My 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 of 1961-62.
I 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.
There 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.
The 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.
I 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.
All 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.
I got polite applause, said only "Thank you" — nothing about the Nazis — left the stage, and got on with my business.
Whether 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.
Concern 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 they were.
Later, 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.
My 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.
The 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.
The 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
I cracked up at the phrase, and then told him, still politely, "Okay, now put the sign down and go."
And he went away, and after a couple moments Bob and I moved on as the demonstration peacefully ended.
In 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").
As 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 fascistic.
However, 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.
On 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.
Older readers may here supply analogies, if we're really unlucky, with 1933.
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