Following the racial unrest in Virginia this past weekend, you may be feeling the need to punch a Nazi. That punch might vent some of your anger, and it might feel good, but if you actually want to effect lasting and positive change then I urge you not to answer violence with violence or hate with hate. Fighting fire with fire only makes a bigger fire. There are better ways to “punch a Nazi” than by literal violence.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the Bible says we should “love our enemies” and “pray for those who persecute us” (Matthew 5:44). There is wisdom in these words, yet I understand that I, as a non-black, straight, male don’t face the same challenge as someone targeted by the angry evil chants and open threats of the white supremacists. It’s easy to love one’s enemies in some abstract sense. But it gets much harder to love one’s enemies when they pose an open and vocal threat marching in the street with torches.
I’d like to discuss how to “punch a Nazi” better than can be done with physical violence. But first, we need some context so we can understand what has people so charged and ready to fight.
A Fresh Wound
As I write this, the events in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend are still a fresh wound. The whole country is stirring with anger, confusion, and many dark unsettling fears. The threat of wild reaction and escalation is still a live possibility, as millions of Americans (and sympathetic souls internationally) are still in a “fight or flight” mode. I’m praying that the white supremacists and white nationalists can lose steam and dissipate because of all the bad press they’re getting. I’m also praying that that these events don’t lead to foolhardy reactionism, sparking more violence, more civil unrest, and hurting innocent bystanders (and there are always innocents hurt when the combatants are flailing wildly). My hope that people will respond with love and wisdom so we don’t make everything worse.
What Really Happened?
The Unite the Right rally is a dark and ugly blotch on the face of America, which together with counterprotests culminated in what, by all appearances, was a terrorist attack when James Fields, a self-declared member of the alt-right, drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters injuring 19 and killing 1 individual. Those events are scary, many of us are on edge, and the whole country is struggling for answers.
If you were living under a rock this past week, or if you are reading this many months or years later, permit me to explain some of the facts of the matter. I’ll try to be as non-partisan as possible here, as I’m not interested in any pro-trump or anti-trump spin. I’m concerned for issues bigger than our current president and more important than the political point system.
On August 11-12, 2017 there was a sizable demonstration (around 500 protesters) called the “Unite the Right” rally near the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville Virginia. This rally gathered an array of self-identified “right” wing groups, including several white supremacists and white nationalist groups like the Alt-right, Neo-nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, and so on. The protests were, according to their claims, centered on the city’s threat to take down a memorial statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, in Emancipation Park.
The protest included a Friday night (August 11) late-night torch lit march (tiki torches), flying banners flags and other symbolism typical of white supremacy, and shouting characteristically white supremacists slogans (“blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” “one people, one nation, end immigration,” etc.). The Friday night march was on the University of Virginia Campus and centered on a Thomas Jefferson statue. The counterprotesters apparently had not yet mobilized en masse, and neither did the Friday night events turn violent. These events, however, did raise alarm among the local community and helped incite a substantial turnout of counterprotesters the next morning.
On Saturday, a larger rally of about 500 protesters gathered and began marching across town in Emancipation Park where a controversial Robert E. Lee statue is located. Many of the protesters were heavily armed, especially their volunteer security detail. Again, the chants and symbols used were characteristically white supremacist and bigoted (anti-semitic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration, anti-black, etc.). Originally they had a permit with the city, and their freedom of speech was legally supported by the ACLU–which has a history of siding with “free speech” in unpopular cases. Counterprotesters, however, had mobilized by Saturday morning. Among the counterprotesters were Black Lives Matter, local church groups, and a loosely organized group known as “Antifa” (anti-fascists) which is characterized by aggressive and sometimes violent counter-protesting.
Where the ralliers butted up against the counterprotesters skirmishes broke out with physical assaults, pepper spray, pushing, punching, and beatings. The city permit was revoked and the state Governernor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency around 11am. State officials moved in by 11:40, announcing the revoked permit and the state of emergency, and proceeded to force all protesters and counterprotesters to disperse, moving out of the park area. Many of the protesters began to dissipate yet the skirmishes continued. Around 1pm one individual, James Alex Field, who identified with the Unite the Right ralliers, appears to have intentionally drove his car–fast–into a street crowded with counter-protesters. This terrorist attack killed one person and injured 19 others. Fields was arrested soon after and is currently in police custody (as of 8/19/2017).
The Charlottesville police chief, Al Thomas, later said that there were 35 injured in the day’s protests.
There was also a police helicopter crash several miles from the scene of the protests. While the details and cause of the crash have not been released, the helicopter was apparently mobilized to assist in the state of emergency. And so it can be credited as a result of the days events. Two officers died in that crash, Jay Cullen and Berke Bates.
Much more could be said about that weekend’s events regarding the reactionary statements from the right and the left, the exact nature and identity of the Alt-Right, the role of Antifa, the role of BLM, and of course President Trump’s comments on Saturday versus his revised statement two days later, and so on. These historic and terrifying events will not be forgotten any time soon. There are lots of important avenues to explore in these events as they bear upon the soul and future of America. I would like to focus on some down-to-earth practical advice for everyone who is riled up about white supremacy, and the blatant racism, and bigotry of that event.
Don’t Give White Supremacists What they Want
If you’ve listened to the chants and diatribes and rhetoric from supremacists, one thing that should be crystal clear is that they want a race war. They expect one. They believe in it. They are hoping for it. They are paranoid about it. They are craving a race war.
Don’t give it to them. Don’t even give them an audience. But the more their civil and human rights are violated, including free speech, assembly, petitioning the government, etc., the more justified they’ll feel in shouting louder and swinging harder. They would LOVE to face violent counter-protesting in their upcoming rallies. And they would LOVE if someone shot at them because they are armed to the hilt and are itching for an excuse to open fire. If you are considering counter-protesting PLEASE be extremely wise about it or just abstain.
There are better ways of being heard than by shouting. Here are some ideas of what you can do instead:
- report on the incidents
- host a racial reconciliation event.
- expose the sordid history of white supremacists groups through blogging and conversation.
- expose other racist institutions in the same way.
- host a silent prayer vigil near enough to the events to be seen but without directly engaging them.
- participate or host an online or written debate.
- hire private investigators to document all the participants in white supremacist rallies (using open/public records) and then post all their identities through wiki leaks or a news site.
- do some Daryl Davis ministry on them
- and more
Simply put, we need to fight the battle of ideas on its own terrain (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). This is not simply a battle between people, it’s spiritual warfare, and the native artillery is Scripture and prayer (Ephesians 6). We are better equipped when we can keep our wits about us and stay well connected to our Lord and Savior. We must not let them provoke us into a physical violence precisely because that’s the kind of battle they want. We do well to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and have a ready answer to hateful, angry, and foolish ideologies (1 Pet. 3:15-16). We have a chance to embarrass and cripple their doctrines of hate, but if we raise a fist to them we are only giving them what they want.
We do better to punch nazis indirectly, by punching nazism directly. We can suck the air out of their hate by showing it to be shallow, petty, short-sighted, poorly argued, and adolescent.
Please share your thoughts and comments below, especially if you have some suggestions for better more fruitful ways to counteract racism than by punching nazis.