Why is the KKK losing to free speech? Daryl Davis is why. We’ll get to him a bit later. Even before the terrible events of Charlottesville the movement to remove statues of Confederate figures has grown. A list of states looking to do so can be found here. It so happens on the same subject, a poll was taken by MilitaryTimes on whether 10 of the forts (Fort Lee, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Rucker and Camp Beauregard) throughout the US and one naval vessel (the submarines Robert E Lee, Dixon, Jackson and Huntley have all been decommissioned. The guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville is still in service named after the greatest victory of General Lee) named after Confederate soldiers/battles be changed. The result from 8,000 polled so far is 71% in the No camp. Whatever the arguments for and against it would seem the majority of Americans are prepared to accept the history. One could question why the US military decided to name things after a former enemy of the United States in the first place? If you read the detailed histories of the ships named after Confederate commanders they symbolize their military skill and leadership not their defence of slavery.
Monument destruction is not new. We only need go back to the 1990s when Ukraine started to demolish the 5,500 monuments of Vladimir Lenin that were scattered around the country, except those with a WW2 significance. Basically the idea was Ukrainians wished to show their disgust at communist rule but honour those who bravely fought for their freedom. Look at how many statues of dictators in the Middle East and North Africa have been torn down since Saddam fell.
The Civil War and the emancipation of slaves is deeply etched in American history. 620,000 died in the conflict. Interestingly in an 1866 letter to fellow Confederate Gen. Thomas L. Rosser, General Robert E. Lee wrote, “As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt … would have the effect of … continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties.”
Robert E.Lee’s great grandson, Robert E.Lee V said, “We have to be able to have that conversation around the symbols of the Confederacy without all of the hatred and the violence…if they choose to take those statues down, fine. Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard.”
That is the point which is no doubt upsetting certain groups. They feel their ‘free speech’ (hate speech to some) is being violated. The 1st Amendment is what it is. No matter how one may feel about the views of such extremist groups, the question of legality rears its ugly head. There is no law against carrying a Nazi or KKK flag as abhorrent and offensive as the action is. It is vulgar and gets all the shock value it seeks to gain. As much as one might think such a flag bearer getting clocked on the head had what was coming to him, can we honestly say violence will sew seeds of unity?
Charlottesville City tried to revoke the Unite the Right’s permit it had issued for the rally to be held in Emancipation Park, so it could move the protestors a mile away to McIntire Park, with the claim of more open space. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Charlottesville and a federal judge ruled that the initial permit was to be honoured. To police the 500 right wing protesters expected to attend, first responders outnumbered them two to one to ensure public safety. However it seems the police were only intervening when violence broke out. Instead of making sure Anti-fa and the nationalists never saw each other, law enforcement was standing passively by, waiting for violence to erupt so that they could declare an emergency and clear the area. We don’t need to work out the rest when two armed groups that detest each other clash. What did people expect? Had Anti-fa not been there, can we assume the protest would have been vile but peaceful? It is highly possible. Once again they were legally entitled to be there regardless of what people may think about their toxic views. As soon as people try to shut down their legal rights, a whole new can of worms will be opened. The counter-protestors achieve the complete opposite of what they set out to do.
To put the shoe on the other foot. If Anti-fa, which specializes in shutting down speech it doesn’t agree with, was banned from protesting we wouldn’t hear the end of it. Even if Anti-fa had a permit to protest in Charlottesville, why on earth would any city grant two groups so diametrically opposed the opportunity to vent on the same day? That is like leaving Bambi in a cage full of hungry wolves. The outcome was obvious.
ACLU Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said, “The situation that occurred was preventable, and our lawsuit challenging the City to act constitutionally did not cause it. … All we did was ask the City to live up to the requirements of the Constitution. That it failed to do so is on the City, not us.”
In reality the protest is over clumps of granite, concrete and bronze. Some see the history of white nationalists, who protest at their demolition, as reason enough to prevent their rights. It is true some of the groups they are part of have committed terrible acts in the century following the end of the Civil War. Some argue it hasn’t ended. Now we are now witnessing the tit-for-tat stupidity of wanting to pull down MLK Jr statues or remove the name plaque from George Washington’s statue! What next? Should the Lincoln Memorial be dynamited? Of course not.
The problem is people aren’t listening. The accusation is that all white nationalists are racists and bigoted. I happen to be white and proud of my country. Does that make me a white nationalist? Is patriotism a bad thing? Does that make me a Nazi? In Australia the number of groups out to shame those who are white is growing. The City of Yarra Council (CoYC) voted this week to ditch Australia Day because they view it as the day the British invaded Aboriginal lands. Despite many Aboriginal leaders expressing the view that Australia Day should be one of inclusiveness, unity and looking forward, the CoYC pushes division by rigging a poll by using activists to get the result to justify their socialist hand-ringing. They want to shame people who had no control over events of 230 years ago. Instead of dealing with rubbish collection and ensuring public restrooms are kept clean, the CoYC thinks it speaks for the majority when it doesn’t. It promotes a grievance culture that only looks backward.
Take African American Daryl Davis who has converted over 200 people to leave the KKK by allowing them to express their views. He says, “People say, “Daryl, how can you have this stuff (KKK memorabilia)? Why don’t you burn it?” I say as shameful as it is you don’t burn our history regardless of the good, the bad and the ugly. And the Ku Klux Klan is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet.” Davis goes on to say with respect to free speech, “Give that person a platform. Let these people air their views and people will reciprocate…I never set out to convert anybody…they all converted themselves.”
There in lies the beauty of free speech. If one allows people to peacefully protest within the limits of the law and give them an unfettered ability to express themselves, no matter how crackpot their beliefs, they have no way to complain that they’ve been victimized. Unite the Right had a pretty lame turnout – 500 people. Their actions, were they able to practice them under the banner of freedoms provided by the constitution, would have done little to enamour them to the wider audience they want to reach. They looked ridiculous.
The flip side breeds resentment and makes it worse in the long run. Anti-fa’s actions to gag people and treat them with contempt pushes the problem underground making it harder to control. Worse than that these wounds fester in a manner which tends to lead to knee jerk actions as the pressure inside causes raw emotion to override common sense. That is what we got in Charlottesville.
Countless arguments have been made wanting to ban white nationalists from protesting. If people dislike the laws that protect these extremists then they should campaign to ‘amend’ the 1st Amendment to curtail that activity. However they should be prepared to have their own freedoms crimped as well. Laws should never be unjust.
We also hear the term Nazi bandied around like confetti. Were all Kriegsmarine sailors, Wehrmacht soldiers and Luftwaffe pilots hardened Nazis? It raises a true story of a highly decorated Messerschmitt Bf-109 pilot, Franz Stigler, who escorted a stricken US B-17F bomber (on its maiden mission) piloted by Charlie Brown back over the Channel so the injured air crew might survive. Stigler not only risked being shot down himself but potentially faced court martial and execution for aiding and abetting the enemy. The two men shared a great friendship over 18 years after reuniting in 1990. It is a truly heartwarming story. It’s proof to the rest of us that something great done now can change our lives much, much later. Daryl Davis is a modern day Franz Stigler who proves common sense can prevail in testing times.