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What we should take away from Charlottesville

The violence in Charlottesville should have been obvious to anyone paying attention.

Counter-protesters+surrounded+by+a+crowd+of+white+supremacists.+
Counter-protesters surrounded by a crowd of white supremacists.

Counter-protesters surrounded by a crowd of white supremacists.

Evelyn Hockstein - Getty Images

Evelyn Hockstein - Getty Images

Counter-protesters surrounded by a crowd of white supremacists.

Mac Walby, Managing Editor

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When the news of Heather Heyer’s death hit my newsfeed, all I could do was sigh. It was only a matter of time before someone died at one of these “alt-right,” rallies, and I knew they weren’t going to be someone on the Right.

You can’t argue with someone who has decided one race is superior to another, or raise posters against people that brings shields and guns to a rally.

When Jason Kessler, David Duke and other prominent figures in the white supremacy movement announced the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville over the planned removal of a confederate monument, any opposition to the idea from the mostly left-leaning community was disregarded with the usual platitudes.

Taking away one groups’ rights is a slippery slope to the Orwellian dystopia of censorship of Oceania. After all, we must protect free speech, or we’re just as bad as them, right?

Anyone brought up in the United States has been taught from a very early age that free speech is an absolute right that must be protected at all costs, no matter how disagreeable the speech. When Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement, he and his supporters were protected by free speech. When women wanted a right to vote, Helen Johnson and her supporters were protected by free speech.

But what history books fail to mention is that free speech also protected the people actively fighting against those movements. Free speech gave sexists and racists in each era the right to say horrible things and empowered others to commit terrible acts of violence and terrorism in the name of the status quo. It gave the worst among us the power to inflict true fear and emotional trauma on women and minorities who wanted simply to be treated like their white, male counterparts.

Maybe that’s why it is so easy for us as a society to think these issues of racism, sexism and white supremacy were behind us, just a sad time in the past we don’t talk about. But hundreds of torch-wielding ultra-nationalists chanting “jews will not replace us” and carrying signs bearing “blood and soil” as they marched to surround a group of counter protesters should make it clear we have not progressed nearly as much as those history books made it seem.  

It is up to our cities and our communities to make it clear to the “alt-right” and any other hate group that they aren’t welcome in this country now or ever. To deny them their right to free speech and assembly isn’t just necessary; it is our patriotic duty as Americans. We owe it to the men and women who died fighting the Nazi regime to make sure our country never becomes theirs.

After all, there is nothing more American than fighting fascism, at home or abroad.

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