Thursday, December 08, 2005

Flourishing in the dark

[Mark Martin, right, leader of the Ohio branch of the National Socialist Movement, leads his troops in Toledo. Photo by Isis.]

The city of Toledo is now girding for another invasion of their city by neo-Nazis, and it's clear that officials are intent on avoiding a repeat of the disaster that befell them the last time.

Today they filed a lawsuit to force the National Socialist Movement from repeating its performance of October:
The city of Toledo says it will file a lawsuit today in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against the National Socialist Movement and any counter-protesters to a neo-Nazi rally Saturday, seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent them from rallying, assembling, or parading in any other place other than the rally site at Government Center downtown.

If granted, city officials said the restraining order or injunction would prevent the groups from making an unannounced visit in or near residential neighborhoods, particularly those in the vicinity of North Toledo where the Oct. 15 riot occurred.

An earlier profile of Ohio's NSM activists in the Columbus Dispatch [subscription required] describes how these hate groups continue to flourish just out of public view:
Ohio communities haven’t seen this level of activity by an extremist group for years. Gone are the rallies of the late 1990s, when the Ku Klux Klan held protests almost monthly in small towns and bigger cities.

But groups that monitor white supremacists and other extremists say Ohioans shouldn’t be fooled into thinking hate groups have gone away. They've just gone underground.

"Most of these groups don't do rallies. They're more secretive," said Mark Pitcavage, who monitors hate groups for the Anti-Defamation League. "There is still a lot of white-supremacist activity in Ohio."

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama monitors 31 hate groups in Ohio, up from 22 in 1998.

These groups were more visible from the late 1990s to 2001 because three Ku Klux Klan groups were the dominant white supremacists in Ohio. And the Klan liked to demonstrate in public places.

Hate rallies were so common that the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation produced a tape to show lawenforcement agencies how to handle them. Concrete barriers and metal detectors were commonplace, as police sought to keep the extremists away from angry counterdemonstrators.

Then those Klan groups fell apart.

Jeff Berry, who led the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan group that rallied all over northwestern Ohio, went to prison. He and some supporters held a television crew at gunpoint until they gave him their tape. He served more than three years.

The head of a second Ohio Klan group moved to Jasper, Texas. A third organization just disintegrated.

Without a dominant leader, extremist groups tend to collapse, Pitcavage said.

"One person often makes the difference. It's someone with the drive or the organizational skills to make it happen. We're not talking about vast social movements," he said.

The groups that remain, however, are more subversive than the Klan. They communicate via the Internet and at meetings on private property.

That doesn’t make them any less dangerous, their watchdogs said.

Anthony Griggs, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said his organization is concerned because the Ohio State Skinheads, a statewide group, recently held a meeting in Hocking County in an apparent attempt to unite with other skinhead groups.

"They feel that by working together, their goals will be more easily achieved," he said. "My instinct is they are definitely growing."

... Bill White, spokesman for the Virginia chapter of the National Socialist Movement that organized the Toledo rally, said the monitoring won’t thwart the group's efforts. There are several chapters in Ohio, he said, that will become more vocal.

"Our Ohio unit has become a lot more active in the last few months," he
said. "We will be involved in demonstrations all the time."

The other day, Matt Stoller had a nice in-depth examination of the spread of right-wing extremism, focusing on the Minutemen. But what he observed applies equally to what we're seeing in places like Toledo:

We're seeing a real flourishing of right-wing extremism in no small part because of its increasing absorption into the mainstream right.
I got mad at the researcher I talked to because it was very clear she hasn't studied what bubbles beneath the surface of our politics. The Democratic Party and the liberal base of it is basically a pro-capitalist group who believes in a safety net and collective action to preserve the rule of law and some measure of equality of opportunity. There are extremists, but they are outside the party and most importantly, not on the whole particularly dangerous. The Republican Party base is full of people who believe that vigilante groups like the Minutemen are patriotic, and those that oppose them are enemies of the state. The Republican Party base does things like endorse rape as a legitimate function of property rights, which leads directly to the demonization of women. They embrace their crazies, and defend those who threaten minorities with violence. They even call us unserious on national security because we condemn those who use violence to enforce a racist agenda.

Extremism is an inherent characteristic of human societies, but it is the mark of civilization how one manages that extremism. The left-wing is basically a mainstream movement, and seeks to expel extremists from our coalition. The right-wing is not. Republican Party activists either endorse white supremacy through the use of coded attacks on illegal immigrants, or they legitimize such attacks by disagreeing with the groups but keeping them in the coalition.

I was angry at that researcher for the same reason I bristle at most mainstream political strategists. She is paid to detect the broadest spectrum of feelings, hence the immediate recoil at 'both extremes', but not to actually understand the extremism at the core of the Republican Party. The advice that comes from such research is bad if you are a progressive. Pretend that the leaders of both parties are moderates. Seek extremism in your own party, and disavow it. Don't talk about 'icky' things, like rape, or race, or civilian casualties in Iraq. Don't reverse insane policies like the war on drugs that remove freedom from a substantial part of the populace. That will simply turn off the middle, because they want to believe that what we have now is mainstream, and changes demanded by either side's base are just extreme.

I have a different way of looking at it, aside from chopping the public up into a mainstream that doesn't like icky things, and two politically equivalent extremes. We need to ask all Americans to reach higher, to say that the loss of, say, New Orleans is the manifestation of Republican extremism, and our tolerance of it. We need to draw a direct line between the Minutemen/Free Republic axis of the Republican Party, and Iraq, New Orleans, Scooter, etc. We need to show, explicitly, that the awful events in the past, and the ones to come, are the result of Republican Party's core extremism, and our tolerance of it. Most Americans think they are doing reasonably well, though there is deep anxiety over the clear storm clouds on the horizon. Crafting an overall narrative of extremism on the right, drawing directly from their racist and vicious mainstream activists, as well as the story of our tolerance of this lunacy, is key to explaining the storm clouds.

We need to show the extremism, the tolerance of it, and offer a counter-narrative. We aren't better than the Republicans because our policies make more sense, we are better than the Republicans because America is better than vicious extremism, because Americans are better than our worst instincts. We are setting things right in our own party, in our lives, and we will do so in America. Join us.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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