Last week I attended an Alt-Right rally hoping that I might be able to understand the white-supremacist movement and the people who subscribe to it. I went in open-minded with few expectations about what I would see, the words that I would hear, or even how many people would show up. However, I did had reservations about standing among them —it was pretty obvious that I didn’t belong. Thankfully, a relatively small group of ~100 supporters came to participate in the rally. There were almost just as many bystanders, vacationers and reporters in attendance who didn’t appear to be directly affiliated with the Alt-Right, but who were just as curious as I was.
After weaving my way through a crowd of individuals, some wearing Trump “Make America Great Again” hats and others waving large confederate flags, I found a group of reporters that I felt safe hanging out with while I observed the rally.
Freedom of speech rally?
One of the most misleading details of the rally was the title of the event, which portrayed the gathering as an innocent protest defending our Constitutional right to freedom of speech. It was quickly apparent, however, that the Alt-Right only considers this freedom a privilege reserved for white people. Multiple speakers, including white nationalist blogger Mike Enoch, claimed that America’s Founding Fathers “objectively founded this country for white people.” Enoch also argued that free speech is a right that only exists in white nations. “These freedoms are the ideas of white men and white philosophy,” he said.
If Enoch had remembered his introductory American history lesson in grade school, maybe he wouldn’t have made these outrageous claims. The Declaration of Independence explicitly states “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Furthermore, he seamlessly glossed over the fact that the majority of people in the world today live in democratic societies, many of which have strong support for freedom of expression.
A call to arms
Speakers at the rally repeatedly credited America’s decline to communists, non-whites, and multiculturalism. However, one speaker went a step further and advocated for violence against these groups saying, “at what point do we begin physically removing democrats and communists to establish and maintain a libertarian social order…”
The keynote speaker of the event was Richard Spencer, the president of a white nationalist think tank called the National Policy Institute. In one particularly memorable part of his speech he said, “We need to find a way to become who we are, to affirm who we are and to achieve power together, so that we can have real rights — rights to be ourselves, rights to live in a safe space, rights to guarantee the future for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Wow… just, wow
“Nazi!..” “Out!..” “Nazi!..” “Out!..” “Nazi, Nazi, Nazi!..” “Out, Out, Out!..”
Further up the steps of the Lincoln memorial there was a counter protest shouting the chant above, over-and-over again. Before the rally, I would have been hesitant to chant with the counter protestors, but when I heard Spencer say that he wanted the right to be himself, I couldn’t help but wonder what that would mean. Would this peaceful protest turn into a gang of lynchers? Would they capture non-whites, gays and anybody they deemed to be a communist, and hang them the same way white supremacists killed thousands of black Americans less than a century ago?
Spencer and his followers aren’t Americans, they are cowards — afraid to recognize their neighbors as equals. They may be citizens of the United States, and therefore entitled to spew their hate speech at their rallies, but they are not Americans. Americans protect liberty and justice for their neighbors, despite their differences. Americans don’t discriminate against their neighbors based on the color of their skin, their gender, or their creed. White supremacists don’t belong in America.
This piece originally appeared on Medium and has been reprinted with permission.
Photo: V@s/Creative Commons