first close encounter with neoNazis was when I was eighteen, in downtown
Chicago over a break in the U of Illinois (Urbana) school year, second semester
was downtown to attend a large dance held by a high school fraternity and
sorority, the profits from which were to go to The Merton Davis Memorial
Foundation for Crippling Diseases of Children. We were a teenager-run charity against
crippling diseases and raised enough money for seed grants for research at
Michael Reese Medical Center. I was the immediate-past president of the
Foundation and was supposed to say a few words of gratitude, and, on the side
I'd get in a bit of hustling for my college fraternity with some of the next
year's crop of freshmen.
were crowds outside the hotel hosting the dance: unusually for Chicago not
moving and giving off none of the stereotypical Midwest friendly vibes. The
crowd was large, mostly stationary, and pissed off about something.
something was within a long oblong of large, grim-faced Chicago cops: an un-merry
band of George Lincoln Rockwell's neo-Nazis in full uniform and regalia,
marching in tight ellipsoids with large Nazi flags.
went into the hotel, went to the main ballroom, went to the stage, got
introduced, stepped to the microphone and looked at a thousand or so Chicago
teenagers, mostly Jewish. And I delivered my mentally-rehearsed few words of
thanks and gratitude and giving credit and paused.
I had to do was say, "Rockwell's Nazis. Marching outside. Right now."
And then several hundred or more teenagers would rush outside, and there would
be a riot in which the cops would stand by for a few minutes while the Nazis
got trashed and then would start cracking heads, making a couple arrests, and
dispersing the mob.
got polite applause, said only "Thank you" — nothing about the Nazis — left the stage, and got on
with my business.
or not to incite a riot was not a particularly grave ethical question for me.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time across the street from the duplex I lived in
at one of the three large, expensive, single-resident houses on the street — and
more specifically with my friend Bill and his parents. I forget the context,
but there was one, in which Bill's large, Republican father told us that back
around 1940 he'd participated with other Jewish and Italian (and Sicilian)
young men breaking up the Chicago
German-American Bund, largely with baseball bats and tire irons. Insofar as
I judged this action at all, I thought it on balance a good idea: there would
be no unfortunate First Amendment precedents set by gangs of thugs attacking
Bund members; it was obviously illegal.
for my own beginning college career aside — a conviction for incitement to riot
would need explaining — my main concern at that microphone was practical. Those Nazis on the street wanted
riots; SA-style street-fighting was part of their image of what they did and who
when George Lincoln Rockwell himself came to the University of Illinois and
still later when the Ku Klux Klan came to Oxford, OH, I stuck with my decision
at eighteen and endorsed the strategy of (1) as much as possible denying the
racists an audience, (2) when there must be an audience, packing it, and have
that audience meet them with silence and one line of denunciation. We would not
show the fear they fed on; we would not give them publicity; we would not allow
them to dictate our schedules and control our concerns. At that stage of US
politics, the most effective strategy was quiet, confident, disdain.
first encounter with a self-identified anarchist was at a mostly
anti-(Vietnam)War protest march in Champaign-Urbana Illinois, probably in
May of 1970. I was a graduate student with the English and then University-wide
Graduate Student Association and through the GSA active in "The
Movement." The Powers that Were told the protest organizers that the FBI
was in town in strength, had kind of taken over police operations, and were hunkered-down
and bunkered-up, so to speak, in the main police station — and were, the local
authorities judged, very, very nervous. So we of the movement beefed up our
parade-marshal contingent. To accompany me while marshaling, I recruited Bob, one
of my fraternity alumni brothers: a law student who'd been in Marine ROTC
(officially under the Navy) and then had decided that a more pressing patriotic
duty was resisting a war he judged both immoral and a danger to the Republic.
march went well and ended up at the police station, where Bob and I oversaw the
deposit of our signs and banners on the lawn and then dispersal: for a symbolic
gesture from our side and, from the cops' point of view, to reduce the danger
of people leaving the demonstration in big groups and with sticks heavy enough
to break windows. It seemed fair enough to Bob and me, and, besides, that was
the demonstrators' deal with the University, city officials, cops, and the
armed and nervous FBI agents.
anarchist didn't want to lay down his sign and potential weapon or move on. In
the windows of the cop shop I could see guys in suits looking excited, so with
all the authority of our white armbands and somewhat greater age, we politely but
firmly ordered our anarchist to put down the goddamn sign and move away already. I forget most of his
argument with us before he obeyed, but I do recall him looking at me and
calling me a "Peace Pig," in the sense of a member of the Peace
Movement who acted like a pig, an epithet used at the time by some — not my
people — for police
cracked up at the phrase, and then told him, still politely, "Okay, now put
the sign down and go."
he went away, and after a couple moments Bob and I moved on as the demonstration
August of 2017, we have seen confrontations
at a White
nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, that include Peace-and-Justice-type
people on one side and fascists or the fascistic on the other, but also among
the anti-violence demonstrators against the neoNazis, Klan, and White
supremacists there were "antifa[cist]" anarchists and young men at
least willing to mix red flags of the traditional Communist movement amid the
black flags and slogans of the anarchists (notably, "No gods, no masters," though
possibly, and more immediately relevant "No gods, No master race").
of mid-August 2017, I've seen one
news story but no statistical breakdown on which groups showed up for the
demonstrations in Charlottesville in what numbers, although the statistics on
casualties are clear: a terrorist murder of one peaceful counterdemonstrator
and injuries of nineteen more (five initially critical). It's unlikely we will
get cold-blooded numbers until weeks after the anger cools at not just the
bloody, goddamn neoNazis and Klan fans but at President Donald J. Trump's
refusal to speak seriously about the issue, starting with an unequivocal
denunciation of fascism and those in his base who truly are deplorably
however — On the Left (and in the Center), we need to start now learning who is
showing up for antifascist demonstrations, and the Peace and Justice component
of protest movements needs to determine how much to accept and work with the
ideological grandsons (and a granddaughter or two) of that anarchist at the U
of I: young people enthusiastically willing to challenge opponents armed more heavily
than the police and FBI in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois ca. 1970.
the one hand, decent America may find itself in the situation of Chicago in the
run-up to World War II, and it may be necessary to have cadres of young folk
willing to "take it to the streets." On the other hand — on the other
hand, I'll put it this way. If I were a Republican black-ops operative
preparing for the elections of 2018 and 2020, an operative of "a certain ... 'moral
flexibility,'" I'd be putting money, incendiary tracts, and
provocateurs into several of the more obscure and violent fascist groups and into the more ideologically ardent
anarchists, Trotskyites, and any remaining Maoists or LaRoucheans. When the struggle gets taken to the street — especially in our time of open-carry on those
streets — when there's street fighting and riots and maybe firefights, it's thriving time for politicians
of the "Law'n'Order" variety, and nobody in America does law and
order appeals better than Republicans backed by operatives with the "moral
flexibility" to paint any and all opponents as soft on crime and violence.
This round of extremism, the Left is
way behind the Right. Still, violence in the streets from just about any source
is likely to help Republicans win elections. If they play their cards right —
or wrongly enough — street violence may
help the more respectable-looking Right to a victory like Nixon over McGovern
in 1972 and the backlash victories from 1968 on.
readers may here supply analogies, if we're really unlucky, with 1933.