As part of a heavily armed mob, they preen and brag. “A lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly,” white supremacist leader Christopher Cantwell told a reporter from Vice. And yes, he said that after the terror attack in which one counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed and at least 19 others wounded.
But then, back home, some who marched with Cantwell whimpered about the unfairness of being identified on the internet and then shunned, disowned or pushed out of jobs as a result.
Who knew that actions had consequences? Or that once you storm the stage to vow destruction, you may not be showered with rose petals, or even welcomed back into civilization?
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The question really isn’t whether it’s OK to be “outing” the neo-Nazis and white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend. Since anyone who joins a public demonstration has in quite a literal way put himself in the public square, it isn’t “outing” at all.
Sure, even the repugnant have the right to free speech. (Though not the right to violence or fomenting it; First Amendment rights have limits, as all of our freedoms do.) But then the rest of us get to answer that speech with more speech. We get to answer it the right way, not with violence but opprobrium in all its legal forms.
You know those American colonists who put anyone who’d slept through church in stocks for all to see and pelt with garbage? They’d have been right at home on Twitter, where shaming is a way of life. But it does seem the correct response to the horrifying display in Charlottesville.
Peter Cvjetanovic, a 20-year-old self-described white nationalist who studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, traveled across the country for the “Unite the Right” rally. After being correctly identified by the Raleigh, N.C., man behind the “Yes, You’re Racist” Twitter account as one of the angry-looking torch-bearers in a photo of the march, he complained to a TV station back in Reno.
Golly, was he ever taken aback by the response, which has included calls that he be thrown out of school, though he’s not going to be. “It was on the front page of the Guardian and my heart sank,’’ said Cvjetanovic. Which is how a lot of us felt watching your apparently thrilling march through the streets of Charlottesville.
“I give no excuses for that photograph,” though there’s more to him than it shows, he said, asking for the kind of tolerance he denies non-whites. “It was kind of a moment-type thing. The torches were lit … there was lots of cameras and that emotion, it was really starting to build up.” This is what we call the mob mentality, Peter.
Of course, even when we fight back with good old-fashioned shame, we have to be right. An Arkansas researcher initially misidentified as a marcher for hate didn’t feel safe staying in his own home over the weekend, and not everybody online was willing to accept that he’d been called out in error. Being right can put people in danger, too, and these are issues that reporters have lost sleep over.
But the risks involved in running with the neo-Nazis — what employer could possibly keep on someone correctly identified as belonging to a group like that? — are something that other aspiring supremacists should consider when planning that next ill-intentioned cross-country trip. This isn’t Pamplona, boys, but a real threat to public safety, not to mention the republic. So if you don’t want to wind up as misunderstood as Cvjetanovic boohoos that he has been, or worse, understood all too well, then don’t pick up the torch at all.