Last weekend, a group of Nazis protested a Holocaust remembrance service in the town where I teach. One of my journalism students was there to cover it. She also took the above photo you see at a rally a few weeks back. She’s been working on a long-form project trying get inside the mind and world of white nationalists. She’s been doing it on her own and outside of her school assignments for a simple reason. She wants to understand something that seems to be growing in her community and she wants to report it for what it is.
In the business we call that being a journalist. She’s not trying to entertain, make money or generate clicks. She’s put herself in vulnerable places in order to tell a story that most are too afraid or complacent to tell. She’s doing this within a culture of shallow, click-bait news stories that too many well-funded news sites publish. And as one of her professors, I am incredibly proud of her. She’s doing more legitimate journalism on her own than a lot of the commercial outlets in the state.
But, for her efforts she’s managed to catch a lot of anger from folks who have taken it upon themselves to claim she’s the local Nazi media girl giving them an undeserved platform.
We are plagued by a world of hyperbole, confirmation bias and tribalism. We’re consumed with buying into the facts we want to acknowledge and ignoring context and nuance, and we cry ‘conspiracy’ when the facts don’t line up with our beliefs.
Good journalists don’t have that luxury. Notice I said good journalists. You don’t get to be a good journalist if you walk into a story just looking to support your own opinions. You get to be a good journalist by putting your own ideals aside, deeply research what’s going on, filter out the BS and write the damn story.
Fine. You hate Nazis. I get it. I’m with you on that. I can’t think of a single group of people that I find more repugnant. Personally, I think anybody in this country who pledges allegiance to a raised flag of the Nazis, confederacy, or anything else that isn’t the United States flag deserves to have their citizenship revoked, and have their asses tossed on a leaky fishing boat and towed out to sea. You don’t want to be an American citizen? Fine. Go enjoy your life in exile. There are plenty of good folks waiting at the gates who would love to have your opportunities.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t get to make that decision.
I do get to make another decision though. I, like other journalists, get to let you know about the fact that these things exist within your community whether you want to hear it or not.
In 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks stood on a stage in London, and in response to the war in Iraq said, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The backlash was immediate and vicious calling for the boycotting of this incredibly popular country music trio. At the time Clear Channel Communications, a single media company, who controlled a huge number of radio stations across the country blacklisted the group and stripped them from any airplay.
For all intents and purposes, this destroyed the music career of the Dixie Chicks.
At the time, liberals were indignant with a cries that it was an attack on free speech. Meanwhile, conservatives praised the company and the demise of the band citing that that Clear Channel and other radio stations were privately owned businesses who had the right to play or not play the band. They argued that free speech is not without consequences. You must answer for your words.
Last week Facebook, following Twitter’s lead, decided to strip the accounts of various right-wing celebrities, stating that those who had been removed had violated the company’s hate speech policies.
Conservatives were indignant with cries that it was an attack on free speech. Meanwhile, liberals praised the company and the “deplatforming” of the individuals stating that these were privately owned businesses who had the right to revoke the accounts. They argued that free speech is not without consequences. You must answer for your words.
Are you starting to notice a problem here? Do you really have free speech if you don’t have access to the microphone?
In both cases, people actively argued that a corporation’s right to do business superseded an individual’s freedom of speech. In both cases it was the biggest media company in the country who pulled the plug.
“But, “They were traitors!” Conservatives tell me. “It was hate speech!” The liberals cry out. Was it? By who’s standard? A corporation’s user agreement policy or American law?
Why don’t we be honest for a moment and acknowledge the reality that we’re swimming in contradictions. Journalism is a lot of things. It’s speaking truth to power. It’s speaking truth to stupid. It’s shining light on the things people don’t want to see. But, sometimes our job is throwing your own hypocrisy back in your face. Either you believe in freedom of speech or you don’t.
The thing is, I want the worst of us to be able to talk. Let them have free speech. I may hate what they have to say, but I want them be heard. I want to know my enemy. I want to know the cowards who hide behind swastikas. I want them to be on record. I want to know them by their limping. Nazis remind me a lot of yap yap dogs who never seem to stop barking. Those little bastards who never leave the safety of their own house. Those who bark at everything but run and hide the moment a gate is opened. For all their bark, that’s all these people are. People who are afraid of everything.
So let’s circle back around.
Nazis were walking around town, carrying a Christian cross and a picture of Jesus, protesting a Holocaust remembrance service and a lot of people were surprised.
Because, I’ve been paying attention to what’s been oozing through the cracks for the past decade. Maybe it’s time to ask yourself what’s changed. Maybe it’s time to ask yourself why actual Nazis are praising the same right wing media personalities you watch. Maybe it’s time you ask yourself a lot of hard questions.
In 1976, Rick Monday was playing for the Cubs at Dodger Stadium when protestors attempted to burn an American flag on the field. Before they could light it he snatched it away from them. He was an individual taking personal responsibility for something he cared deeply for. That flag was not something he was about to let someone desecrate. The protesters belief ran contradictory to his belief. He did something about it.
Something I hear a lot about from some southern folks is about how the confederate flag isn’t a symbol of hate. Fine, I get it. Personally, I never really thought much about it or really considered its history when I was a kid. But, if it’s something you cherish so much then why do you tolerate Nazis carrying it around? Your grandparents died protecting this country from those who are now carrying that flag. It doesn’t matter what you want to to believe it stands for when you’re letting them drive the narrative.
To my Christian friends, Nazis walking around town carrying a cross and a picture of Jesus. Why, as Christians did you allow that to happen? Who among you, like Rick Monday, tried to take it away? Where was the crowd to surrounded them to silence their rhetoric? Where were the patriots among you to drive them from town?
It’s just easier to do nothing as long as you’re pretending it doesn’t exist. When you just decide it’s someone else’s responsibility.
I can tell you who was there. A nineteen year old journalist telling a story that some on the radical left have hated her for telling.
A story that over time will get past caricature and hyperbole. A story that takes time to tell, but gets to the heart of what’s going on. A story that says this is the world you now live in. It’s a story of people who wrap themselves in a flag and burn the Constitution while the average person either quietly agrees with or decides it’s not their problem.
If you find that you have termites in your house, you don’t just paint over them. You don’t pretend they aren’t eating your home. You dig them out and repair the damage before they destroy the house.
Maybe it’s finally time to acknowledge that there are more of you out there on the right who are a little more comfortable with what Nazis preach than you’re willing to admit publicly. Twist it. Rationalize it. Try to smooth out the corners. Ignore that you’re feeling and saying the same things.
Maybe it’s finally time to acknowledge that as long as your stocks and the economy are doing well, you’re willing to overlook a lot of things that should disgust you.
Maybe it’s finally time to acknowledge that left eats its own and that the far left is just as puritanical as the far right.
Maybe it’s finally time to acknowledge that nobody takes the left seriously because while Nazis are literally walking the through town, liberals are too busy making sure people feel like they have a safe space and a puppy to make people feel better about themselves.
If your house is on fire, you don’t rearrange the furniture so it can become more inviting. Stop acting like fools planning a picnic while there is an army at your gate. You may not believe there is violence coming. But, they do.
People don’t like cops and journalists for one reason. They hold people accountable. They hold a mirror up for the the world to see. The thing is, you don’t get to pick the mirror.
Even if you don’t like what you see, perhaps it’s time to look a little deeper. It’s the job of a journalist to tell you what’s going on in your world. It’s your job as a citizen to decide to to do something about it.