Those Who Punch Nazis
Don’t worry, this isn’t dodecahedral hand-wringing about many sides blah blah. But far-left white people may not love what I‘m about to say. Because as a student of history, an observer of current events, and as a Latina, I cannot trust your righteous violence. I know how easily you can turn on me.
And here’s how I know.
The Wokest White Guy at the Rally
Yesterday, I went to a rally organized by POC who are all Middle Eastern immigrants. The many speakers included staffers of elected officials, reading statements on their behalf. A few people in the crowd started yelling, “WHY AREN’T THEY HERE?” Eventually, these interruptions became intrusive (not least because come on, like this small advocacy group knows Senator Patty Murray’s secret itinerary and is refusing to share with the class).
One yelling dude in particular wanted some answers. He moved closer to the stage and shouted, “WHY AREN’T THEY HERE? WHY?”
I decided, enough’s enough.
I power-walked my Mexican Vanilla booty on over and said, “Excuse me, I don’t want to be rude — “
“Then don’t be,” dude said, in a startlingly aggressive tone. He avoided eye contact with me and stared straight ahead like a statue.
I was already there, so I pressed on: “You’re being very disrespectful towards the people of color who organized this rally — “
Dude cut me off angrily. “They are carrying water for white people who [unintelligible to me, something about how they wouldn’t even show up?] — “
“Are you a white person?”
“Yes, and I SHOWED UP.”
At this point, other people got involved, including one of the organization’s peacekeepers, so I apologized and walked away. I felt like kind of a jerk! But more than that, I thought of how that man’s rigid-furious face looked while he was refusing to listen to me. I was surprised by how quickly he rationalized his poor treatment of brown, left-aligned Middle Eastern immigrants — they “carry water” for white people who didn’t RSVP adequately to a rally, so they don’t deserve his respect? Shouting them down is an okay thing to do?
To me, that angry dude’s face was indistinguishable from the face of any angry white man in America. I was uneasily, but deeply, reminded of the guys carrying torches.
What the hell, Elisa? Are you making a MORAL EQUIVALENCE BETWEEN —
No no, listen: it’s not crazy to think angry liberal white people can flip and become angry fascist white people. Jeremy Joseph Christian, the Bernie Bro turned MAX terrorist, is one example, but you don’t have to go far to find more.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party seemingly upended conventional political wisdom with its appeal to young, leftist voters. Many high-profile members of her party — from mayors to leaders of the NF’s youth branch — are former socialists who became NF members as a direct result of concerns about immigration and Islam. One reporter says:
He [Davy Rodriguez de Oliveira, Deputy Director of the Front National de la Jeunesse] told me his ideological shift came in three stages. Growing up in an economically depressed suburb rife with public housing projects, he was disturbed by the effects of what he dubs “mass immigration,” namely his perception that religion, specifically Islam, seemed to be prioritized over national identity, particularly the French state’s core value of laïcité.
France isn’t the United States, of course, and their leftist parties don’t directly overlap with ours. But the idea that anyone could 180 like that disturbed me.
Back to square Nazi
In his book Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead, Christian Picciolini offers stunning insights into his philosophy as a young white supremacist in the late 80s and early 90s. The book covers his whole life, so there’s a lot in there, but two points have been coming back to me lately.
- He recalls that members of SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) would brawl with the racist skinheads. However, they were also fairly likely to switch sides and start beating on their former SHARP compatriots alongside the racists.
- In recounting his mental state as he became radicalized, Picciolini describes feeling a sense of noble warriorhood. “Skinheads were brave patriots, not terrorists,” he writes. “They were fighting battles other whites talked about but were too lazy to take up.” When his parents disapprove of his skinhead activities, it doesn’t faze him: He develops a martyr complex about how he’ll protect them even though they don’t understand the stakes.
In Picciolini’s youth, political ideology sharpened and focused his anger — but how much of that ideology was primarily a vehicle for anger? Picciolini and his peers needed to feel like they were a part of something, fighting for something, and to an extent, it didn’t matter what that thing was. The ease with which anti-racist skinheads became racist skinheads speaks to how little relevance the details of ideology can have.
Also, note the way Picciolini’s urge to protect plays out. He’s so embedded in his white supremacist perspective that even when his family asks him to give it up, his ideological rigidity allows him to decenter their concerns about their own safety.
I can’t say what was going through my friend the yelling man’s head, but his words imply that something similar may have been at work. “They’re carrying water for white people.” He was so intent on exposing corrupt white people that he completely excluded people of color from having an opinion. After all, if we disagree with him, that proves we don’t get it.
Questions I’d love you to ask about your white anger
Last story: my Chicana mother ended up accidentally protesting alongside a contingent of Antifa last week. Recounting it, she sounded stunned: “The white people were so angry. They were the angriest on both sides.”
My mother, who grew up in the majority-Latino Brownsville, TX, thinks only white people could find it safe to vent their anger at cops. All I know is that I have observed an anger from white lefties that is both certain and myopic. They know what justice is, and they know it’s right to plow over anyone in the way. If people of color — like the organizers of today’s rally — define justice in a different way, there’s no need to ask why they might do that. Those people of color are traitors and no longer have to be treated with respect.
I can watch this play out any time I want to. All I have to do is go to an ultra-liberal corner of the internet and say something mildly unorthodox about my own life. It’s cool, you see, because you only have to respect those most affected if their opinions are what you’d expect.
Ultimately, I’m not saying that all white anger is interchangeable. But nor is white anger trustworthy just because it comes from the left. The heroes at Charlottesville were heroes because they acted heroically, not because they professed how valorous it is to punch Nazis. But since I’m not actually here to lecture you or make you feel bad about yourself (I am far from perfect: I probably shouldn’t have lectured that yelling guy, for instance), instead I’d like you to ask yourself some questions:
- When you feel anger, how does it manifest? Do you clench your fist or cry or raise your voice?
- When you feel anger, does it ever become part of a plan or a story?
- What does your anger impel you to do?
- Who or what are the acceptable targets of your anger?
- Where does your anger go when it can’t find a suitable target?
Please, please be careful out there. Please, please be kind.
And please watch your righteous anger: on its own, it’s an unreliable weapon.