Adrift and Afraid — Violence in Charlottesville

Courtesy Vox Media
Courtesy Vox Media

The most pernicious element of the rise of the alt-right, nazism, fascism, and right-wing populism is how millennial white men in polo shirts have become the emblem of this horrific movement. The rather humorous image of these angry white guys toting tiki torches and, presumably, thwarting a mosquito apocalypse, have somehow reduced the threat and the danger that these individuals pose.

When Donald Trump was elected president, despite the statistical impossibility of victory, it brought to bear a paradigm shift that caught the mainstream media and many others by surprise: there is a large swathe of the United States that is deeply disaffected and was looking for the human manifestation of a wild card to wilfully toss into the White House. Those voters certainly got their wish and, here’s to hoping, a majority of them are regretting that decision. However, his ascension also emboldened and accelerated a looming darkness that was always lurking beneath the surface but now proudly willing to rear its ugly head and bellow into the tiki torch-lit Virginia sky.

When Donald Trump refused to deride the actions of Nazis and white supremacists, he further energized their movement and cause. Trump has unequivocally insulted so many people on Twitter that the New York Times has an alphabetized landing page cataloguing his critiques. Yet when a racist individual attacked and murdered counter-protestors with his vehicle in an obvious act of domestic terrorism, he refused to specifically condemn racists, fascists, and Nazis.

Why? What is it that prevents Trump from acknowledging this issue?

Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green’s recent book, Devil’s Bargain, provides a rundown of Donald Trump’s election and his peculiar alliance with former Breitbart news editor Stephen Bannon. Specifically, it highlights how Bannon worked in the video game industry and, during his tenure, encountered a highly motivated, angry, and disaffected group of individuals who had the will power and organizational skills to move mountains if necessary. These were millennial-aged white men, typically in middle class regions, who felt as though their built-in advantages (such as being both white and male in a society that largely favours both features) were coming under fire from minorities, feminists, progressives, and the like.

Trump and Bannon formed an alliance, seized upon the fears and insecurities of these people (and others, to be fair), and mobilized a nationalist populist movement that has since empowered the above-photographed tiki torch squad to believe that they are indeed under attack and they should be furious, which then validates and empowers them to perpetrate extreme acts of violence to placate and assuage their insecurities and fears.

To generalize about any group of individuals is always foolhardy, but seeing this highly motivated group of young white men in action perhaps calls for some guesswork on what unites them, beyond an inexplicable and illogical hatred of others they see as a threat. They are afraid, so afraid that they are using the tactics of fear to scare others away from a worldview that, at the very least, rightfully critiques and calls into question the unfair inequalities that privilege white men over others.

Molly Ball, writing for the Washington Post, said:

“White rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.”

That is why the individual who drove a vehicle into a group of protestors is referred to as a “man” or “driver” rather than a “terrorist” or “racist.” In doing so, the media naturalizes racism as some kind of opposing or equally valid way of thinking, like the party politics between Republicans and Democrats. It’s like saying, ‘Well, there are racists and non-racists and, frankly, they both have a point.’ No. They don’t. Unequivocally and without hesitation, I cannot say this enough: racist individuals do not and will not, ever, have a point.

These people are adrift and afraid, they see a world, or people, that they do not recognize and create an ‘other’ that they feel empowered to abuse and oppress for their own benefit; whether it’s for the thrill of beating a man with a flag pole, or being surrounded by a cohort of men who all shop at the same t-shirt store, their fear and lack of belonging has manifest itself in the ugliest possible way.

The only way to fight this type of behaviour is with an equal measure of passion, but without the violence. The organizer of the Alt-Right Rally that started these clashes in Charlottesville was recently chased out of his press conference by protestors. Good. The alt-right, fascists, nazis, and white supremacists should (and it pains me to say this) have their right to say what they want. As Glenn Greenwald has very eloquently explained, squashing their freedom of speech only validates them more and makes them stronger.

However, we do have to win the war of ideas, we have to ensure that love, care, and empathy are what drives us, and we have to stand fast and meet their hate at every possible turn, stare it down, and send it packing.