Opinion Articles

Release Date: Monday May 20 2019

Into the Fray – Dayton, Ohio

All out protest against the Ku Klux Klan

In Dayton, Ohio on May 25th the “Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” have called for a rally on the courthouse steps of this midwestern city. Anti-fascists from around the region are mobilizing to counter the Klan rally. There are several different strategies being used to counter the Klan rally. Michael Sh. a organizer with DC United Against Hate discusses some of these strategies as well as the need to build a organized anti-fascist movement to confront the growing violent far right in the United States.

As summer approaches, so does the potential for increased fascist and far-right activity across the United States. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, we have seen the further emboldening of violent far right racists; this emboldening has manifested most disturbingly in vigilante white supremacist mass shootings such as the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting that killed 11 Jewish people, the Christchurch, New Zealand shooting that killed 51 Muslims, and most recently in San Diego at the Poway Synagogue that killed 1 person. I can, unfortunately, cite many more instances of mass shootings and other acts of violence, such as in 2017 when we had the brutal stabbings on the Portland subway system and the murder of Richard Collins III, a black student killed on University of Maryland’s campus. Hate crimes have been on the rise for some time now; FBI statistics show a 17% rise in hate crimes from 2016-2017 and the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2018 recorded 1,020 hate groups, a record high.

What does society do when we are essentially under attack by an increasingly brazen and organized white supremacist far right? In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election we saw groups on the so-called Alt-Right (a contemporary term for a certain breed of white supremacists) use public “free speech” rallies across the country to tap into Donald Trump’s base. This was only made possible because of the disgusting racism, sexism, and overall bigotry that characterized the Trump campaign. These organized Alt-Right forces saw an opportunity to legitimize hate and grow their fascist organizations. The culmination of these public rallies was a mass rally in Charlottesville Virginia in 2017 called “Unite the Right”. This event brought together people across the far right, from avowed neo-nazis to neo-confederate groups as well as “patriot” militia groups. The result was 70 injured and one young women dead from a terrorist attack in which a  white supremacist used his car to hurt and kill as many people as possible. 

We see what happens when the far right mobilizes in the streets; from California to Washington D.C., wherever the fascists show up they bring violence with them, but they have been less willing to organize public events so far this summer. I would argue that this is because of the backlash they received from their participation in “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville. Many far-right groups have changed their names to distance themselves from the violence in Charlottesville. One indication of the current state of the fascist movement is the recent protests in Long Beach, California in late April. The group “United Patriots National Front” planned to have a “free speech” rally. This group has a history of violence and was connected to the violence in Charlottesville. Fortunately, however, hundreds of anti-racists and anti-fascists organized to counter the event. When the time came, the racists never showed up. Instead, the anti-racist contingent held a celebratory march against racism. The ability of anti-fascist to organize counter protests when the far right try and organize in public spaces is crucial to dis-empowering and demobilizing this newly emboldened and dangerous far right.

The next test for the anti-fascist movement and a lesser but still noteworthy indication of the strength and organization of the far right is a KKK rally scheduled to happen on May 25th in Dayton, Ohio; the KKK are no longer representative of the far right as a whole, but they continue to exist and encourage violent white supremacy.. The Honorable Sacred Knights, a branch of the KKK, is planning on having a rally at the Dayton courthouse. There is a counter protest being planned as well as de-escalation trainings being organized by SURJ Stand Up for Racial Justice. The community of Dayton is coming together to oppose the Klan, but not everyone thinks counter protesting is effective. News website The Forwardreported:

A Justice Department liaison invited to speak at a community meeting, Daedra A. Von Mike McGhee, urged residents not to go to the May 25 event.

“But obviously if you choose to go, I still would not engage,” McGhee said, according to the local newspaper. “Because nothing good comes from that … There’s no way to engage peacefully or intellectually or any other way that would be positive for the community. What you would be doing is actually feeding into what they want”

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said some in the community hoped to ignore the Klan, others wanted to confront them, and a third group is planning alternative events of communal support at the same time.

What Strategy?

There are several strategies people use to oppose the far right. The Dayton police chief talks about three specific strategies. One strategy is simply to ignore the right wing mobilizing in your community. The argument usually goes “if you give them attention and show they can get to you, it will encourage them. Just ignore them and they’ll go away.”  This disregards the very real material conditions that create fascists/racists in the first place. If getting rid of racism was as easy as ignoring them when they show up, then we would have already won a world free of racism. Ignoring open fascists is a dangerous game as fascism is built into capitalism as a failsafe for the rich. What does this mean? When society becomes so unequal that the masses of workers move to overthrow the oppressive and exploitative system of capitalism, capitalists will use fascist organizations to destroy any revolutionary movement/working class self organization and put fascist organizations at the head of the state.

Another strategy that is popular specifically with more liberal-minded groups is to have what many call “Peace Picnics”. “Peace Picnics” are usually events planned far away from the actual white supremacist rally. The goal of these events is to build “community” and counter the hate that these racist groups bring. While this tactic relies upon organizing others and can create a positive sense of community (which is great), it ultimately fails to fully confront and oppose racists in the most direct and effective way. If left to their own devices, white supremacist organizations will use any opening to recruit new members and grow. I do think there are various reasons for some people to prefer less direct contact with white supremacist forces, ie vulnerable communities, children, elderly people, etc. It is possible as well for “Peace Picnics” and direct confrontation to work together through coordination; they do not have to be mutually exclusive. However, while there is value to Peace Picnics, on their own they are insufficient to push back against the threat posed by gatherings of white supremacists.

The third strategy is to directly confront the Nazi or Nazi-adjacent group in the same physical space they are attempting to occupy. To be clear, this strategy is not emphasizing physical confrontation in the form of physical contact or violence, but rather demonstrating, through our physical presence, that we are not ceding any ground. This strategy offers several different benefits to the counter protests. The first thing to remember about this strategy is “numbers”, specifically outnumbering the attendees of the Nazi rally. Numbers are the primary goal when you engage in direct confrontation. By using numbers to overwhelm our enemy, we show the Nazi ideology to be in the minority in society (which is true). Sometimes when racists are confronted with the reality they are in the minority, it dis-empowers them and challenges their belief that their ideas are supported by a silent majority. Having overwhelming numbers also serves as protection from the far right as most of these people are cowards and will not try and use physical force if they are clearly outnumbered. We have seen examples of this at the Boston rally a week after Unite the Right in Charlottesville where 40,000 counter protesters descended on a small group of racists, clearing the racists from the city in a matter of minutes. Another example was on the first anniversary of Unite the Right in Washington DC, where white supremacist organizer Jason Kessler planned a “White Civil Rights” rally at the White House. Over one thousand came out to confront this rally that lasted a mere fifteen minutes. Both rallies saw few if any injuries.

Beyond showing up with overwhelming numbers, when we oppose fascists by refusing to grant them space we show observers, both  nearby and outside the community, that there is an alternative worldview, one in which diversity, equality, and solidarity exist. This alternative view is directly opposed to the views of the white supremacist that sees people as better or worse based on their identity. Because the purpose of these right wing mobilizations is to recruit, when we oppose them with a different worldview it lets an audience full of those they wish to recruit know that there is another, better option and that, if they do attempt to join up with the Nazis, they will not go unopposed.

Finally, when we organize to confront white supremacists directly we are also building up the capacity and self organization of the working class. This is crucial to defeating fascism as an ideology once and for all. When we talk about ways to confront white supremacist rallies, we must also talk about the role of the state. As anti-fascists, we must understand that the apparatus of the state can be used to quash working-class movements and we cannot rely on the government to protect us or push back on fascist organizing. While on occasion the state will stand up to the far right physically, such as in Charlottesville when the Governor of Virginia ultimately declared a state of emergency allowing the cops to physically clear the permitted site of the far right bigots. The state will also try and use legal strategies to stop the far-right. Any action taken by the state against far right forces will be used as an argument by these same forces to make themselves out to be victims of the state. This allows for far-right groups to gain sympathy from broader right-wing forces by playing the victim card (although this is harder to do after the results in Cville).

Organizing the broadest opposition to the far right is the best way to gain the numbers needed to overwhelm them. This means building coalitions that are democratic and committed to standing in solidarity with the oppressed. This means having accountable and democratic leadership that people can trust when they enter the anti-fascist movement. This means organizing accessible actions in which all can take part, actions that are publicized and built long before the white supremacist show up. In Dayton, Ohio activists are doing just that, through the “Better Dayton Coalition” led by Black Lives Matter Miami Valley. There is a clear and public counter protest underway, making it easy for those wishing to participate to get involved. I have also heard about a “Socialist Contingent” being organized by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). I applaud DSA members who are helping organize this initiative, as a new DSA member myself I hope to make anti-fascism a crucial part of the organization. The capacity and resources of any movement are precious. This is why All Against Fascism (AAF), a national network of anti-fascist organizers, is being built: to help local organizers be more successful in confronting and opposing far right activity in their communities. AAF strives to increase the capacity of local anti-fascist organizers and be a space for discussion on strategy, tactics, assessments and intelligence for the movement. I urge all who are able to come together in Dayton, Ohio and oppose the vile KKK and their supporters. Anyone interested in joining the All Against Fascism network please email allagainstfascismblog@gmail.com so you can connect to other anti-fascist organizers around the country.

Oppose the KKK in Dayton, Ohio

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