Her name was Heather Heyer. She was marching for justice in Charlottesville when she was killed by a white racist. Say her name.
His name was Timothy Caughman. He was walking down the street in New York City when he was killed by a white racist. Say his name.
Their names were Ricky John Best and Taliesen Myrddin Namkai-Meche. They were riding a train in Portland when they saw a Muslim woman and her friend being threatened. They stepped forward to protect them and were killed by a white racist.
Their names were Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Wharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. They were studying the Bible in a Charleston church when they were killed by a white racist. Say their names.
And say the name of the real murderer, the one who sent agents out to kill: white nationalist terror.
It took real bravery for Heather Heyer to march that day. And it takes bravery just to be black or Muslim or Jewish or gay or trans in the United States, where the threat of violence hangs over every walk down the street, every ride on a train, even a Bible class in a great and historic church.
The Words Donald Trump Won’t Say
Last year, Donald Trump insisted that it was important to name your adversary. “Now, to solve a problem,” Trump said in an October 9, 2016 debate, “you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. (Hillary Clinton) won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror.”
It’s your turn, Mr. President. Say the name: White nationalist terror.
There were nearly twice as many incidents of white nationalist terrorism as Islam-related terror in the United States between 2008 and the end of 2016, according to one analysis. But instead of standing up to the terrorists, Trump has refused to even name the threat. He refused again when he was asked about the violence in Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer, making this now-infamous comment instead:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
Leaving aside the bizarre “many sides” construction – Trump somehow turned a two-sided confrontation into an ethical hypercube – the meaning of this comment was not lost on most observers: The President of the United States deliberately refused to make a distinction between actual Nazis and other self-proclaimed racists and the people who were opposing them because … well, because they were actual Nazis and self-proclaimed racists.
The Nazis were happy with Trump’s statement. The “Daily Stormer,” an amateurish neo-Nazi website – imagine a student newspaper published by the feral kids from William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies – wrote, “Trump’s comments were good… Nothing specific about us.”
Trump refused to acknowledge the violent death, at the hands of a white supremacist, of the 32-year-old woman who was peacefully exercising her rights of free speech and assembly. He has remained silent as we have learned more about the killer’s openly pro-Nazi statements and his attendance at a fascist rally in Charlottesville before he killed Heather Heyer.
The Nameless Ones
There is one name we will not say today: the killer’s. When you face a pack of wild dogs and one of them goes for your throat, does it really need a name?
The rally the killer attended was organized by a group called Vanguard America. The name, which is undoubtedly meant to be bold and intimidating, sounds more like a midsized insurance brokerage. Its members look like they work in one, too, except for the canine rage on their faces.
Vanguard America is openly fascist in nature and has been actively involved in anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim efforts. Their putative complaint in Charlottesville was the renaming of a park that had been dedicated to Robert E. Lee, the military leader of an armed rebellion that was waged against the United States of America in order to protect and preserve the enslavement of human beings.
Lee’s statue is scheduled to be removed as part of that process. That’s as it should be. Robert E. Lee had no historical connection to Charlottesville, and his statue was not even built until nearly 60 years after the Civil War had ended.
“Historical value”? 35 new Confederate monuments have been built in North Carolina since 2000. That’s not history. It’s hate. These parks and statues aren’t relics of the past. They’re racist declarations in the present.
Names like Robert E. Lee should not be honored in the streets and parks of a free and democratic nation. They represent the violent suppression of an entire people.
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They represent white terror.
Will the Real Donald Trump Please Stand Up?
The killer, like his fellow pups, wore a white shirt and carried a shield at the rally. Although they’re clearly trying to look fierce, this sorry-ass group of scrofulous child-men looks more like a gaggle of extras waiting to go onstage in an elementary school production about pirates.
But don’t let their nerdy, self-evident inadequacy fool you. It is that very inadequacy that makes them dangerous, as it has made generations of fascists before them dangerous. They have something to prove, which means they need someone to prove it on.
If their doughy, pasty bullying forms remind you of someone, that’s no surprise. They share those traits with the man who now sits in the Oval Office. Did Trump equivocate because he’s too cowardly to confront them? Did it seem like filial disloyalty to condemn the men who walk in his father’s KKK-friendly footsteps? Is he a secret sympathizer?
Trump wouldn’t say the words “white nationalist terror,” even after some of his fellow Republicans spoke out. “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio. “It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.”
“We should call evil by its name,” tweeted Sen. Orrin Hatch. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Sen. Ted Cruz described the racists as “repulsive and evil” and called on the Justice Department to investigate a “this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”
When you’ve been owned on social justice by Ted Cruz, you’ve really been owned. But then, Donald Trump has been flirting with white nationalism for a long time. He said this in Poland, for example:
Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory … Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.
Those “bonds of history, culture, and memory” are the ones that bind white Europeans to each other against the rest of the world. “The West” is white Europe. Everything he describes as “ours” is white and European, including the “civilization” that white supremacists is under attack from black, brown, and non-Christian hordes. It’s no surprise, then, that Trump’s election has caused elation among white racists.
If Not Us, Who?
The fascist Richard Spencer understands what the president is saying, and can say it a little more directly. “We will not be replaced from this park,” Spencer said last May. “We will not be replaced from this world. Whites have a future. We have a future of power, of beauty, of expression.”
Sorry, Dick. We’ve heard the “Horst Wessel Song” and it’s not that beautiful or expressive.
As for that “future of power,” it’s clear that the president has a rhetorical addiction to the language of violence. His apocalyptic words about North Korea came straight from the “Triumph of the Will” playbook. “Fire and Fury” – it sounds like a Leni Riefenstahl movie. Violent language sets the stage for violent action.
So, how do we resist the fascist impulse? Lady Gaga started a hashtag, #ThisIsNotUS. That’s a nice thought and a way to start a conversation, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Yes, Heather Heyer is “us.” But so is Vanguard America, and so is Donald Trump. So are the Republicans who occupy all three branches of the federal government, along with most of our state houses and governorships. The same Republicans who have used openly racist imagery for more than fifty years, and have actively suppressed black and brown votes to preserve their power.
Mass incarceration is “us,” because most of us have stayed home when it’s protested. Wall Street is “us,” too. It has enjoyed the protection of both parties as it once again engages in racially-biased banking practices. District attorneys from both parties have looked the other way at systematic patterns of police violence against community of color. They’re “us,” because we elected them.
If racism is not “us,” then wet haven’t done enough to bring it down.
Racism is the curse of the majority, and only the majority can end it. It lives in our homes, our houses of worship, and our neighborhoods. The killer’s racism was invisible to his mother, who told a reporter that her son couldn’t be racist because he had a black friend. We need to ask ourselves: What is still invisible to us? What are we blind to: as white people, if we’re white; as straight people, if we’re straight; in all the many ways we are members of the dominant tribe and not the ‘other’?
That blindness creates the dark spaces where hatred grows.
But awareness is only the first step. We must resist it, too — by marching in the streets, by demanding change, by rejecting violent speech whenever we hear it, and by stepping in to defending people when they are under attack.
‘Many sides’? There are only two sides here: Right and wrong. Murderer and victim. Hatred and love. In the clutch, when it really mattered, the president of the United States refused to pick a side. But we can. We can lay down our lives, one by one if necessary, until we have won.
And the next time someone is murdered by white terror, we can say her name.