Thursday, March 27, 2008

Confronting the radical right

-- by Dave

One of the stranger aspects of the Nazi rally in Olympia a couple of years ago was the fact that the 12 or so neo-Nazis who gathered on the state Capitol steps to demand, among other things, an end to Latino immigration, were being protected by a phalanx of the Washington State Patrol some 275 strong.

Of course, they were there to protect these Nazis from the more than 300 people who showed up to protest them. Mind you, it was clear that the protesters were mostly intent on making fun of the swastika set, and violence was far from anyone's intent that day. But besides wasting a large chunk of government dough, the event also created the disturbing impression that the law-enforcement officers were far more interested in protecting the Nazis' free-speech rights than the anti-Nazis. I'm sure that wasn't the intent, but the impression was there, in any event.

Certainly, the role of law enforcement in being too lax created scenes the year before in Toledo that no one wanted to see reproduced. And in that instance, the laxity had raised real questions about police sympathies, too.

Mostly, law enforcement is caught between a rock and a hard spot in these situations. And there's no doubt the neo-Nazi types love to exploit that fact.

Lasty Friday a neo-Nazi demonstration in Calgary turned ugly when they began getting violent with the anti-Nazi protestors who showed up:
A group of white supremacists named the Aryan Guard staged a march from the Mewata Armoury down 8th Avenue to city hall, prompting anti-racism activists to stage their own demonstration.

The activists, plus union leaders, anarchists, minority groups, passersby and gay activists held their own rally as a counter-demonstration to the white supremacists, said Anti-Racist Action Calgary's Jason Devine.

"Our message is that there's strength in numbers ... that the community is united, that racism will not be tolerated, that it shouldn't be tolerated and that we shouldn't just turn from it," he said.

Approximately 25 Aryan Guard members gathered at the Franklin LRT station, rode the C-Train to downtown and started making their way down to the Mewata Armoury, when they were blocked by counter-demonstrators along 7th Avenue, in front of a seniors' centre.

Calgary Sun columnist Pablo Fernandez voiced some of the strong emotions that watching Nazis march under police escort can raise, especially in a community where they have taken not merely to marching but to their usual acts of street thuggery:
But since they started posting pictures of themselves on the Internet with guns and baseball bats -- and after two recent Molotov cocktail attacks in the city were tied to possible white supremacist activity -- it's the counter-protesters who have to hide their faces. One person who knows the danger of standing up against the neo-Nazis is Bonnie Collins.

She, her four children -- aged three to nine -- and her husband, Jason, were all home when their house was fire bombed on Feb. 12.

That moment was painfully relived Friday, when Bonnie -- as part of a counter-demonstration -- confronted the neo-Nazis, who asked her, "How's your house, Bonnie?" while standing behind a cordon of police officers on the front steps of city hall.

"Is it nice and toasty in there? How's Jason and the kids?"

Apart from gaining ground in their intimidation campaign, the neo-Nazis showed they have absolute freedom of movement in Calgary.

They marched, under police escort, from one end of downtown to the other, and although Calgary Police Service members faced the counter-demonstrators the entire time, the white supremacists made it clear to their opponents police were there to protect them, not the neo-Nazis.

In reality, it might have been more of a problem for the police to be protecting the Nazis had the group of protesters not been so clearly intent on confrontation and ultimately violence. That was in distinct contrast to the crowd in Olympia -- though under the circumstances, certainly foreseeable.

Fernandez starts to get the right idea later in the column:
Members of the Aryan Guard also have rights.

But the fact they can intimidate, threaten, recruit and feel comfortable enough to do as they please in full public view is something Calgarians cannot ignore.

Citizens, of course, should feel free to do as they please in public view so long as it's not criminal behavior -- including threatening and intimidation, things at which the Nazis excel. And it's that point which Calgarians have the right to demand police action.

Unfortunately, threatening and intimidation from their opponents simply negates that point. If these would-be enemies of fascism wanted to be effective, they'd also be a lot smarter.

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