Do we ignore the historical reality that those who gather under the Confederate flag have been traitors to the United States while emphasizing our tolerance for their right to free speech, generally not accorded to other armed revolutionary or extremist groups? Perhaps we should not just call them "white nationalists" or “racists” but "traitors"? Contrary to Donald Trump's rationalization of their "protests" to presumably defend Confederate statues, is their motive to resurrect history to a period denying whole segments of the US population the liberties defined by the Constitution and thus the right to participate in America's open democracy? Do they mean to win a war they lost against America by adopting the old agendas and now cloaking themselves as the new right? Today's struggle is not about the historical symbols of battles past but about returning to the battlefield. The traitor has refashioned himself as patriot, from a golf shirt to an odd combination of "Stars & Stripes" subjugated to the old paraphernalia of exclusion and racism that had already cost America unprecedented loss, indeed brought the Union to the brink of being extinguished.
Theft of History, superimposing Patriot for Traitor:
Those who marched under the Confederate flag where identified as the "traitor" by the Union soldiers who fought under the American "Stars & Stripes." The later song/chanted "Battle Cry of Freedom," (See below), a hymn written to embed the principles of the United States as well as inspire its warrior-patriots. The key melody which would draw the loudest cry from the Union troops was "Down with the Traitor, up with the Stars."
In one of history's greatest thefts Confederates re-appropriated the "Battle Cry of Freedom," same melody but lyrics with an entirely different meaning. The key ode was replaced with: "Down with the Eagle, up with the Cross!"
In no lesser larceny, today's white supremacists claim Patriotism as their own while promoting the Confederate flag alongside the stars and stripes which their predecessors sought to eliminate and bury. This only compounds the conspiracy to subvert the United States as well as our Constitution. Perhaps not so unwittingly, Trump misrepresented the debate of statues to Confederate leaders and "heroes" being removed due to such men being slave owners. He effectively sought to pardon, even lionize the betrayal of the USA by Confederate leaders as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson by shamefully likening them to those Founding Fathers as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were tainted as slave owners. Treason is the key differentiator and crime that denies honor to those who sought to destroy the Union. Robert E. Lee was actually charged with treason only to be freed of the trial by the graciousness of the victorious Union General Ulysses S. Grant. (The Confederate statutes which were erected were as much a reassertion of pre-Civil War dominance of one group of citizens over another as as any honor to those generals or others who served the Confederacy.)
Treason Defines the Difference between Patriot & Traitor
Unfortunately, neither the subversion nor outright violence against America and its citizens did not end with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse or Grant's effective pardon of Lee. "Quantrill's Raiders" terrorized the traumatized civilian population by looting and murdering Union towns purportedly in an effort to perpetuate the Civil War. Confederates soon would reclaim power even before Reconstruction could bring about true change, (as did "de-Nazification" in post Holocaust and WW II Germany.) With the war barely an echo, peaceful Black Union veterans and diverse race supporters meeting in New Orleans to demand the right to vote, after having served and fought for their country, were then ambushed and murdered (exact numbers killed were covered up but it appears to have been in the hundreds) by ex-Confederates and sympathizers acting under the authority of local law enforcement. The event is now known as the "New Orleans Massacre." (See: “ Legacy of Police on Black Violence Pre and Post ‘Selma Bloody Sunday’?”)
The KKK was not so much a secret organization beyond the fringe but one that quickly moved from the shadows into the institutions of authority, still seeded with the Confederate motive of undermining the US and our Constitution. Lynchings along with burning crosses were only the manifestations of a KK intent to instill terror upon those who it deemed the enemy by race, religion or opposition to its authoritarian agenda. (My wife's grandfather, John J. Mates had to confront the Klan as much as any corporate operator in the middle of the last century when he sought to organize coal miners across the US, many of them first and second generation Americans, including many Catholics.) See: “http://diplomatartist.com/does-this-refugee-look-like-an-undesirable-to-be-sent-home/Does this #Refugee Look Like an Undesirable to be Sent Home?”
The first crime of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was treason against the United States regardless of the moral taint of slavery. (Failures to treat Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, other minorities, LGBTQ and women as equal fellow citizens were additional wounds that required treatment along with the deep gash of slavery.) The Declaration of Independence and the substantive Constitution of the United States were the true Revolutionary legacy left to guide and emancipate all Americans from authoritarian tendencies. George Mason, mentor to Washington and Jefferson as well as the guiding champion of the Bill of Rights, was also a slave owner. Upon his death, Mason freed his slaves but most critically envisioned the Constitution as encompassing all Americans. Like many Founding Father contemporaries, slavery was seen as not only a moral stain upon the new Republic but one that would undermine its development if not removed. If not for a few staunch white supremacists and slave owners who held out their support for the war against the British Colonial Crown on the condition that slavery not be abolished, the birth of America would have also meant the demise of slavery. Instead, it took an even more destructive confrontation of the Civil War that brought the United States to its greatest existential challenge, since or before. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Mason left the United States with the formula, the remedy to heal and rise stronger than ever. Confederates sought to destroy it in lieu of healing remedy.
Resurgence of a Criminal Enterprise Committed to America's Demise:
The eventual wearing down of the segregationist and Confederate agenda that has continued since the Civil War has been facilitated by the guiding principles of the US Constitution and the institutions that effectuate as well as defend it. As the Constitution rose, the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, retreated to the shadows. Crime became their means of survival in the last part of the last century, from armed robbery to a supremacist couple holding over a hundred children hostage for ransom. As their international counterparts, from the "Red Army" to ISIS, these American born extremists never hesitated to resort to being parasites upon the crotch of society and as well as intellectual/spiritual virus.
Sensing that they now have a sympathizer(s), a complicit ally(s) in the White House, the old bigots have donned golf shirts instead of sheets, MAGA caps have replaced hoods to project faux patriotism. Their right to free speech, even when hateful and provocative, has been protected by a Constitution that they not only treat as an a la carte menu but one that would be disposed once having consumed its benefits to rise to authoritarian supremacy. Similar threats to the US and its citizens, whether the "Mafia" or ISIS, are not only outlawed but even giving verbal or material support could be cause for prosecution. Has speech of these "white nationalists" crossed into a broader scheme, a conspiracy to overthrow the US Constitution, (by which all citizens and residents are bound), when conjoined with their action to intimidate, to mobilize a parallel militia beyond loyalty to America which would engage in violence and terror?
Speech of those whose stated intent is to exclude some (based on race, religion, origin, sexual orientation or something beyond identity as American citizens) from fundamental Constitutional rights as well as undermine US institutions is an assault upon our America. Lacking effective action by a Trump Administration, at a minimum apologetic for America's Alt-Right and at maximum complicit with what it sees part of its decisive electoral base, what options are left to counter the emboldened white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Counter free speech and action as protests are not only warranted but necessary to unmask the threat. Engaging in civil discourse with those who will not recognize my status as citizen or others that they would exclude would be to accord them a right that they by foundational ideology would deny to others. Enemies can sit across the table to make peace but those who would usurp the fundamental rights of fellow citizens cannot be legitimized in their treason to America’s Constitution. And, we should call the threat by what it was called a 150 years earlier by those soldiers who first confronted it, died fighting it and defeated it, "Traitors."
Watch/Listen: “Union Battle Cry of Freedom”