“On this Sabbath… in our homes in the midst of our American families, let us calmly consider what we have done and what we must do.”
– President Franklin D. Roosevelt
This introduction to a 1940 fireside chat was the result of troubling times in Europe, and the realization that Roosevelt had come to – that the United States would not be able to avoid that conflict. The fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, and Japan (the Axis powers) were fast becoming a threat to a Country trying to turn a blind-eye to the plight of non-Americans. The isolationists were content in believing that something in Europe was okay as long as it wasn’t happening to them.
Beyond the expansion, genocide and looming threat of the Axis were the fascists. “Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and control of industry and commerce, that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe”.
Wilhelm Reich argued that fascism “does not spring exclusively either from the economic factors, or from the activities of political leaders. Much rather, it is the collective expression of average human beings, whose primary biological needs have been ruthlessly crushed by an authoritarian and sexually inhibited society. Any form of organized mysticism, such as the authoritarian family or church, feeds on the longings of the masses, and we must be forced to realize its potential destructiveness.”
Collective expression of average human beings. I think that we sometimes forget that all great things, all terrible things, anything of note that has occurred in recorded history, started with people – average human beings. Tragedy occurs, and its typically the loss of human life. Dictators rise, but before that, they were merely a cog in the system. Mussolini was a rifleman; Hitler was an Austrian draft dodger.
The anti-fascist movement, ANTIFA, has been receiving a great deal of attention. Fears over the Trump Administration, concerns of racism and, yes, fascism, have prompted the growth of these loosely organized groups. No leadership, no core mission, no real understanding of purpose that’s consistent throughout. It’s a response to what is felt to be wrong. A feeling that we’re all just average human beings, and how some of us are being treated is intolerable.
Nazism. White supremacy. Fascism.
So what to do? Is taking to the street, wearing all black and balaclava masks, carrying signs and weapons the answer? When the frustration boils over, violence is always possible. And the events in Charlottesville, VA, Berkeley, CA, and others show that clashes between ANTIFA groups and Alt-Right or white nationalist demonstrators are inevitable, and likely to be dangerous, perhaps even deadly.
Now I support freedom of expression, and I oppose white supremacy and white nationalist movements. To be frank, the climate in the US right now seems frighteningly like what I imagined the periods of the Civil Rights movement and the era prior to World War II to look like – nationalist sentiments, ethnic slurs, and turmoil.
Is there another way? During the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. trumpeted nonviolent resistance. “While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly impossible goals.”
I would advocate nonviolence as well. To refrain from resorting to “any means necessary,” it is important to remember that it is not antagonism that solves disputes, but in the opposition of error. Dr. King took many of his ideas from Mahatma Gandhi, who had led the Indian independence movement against British rule. It was accomplished through nonviolent resistance, which Gandhi felt was “infinitely superior to violence.” (47)
Gandhi wrote, “On the political field, the struggle on behalf of the people mostly consists in opposing error in the shape of unjust laws. When you have failed to bring the error home to the law-giver by way of petitions and the like, the only remedy open to you, if you do not wish to submit to error, is to compel him by physical force to yield to you or by suffering in your own person by inviting the penalty for the breach of the law. Hence satyagraha largely appears to the public as Civil Disobedience or Civil Resistance. It is civil in the sense that it is not criminal.”
Ultimately, tolerance is needed for this Country to survive. Tolerance of immigrants, and ethnicities, and even political parties. Otherwise it’s just a disparate powder keg waiting to explode.
Hate groups, by their very definition, embody a lack of tolerance, and should be responded to accordingly. Nazis, and Neo-Nazis, are pretty clearly a hate group.
I would rather a group like ANTIFA to not be assailable in their actions – to not have members that may be classified as domestic terrorists. I want an organization, or a group of organizations, that promotes tolerance, that finds creative ways of fighting against inequality.
The violence is a symptom, revealing underlying fears and angers. I get it. I’m just as frustrated. And we can’t look to our politicians, because right now it seems that too few of them are there to help. But aren’t there some other ways of promoting tolerance? It feels as if the heart of the Country is broken, and that there are too few stepping up to help it heal.