I drove down from Atlanta to Newnan Saturday afternoon to go gawk at the Nazis. They were scheduled to hold a rally that by that time was much-publicized. Counter-protesters were set to descend on Newnan, and there was to be a very, very large police presence. There turned out to be nearly 700 officers from 42 different agencies, according to the AJC. While I did see a lot of police officers in paramilitary gear carrying very large weapons, I wasn’t around to witness the police aggression or subsequent arrests of protesters.
I didn’t even see the Nazis I’d come to gawk at. In order to get close to them, I was routed along with other protesters through a series of closed-off streets through a checkpoint where we were patted down before we proceeded to the designated protest area. From there, I could see some flags and banners hung on some sort of stage in the distance. I saw no swastikas on them, but was struck by their color scheme: red, white, and blue… and black. Almost as if they were declaring themselves to be anti-American, or, maybe in their eyes, some superior subversion of American.
The actual Nazis were apparently somewhere beyond those banners, and I never set my eyes on one. Lots of heavily armed officers, a temporary fence, and about sixty or seventy feet separated the protesters from the Nazis behind their banners.
Restless, I walked back to downtown Newnan, a couple of blocks away, where the courthouse was also surrounded by cops. Notably, in front of the courthouse is a monument to William Thomas Overby, a Confederate soldier who was captured and executed without trial by Union army. There I witnessed two heated conversations. In this and a subsequent blog post, I’m going to discuss each in detail because I think the ideas expressed in them, most of which I disagree with, are probably not all that rare.
The first was between a local photojournalist and a guy who seemed to have similar aspirations, a nice-looking camera on a strap around his neck. He was white, in his early twenties. (There was a third guy as well, who was playing a sort of “neutral” role, but the most noteworthy thing about his presence was that he had on a tee shirt that featured Deadpool riding a unicorn. I’m pretty ignorant of comics, so to me it was nothing but a pretty funny image.)
The main point of contention seemed to be about the necessity and wisdom of there being a protest at all. The young white guy, wearing a Georgia Tech hat, said that all these people coming out gave the Nazis too much attention. People like antifa (he viewed antifa as a group of people rather than a set of tactics, which some view it as), by their actions, were giving “racist dads watching the news with their five year-olds” an excuse, an inroads, to pass on their racism. An ideology like Nazism, he said, only spreads and gains popularity when people show strong and vocal opposition to it. This makes it easier for the Nazis to claim they’re being persecuted and gain sympathy from people who might not otherwise have given them any, and it also brings attention to Nazi ideas in general, since everyone’s talking about them.
His other point, somewhat related, was that these protests cost taxpayers a lot of money, in the form of closed businesses and the eleventy billion police officers on duty. (If by chance you read this, Georgia Tech dude, I hope I’ve fairly represented your stances, and I’ll gladly post a reply if you’d like.)
Let’s take a look at some of these claims, starting with the one that making such a big deal about the Nazi gathering is counterproductive because it brings them attention they wouldn’t receive otherwise. (We’ll ignore for a moment the irony of this guy saying this while attending the very event whose existence he finds counterproductive.) I can imagine there’s a certain appeal in this idea for some people. After all, there ended up being something like thirty Nazis. Thirty. A small town was utterly disrupted for at least a weekend. There were seven hundred cops in riot gear. Armored trucks. Arrests. All for thirty Nazis. A person might be tempted to declare the whole thing a little ridiculous, if for no other reason than that the response seems disproportional. The argument is basically, “Guys, you’re just making too big a deal out of this.” A quick thought experiment for the anti-protester crowd: What if, rather than Nazis, there had been a public gathering of Muslims who were committed to the worst fever-dream version of Sharia law that you could imagine. (I say that because I think many people who fear Sharia law have little conception of what it is. I also don’t have a deep understanding of what it is -- I’m just not afraid of it.)
Would you insist that people shouldn’t bother to go protesting these Shariah-lawyers? That left to their own devices, they’d just fade away, unable to spread their message as long as the public-at-large paid them no mind? Maybe so, but I have doubts.
(Diversity IS a strength; just not sure this restaurant in downtown Newnan helps or hurts the case for it.)
Anyway, back to the actual Nazis. It seems to me that their ideology is so noxious that it must be publicly and peacefully challenged. They’re not a group of harmless weirdos. They’re not LARPers, for fuck’s sake. (Sorry LARPers, that’s a cheap shot, I know.) Their stated goals include things like turning the U.S. into a white ethnostate and creating a permanent racial hierarchy with whites above everyone else no matter what. In order to accomplish these goals, they need to spread their ideas. They are no doubt conjuring ways to do so right now, whether people show up to protest them or not. They’re not going to keep to themselves. To do so would be against their core beliefs. “They want this attention,” the anti-protesters say. I disagree. What they want is power. To the degree that attention brought to them via protests can be leveraged into power, they’ll take it.
But are the protests breeding sympathy for them, adding to their power? I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible. But think for a moment about the person who hears about people waving mean signs at Nazis and thinks to themselves, “You know what? Those Nazis are getting a bum rap, and I’m so disgusted by those sign wavers that I’m inclined to get on board with their agenda of ethnic cleansing.” If such a person exists, I think the risk of them arriving at this flagrantly dumb conclusion is not worth the rest of us refraining from dissenting against some of the worst ideas humanity has ever created.
Finally, there’s the issue of tax dollars. I sympathize with this frustration. It sucks that we have to expend so many resources because of Nazis. (I’d humbly put forward that a less robust police presence could have saved a lot of money at this event.) But here it’s worth taking the long view: if you think that by combating Nazism you are protecting the future of this country for ourselves and our children, I can’t think of a better way for my money to be spent.
In part II of this post, I’ll discuss the other conversation I heard, dominated mostly by a guy in a MAGA hat who started an amazing number of statements with by saying, “Look, it is what it is.” Yes it is, sir. What else could it be?