Before we even get into this, I need to say that I loathe the term “alt-right.”
I know, I know, I used it in my headline. I used it for the same reason so many other journalists use it — it’s short and it’s controversial.
But I’m not talking about alternative politics that are comparable to asking your waiter to substitute your fries with a salad.
I’m talking about the rise of hard-line right wing extremism like neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists. Calling this sort of extremism “alternative” only serves to disguise the fact that we are referring not only to bigots and racists, but people who advocate and support the degradation, subjugation and even genocide of people who just look or act differently than them.
So step one to resisting the spread of hate is to call a spade a spade.
And in the same vein of logic as step one, step two is to stop comparing apples to swastika-bearing oranges.
This means as much as I vehemently disagree with folks who argue taking down Confederate statues is tantamount to erasing their cultural heritage, that stance should absolutely be allowed to be voiced.
Just because I think that argument is culturally insensitive doesn’t automatically invalidate it.
Our communities should not be defined by the right or the left, but by how the two ideologies come together — the debate over whether or not Confederate memorabilia ought to be removed should continue in a respectful, collaborative fashion.
But we don’t have that luxury of civil discourse when it comes to resisting the influence of extremist hate. We always need to be taking an active stance against the ideas of racial hatred and white supremacy, or risk it spreading far and wide.
But what’s the proper way to do so?
I’ll be the first person to admit that if I protested a neo-Nazi or white supremacist rally, I’d want to grab the first hate-spewing troglodyte who gave me any excuse and make cordial introductions between their face and my fist.
It might feel right in the moment, but the consequences of such a rash action reach much further than another pointless scuffle that ends in bruises, tear gas and jail time.
We can’t successfully resist hate if we give way to our base emotions and act on impulse, because extremists on any side want fighting. They want us to lose control and lash out. They want to appear as the victims so they can return the violence we give them, and given their propensity for extreme responses, they’re likely to return it tenfold against innocent victims.
We should let them spew whatever claptrap they want. It’s much better to give these people space behind a podium, rather than behind the barrel of a gun.
So to avoid inviting that sort of trouble, Morris Dee’s Southern Poverty Law Center has published a list of 10 thing you can do as an individual to resist hate groups and their messages.
The group strongly recommends counter-protests be held away from extremist rallies in an effort to deny these groups the attention and violence they crave.
“Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity. Many communities facing a hate group rally have held alternative events at the same hour, some distance away, emphasizing strength in community and diversity,” SPLC writes. “These events give people a safe outlet for the frustration and anger they want to vent.”
While SPLC’s suggestions would lead to far safer rallies and counter-protests, I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this strategy lacks the certain “umph” that comes from literally facing down some of our world’s most hateful ideologies. I want to show, not only to extremists but the rest of the world, that I am not afraid to stand up to bigotry and meet it head-on.
But what options do we have left? As far as I’m concerned, none. At least, not if we continue to only counter hate with our own anger and frustration.
So let’s throw something else at them, something that’ll really shake their fascist foundations: laughter.
After all, Satan hates to be mocked.
A decade ago, a group of 12 neo-Nazis held a rally on the Washington state Capitol steps. Nearly 300 people showed up to protest, but instead of expressing their outrage, they made fun of the “completely unimpressive” group by dressing up as Nazi clowns, wrote David Neiwert, a local journalist who covered the event.
“They pranced and laughed and danced in the front of the crowd, setting the lighthearted mocking tone that prevailed throughout the afternoon,” he wrote in his 2006 blog post, calling the protest of the Northwest chapter of the National Socialist Movement event one of the most effective he’s ever seen.
“By making mockery the theme of the day, it transformed the mood of the crowd from an angry one — and who wouldn’t get angry if they actually listened to what these Nazis were saying? — into a celebratory one. They played music, they danced, and made so much noise having fun that, if you were in the crowd, you couldn’t hear a word the Nazis were spewing,” Neiwert continued. “It also seemed to disorient and dishearten the Nazis… it was clear from their taunts that they hoped to spark violence from (the protesters), a la Toledo. But after awhile it became clear that their audience was, for the most part, studiously ignoring anything they had to say, and was more intent on dancing and playing music than taking after their sorry asses. And this clearly deflated them.”
Fighting hate with violence or anger, however justifiable, only feeds the trolls.
Anger is the easy. Hate is easy. These emotions give us strength and the will to act, but ultimately, they lead only to pain and suffering. We cannot afford to go down this dark path.
It will be challenging to some, and impossible for others — maybe especially for the victims of these evils, which I admit I am not.
But at the end of the day, when we gather together to protest groups like the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party, our goal shouldn’t just be to stand up to their hate.
We also have to stand up to our own.
It’s much easier to stand up against the hate you oppose than it is to confront the hate inside yourself, or in your brothers and sisters-in-arms.
But it’s the right thing to do.
We spend too much time feeding our inner darkness. The only way to win the war, not just the battle, is to embrace the light.
So when they “Sieg Heil,” we should sing “Springtime for Hitler.”
When they preach racial dominance, we host a Der Führer drag contest and set up a David Duke dunk tank.
And when they brandish their firearms and fly their flags in an attempt to frighten us, intimidate us, trick us into giving in to our own hate, we need to laugh and dance and let peace, love and light drown out the dark.
This is how we win. Everything else is a Pyrrhic victory.