Overwhelming the Hate — McKay Coppins in The Atlantic on how counter-protest shut down the Nazis in Boston.
WOBURN, Mass. — Kyle Chapman was sitting in a dimly lit Irish pub about 20 minutes outside of Boston, where Saturday afternoon’s so-called “Free Speech Rally” had just been shut down by tens of thousands of counter-protesters.“The white man is one of the most discriminated against people in this entire country right now,” he explained.
Chapman—a muscly right-wing organizer who went viral earlier this year after video footage showed him swinging a heavy wooden stick at liberal Berkley demonstrators—had been scheduled to speak at the rally on Boston Common. But organizers ended up pulling the plug early, he said, when the crowd of counter-protesters grew too large. After being escorted to safety by police, he and other attendees retired here to lick their (metaphorical) wounds.
“I was definitely concerned for my safety and the safety of the other attendees,” Chapman said. “The barricades [that police] set up were four-foot barricades and … there would have been no way to stop the alt-left domestic terrorists if they decided to attack us.”
There had, in fact, been a smattering of violent incidents in the midst of the sprawling protests outside the event—mostly egged on by the minority of “antifa” agitators in the crowd. Beyond that, police said the demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful: About 33 arrests had been made out of a crowd of 40,000. After last week’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned fatal, local police here had come prepared for the worst. But the scene in Boston was starkly different.People spread out blankets on the grass and munched on snacks, cheering on the upbeat counter-protesters—who, by some estimates, outnumbered the free speech rally-goers by more than a thousand to one—as they marched down Charles Street. Some dressed up for the occasion: A middle-aged guy with a man bun sported a tank top with “Resistance” spelled out across his chest in glittery gold; a group of women wearing pointy black hats and matching veils silently roamed the Common carrying a sign announcing themselves as “Witches against white supremacy.” Protesters carried posters that read, “Not in my city,” and joined in periodic chants of, “Fuck the Nazis!”
As with most large political demonstrations, the scene took on an absurdist quality at times. At one point, Black Lives Matter activists lit a flag on fire, prompting a tattooed onlooker in a Red Sox cap to launch into a profanity-laced rant about the lack of patriotism on display. A heated argument followed between him and a few other bystanders, which went on for several minutes before someone pulled the tattooed ranter aside and asked, “You know that was a Confederate flag, right?”
“It was a Confederate?”“Yeah.”
He paused for a moment to process this information, and then smiled sheepishly. “Shhh,” he said, pressing a finger to his lips. He then returned to his argument.
Organizers were adamant in the days leading up to the Free Speech Rally that they were not supporting white nationalism, and disapproved of the beliefs that were showcased in Charlottesville. They said they would throw out anyone who showed up in neo-Nazi garb, or brought signs advocating for white supremacy.
At the same time, the small group that gathered on Boston Common clearly shared some ideological sympathies with the alt-right movement—a dynamic that could make it increasingly difficult to untangle the extremist racial elements from the broader American right.
Chapman, for example, told me he did not under any circumstances consider himself a white nationalist. “But I can tell you that there is a war against whites,” he said. “Whites are discriminated against en masse. I personally have been the victim of multiple hate crimes. As a people, we do have our own grievances, we do have our own story to tell.” Until it becomes safe to discuss that reality in mainstream political circles, he argued, victimized whites will continue to gravitate toward the alt-right.
Chapman says “free speech” is his primary concern, and added that it was the one reason libertarians like himself would come to the defense of Richard Spencer and his ilk. “I don’t really know them personally, and I don’t know if they’re bad people personally,” he said. But “they had the right to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in Charlottesville. And those rights were intentionally suppressed.”
Joe Biggs—a former InfoWars writer who was among the first proponents of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that claimed a Clinton-linked pedophile ring was operating out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria—was also among the scheduled speakers who didn’t get to deliver his remarks before the rally was shut down. He fumed that the mainstream media was to blame for perpetuating a false narrative that they were white supremacists. (“I think I’ve dated one white woman in my entire life,” he said in an attempt to demonstrate his lack of prejudice, noting noting that his wife is Guyanese.) But even if they were, he argued, the First Amendment would protect them. “Hate speech is allowed!” he said.
But Biggs’s free-speech zealotry wasn’t completely without limit. When I asked whether he considered Saturday’s massive gathering of counter-protesters a victory for free speech, he thought about it. He mused that if they were so offended by the rally, they could have just stayed away. And while he said he supported their right to stand outside and demonstrate their disapproval, the protesters had gone too far.
“When you sound like an angry, violent mob, you’ve lost the high ground,” he said, “and now you’re just scum.”
Saw It Coming — David Remnick in The New Yorker on Trump’s true allegiances.
Early last November, just before Election Day, Barack Obama was driven through the crisp late-night gloom of the outskirts of Charlotte, as he barnstormed North Carolina on behalf of Hillary Clinton. He was in no measure serene or confident. The polls, the “analytics,” remained in Clinton’s favor, yet Obama, with the unique vantage point of being the first African-American President, had watched as, night after night, immense crowds cheered and hooted for a demagogue who had launched a business career with blacks-need-not-apply housing developments in Queens and a political career with a racist conspiracy theory known as birtherism. During his speech in Charlotte that night, Obama warned that no one really changes in the Presidency; rather, the office “magnifies” who you already are. So if you “accept the support of Klan sympathizers before you’re President, or you’re kind of slow in disowning it, saying, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ then that’s how you’ll be as President.”
Donald Trump’s ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama’s election as an inspiring chapter in the country’s fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the “food-stamp President.” In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a “liberal fascist,” who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. “You just look at the body language, and there’s something going on,” Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President’s person.
And so, speeding toward yet another airport last November, Obama seemed like a weary man who harbored a burning seed of apprehension. “We’ve seen this coming,” he said. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”
For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”
Last week, the world witnessed Obama’s successor in the White House, unbound and unhinged, acting more or less as Obama had predicted. In 2015, a week after Trump had declared his candidacy, he spoke in favor of removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol: “Put it in the museum and let it go.” But, last week, abandoning the customary dog whistle of previous Republican culture warriors, President Trump made plain his indulgent sympathy for neo-Nazis, Klan members, and unaffiliated white supremacists, who marched with torches, assault rifles, clubs, and racist and anti-Semitic slogans through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. One participant even adopted an ISIS terror tactic, driving straight into a crowd of people peaceably demonstrating against the racists. Trump had declared an “America First” culture war in his Inaugural Address, and now—as his poll numbers dropped, as he lost again and again in the courts and in Congress, as the Mueller investigation delved into his miserable business history, as more and more aides leaked their dismay—he had cast his lot with the basest of his base. There were some “very fine people” among the white nationalists, he said, and their “culture” should not be threatened.
Who could have predicted it? Anyone, really. Two years ago, the Daily Stormer, the foremost neo-Nazi news site in the country, called on white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.” Trump never spurned this current of his support. He invited it, exploited it. With Stephen Bannon, white nationalism won prime real estate in the West Wing. Bannon wrote much of the inaugural speech, and was branded “The Great Manipulator” in a Time cover story that bruised the Presidential ego. But Bannon has been marginalized for months. Last Friday, in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump finally pushed him out. He is headed back to Breitbart News. But he was staff; his departure is hardly decisive. The culture of this White House was, and remains, Trump’s.
When Trump was elected, there were those who considered his history and insisted that this was a kind of national emergency, and that to normalize this Presidency was a dangerous illusion. At the same time, there were those who, in the spirit of patience and national comity, held that Trump was “our President,” and that “he must be given a chance.” Has he had enough of a chance yet? After his press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower last Tuesday, when he ignored the scripted attempts to regulate his impulses and revealed his true allegiances, there can be no doubt about who he is. This is the inescapable fact: on November 9th, the United States elected a dishonest, inept, unbalanced, and immoral human being as its President and Commander-in-Chief. Trump has daily proven unyielding to appeals of decency, unity, moderation, or fact. He is willing to imperil the civil peace and the social fabric of his country simply to satisfy his narcissism and to excite the worst inclinations of his core followers.
This latest outrage has disheartened Trump’s circle somewhat; business executives, generals and security officials, advisers, and even family members have semaphored their private despair. One of the more lasting images from Trump’s squalid appearance on Tuesday was that of his chief of staff, John Kelly, who stood listening to him with a hangdog look of shame. But Trump still retains the support of roughly a third of the country, and of the majority of the Republican electorate. The political figure Obama saw as a “logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party” has not yet come unmoored from the Party’s base.
The most important resistance to Trump has to come from civil society, from institutions, and from individuals who, despite their differences, believe in constitutional norms and have a fundamental respect for the values of honesty, equality, and justice. The imperative is to find ways to counteract and diminish his malignant influence not only in the overtly political realm but also in the social and cultural one. To fail in that would allow the death rattle of an old racist order to take hold as a deafening revival.
Not Enough — Charles P. Pierce on Bannon’s exit.
Apparently, the NYT got the word that Steve Bannon will be leaving the White House to spend more time with his fellow gargoyles at Breitbart’s Mausoleum For The Otherwise Unemployable. This being Camp Runamuck, of course, the White House is saying the president* gave him the heave-ho, while Bannon says he quit a few weeks ago, and nobody knows anything about anything.
The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time. As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.
While this is all entertaining as hell, and it is, and while it’s even more entertaining to speculate what vengeance Bannon and his army of angry gnomes could wreak on this presidency*, I am not going to be turning handsprings along the Charles over this development. First, it’s eight months overdue and both Stephen Miller and the ridiculous Dr. Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D. are still there. Second, I decline at the moment to believe that Bannon will be blocked entirely on the president*’s cell phone. And third, given that this is a president* who would require his paper boy to sign a non-disclosure agreement, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that Bannon’s silence will be handsomely remunerated. But there’s one more general reason that I am not popping corks over this.
Whatever else he was, Bannon was one of the few people in that operation who still at least was making mouth noises about economic populism after inauguration day. I have to think that the various corporate sublets in the Republican congressional leadership—Paul Ryan, chief among them—are looking at Bannon’s departure as an opportunity to lead a president* who knows nothing about anything right down the trail of corporate oligarchy. I’m glad he’s gone, but there’s still enough left to concern us all.
Doonesbury — Reality for sale.