were white Americans. White Americans have a lot to be insecure about in regard to race relations, which maybe explains in part our tendency to overcompensate by reacting to bigots in a careless, inconsistent way that ultimately hampers the cause of race relations.
This is why the ongoing Pennsylvania trial in which a black lawyer is defending the free speech rights of a Ku Klux Klan grand imperial wizard is a brilliant landmark in race relations.
Barry Elton Black, a Pennsylvania KKK member, contacted the American Civil Liberties Union after authorities forced his Pennsylvania-based group to lower the 30-foot burning cross from a field next to a state highway. David Baugh, a black ACLU lawyer, volunteered to take the case.
Baugh claims the case is strictly a First Amendment issue. If Mr. Black’s right to burn crosses is banished, he says, then one’s right to speak on behalf of organizations like the Knights of Columbus is jeopardized as well.
Considering Americans’ predominant disgust with hate groups, this claim might, in reality, be far-fetched. The racial implications, however, are enormous. Baugh’s choice to take the case has put the media spotlight on an organization that usually prefers to remain unseen. (The KKK’s subtitle, in fact, is “The Invisible Empire.”)
Fascist organizations in the United States are so insecure about the logic of their philosophies that they realize exposure leads to detriment. An article in a KKK Web site acknowledges this truth by warning its readers not to speak up in public.
“Come out into the open if you are not ashamed of what you believe in,” is the rallying cry of the liberal. What they really mean is, “Come out and let us take a better shot at you!” A better way to put it, however, is, “Come out and shoot yourself in the foot again.” Human rights activists need not fire any shots in the war against hatemongers. The hate groups’ biggest enemy is their own friendly fire.
Along with their newspapers last Thursday, many Boyertown, Pa., residents found propaganda packets depicting such images as a black man in chains. The local KKK organization distributed the literature in hopes of acquiring new members. Its only achievement was the sparking of considerable media attention and disgust. Endeavors such as this spawned a local organization called “Project Lemonade,” an anti-hate organization that accrued $15,000 in donations to support organizations like the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation league. Several residents also expressed concerns about their children being exposed to such material.
David Goldman challenges this. He has formed a Web site titled, “Hatewatch,” which he hopes can be used as a “pedagogical tool” for kids and adults alike. The idea of the Web site is to simply track and collaborate Web sites promoting hateful ideas like anti-semitism, gay bashing and white supremacy, thereby exposing their ridiculous logic to the world.
These hate group Web sites, in themselves, are designed more to preach to the choir than to attract non-believers, so the authors wish to keep the sites rather low-profile and cult-centered. Goldman undermines this by simply centralizing all the sites, offering no additional analysis, as he figures the hate speak will speak for itself.
“If you take cockroaches and you shine a light on them, they freak out. They scurry away,” Goldman says. This analogy seems to ring true. As an example, the Cybernet Nationalist Group, an anti-gay organization, cut its connection to the site because no supporters were connecting to it from Hatewatch.
Organizations Like the University-affiliated Anti-Racist Action group from the Twin Cities and the Anti-Defamation League should take note of such cases as Goldman’s Hatewatch. As it stands, they sometimes fail to recognize the potency of facilitating the broadcasts of hate-filled fools.
For instance, Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, openly lambasted Tim Russert in a New York Times ad three weeks ago for allowing Minister Louis Farrakhan to spout hate speech on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and accused Russert of “not attacking Farrakhan.” Maybe this is why: In one of their interviews, Farrakhan maintained, among other ridiculous notions, that Monica Lewinsky was part of a Zionist plot to overthrow Clinton as punishment for the unbudging stance he took with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in the Middle East peace talks. What more needs to be said? To challenge this idea is to dignify it, just as enacting violence upon rallying neo-Nazi’s is exactly the fuel that starts their engine.
Creative, unpredictable cases like David Baugh’s defense of a Ku Klux Klan member’s right to free speech accelerate the progress of race relations in America by making fools of racists. Those who wish to muzzle them are merely freezing, if not facilitating, racist movements. Maybe David Baugh can set a precedence for a new, craftier form of activism.
The next time a racist/fascist is barred from trumpeting oppressive philosophies to the public, the oppressors should protest with the fascists in the name of free speech and consistency. Like the Baugh case, this will attract media attention and inevitably force hatemongers to somehow explain why they want to oppress the very group of people who are supporting their First Amendment rights.
If Barry Black is interviewed, what can he say? Something like, “People must listen to Mr. Baugh when he says I have every right to burn crosses.” Sounds like suicide to me.
Rob Kuznia’s column appears every Tuesday. Send comments to [email protected]