Make Them Hear You! is a weekly feature on KGNU, produced by Chris Mohr, letting listeners know how they can have their voices heard on issues up before Congress. You can hear it Wednesday mornings at 8.20am during the Morning Magazine.
After a right-wing terrorist killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, people are wondering what they should do if Nazis rally in their city. Should they confront them directly? History says no. Charlottesville came right out of the Nazi playbook. In the 1920s, a fringe group called the Nazi Party scheduled a rally in the Berlin district of Wedding, right where their enemies lived, to provoke them. Hundreds of Nazis descended on Wedding. Opponents came out to disrupt the rally, heckling the speakers. A massive brawl ensued; 100 people were hurt. Historians believe that rally helped the Nazis build a dictatorship by creating an escalating spiral of street violence. Physical confrontations gave the Nazis a chance to paint themselves as the victims of a lawless left. And it worked. Germans supported the fascists because they were afraid of left-wing violence in the streets, and gave the government special police powers to stop leftists. The fact that the Nazis themselves started the violence didn’t matter.
Accusations of violence in the streets tend to damage the left. This was true in Germany in the 1920s, even when anti-fascists acted in self-defense or used relatively mild tactics, such as heckling. It is true in the United States today, where heckling at Republican town hall meetings appear on the nightly news and make the left look dangerous. Today, racists are going around the country staging rallies just like the one in 1927 in Wedding, picking places where they know antifascists are present, like university campuses, hoping for violence.
Donald Trump said there was violence “on both sides.” The antifa or antifascists gave Trump some evidence for his claim. Trump says police are too constrained by existing law. A CBS poll found a majority of Republicans said Trump’s description of who was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville was “accurate.” This back-and-forth violence fits a well-documented pathway of democracies devolving into dictatorships. And to be blunt, young leftists with sticks are no match for Nazis with AK47s and knives.
When opposing racists, a counter-event away from them seems to work better. Joyful protests somewhere else, where the targets of the racist hatred are invited to speak, have proven effective. Do not heckle or confront racist groups directly. Stand up to them in a way that denies them a chance for bloodshed. A European group raises money for every kilometer the racists march, giving the proceeds to anti-racist groups. They hand out flyers to the Nazi marchers, thanking them for their support of the organizations the Nazis despise. We don’t need more deaths alike Heather Heyer’s. Don’t give the racists the violence they want. For that matter, don’t even give Fox News the video footage they thrive on when we shout and swear at Cory Gardner and other Republicans at town hall meetings.
Nonviolent resistance works, even when it comes to overthrowing dictators. In the past century, 30 nonviolent campaigns faced massive repression, yet 70 percent succeeded. Terrorists achieve their goals only 7 percent of the time.
Whatever your political goals, try nonviolence and non-heckling. Contact your Congresspeople with dignity.