Caution: Graphic Content
Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse. The politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry practiced by the Klan and others have no place in this country, and are destructive of the values for which America has always stood.
- President Ronald Reagan, Letter to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, May 1984
We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.
- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, The Power of Non-Violence, June 4, 1957
A Time for Introspection
In light of both the horrifying scenes of an Anaheim Klan rally this past weekend and the awkward political mainstreaming and grudging political repudiation of hatemongers like the Klan, American Renaissance, Daily Stormer, Louis Farrakhan and Stormfront, both sides of the political spectrum need to engage in introspection.
For Republicans, it is unacceptable for any major candidate to waver on repudiating hate groups, granting access to bigots, or subjecting protestors to manhandling and racial epithets. Moreover, they need to find a way to disagree with the President's policies in a manner that respects his office and his dignity, and refrain from deriding him as a man not of his stated faith or as a person who doesn't love his country. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's call should be embraced by all in his party, "If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry."
For Progressives, hate groups pose a different challenge. While their leadership clearly rejects violence, that message has escaped a small group of those claiming to mobilize for social justice. We all must embrace the non-violence of Dr. King. Neither injustice, white privilege or the hatred spread by ethically broken men grants a moral license for the horrifying brutality I experienced first hand by some on the fringes of this otherwise laudable grassroots movement. It is therefore important to re-instill, the values both of peaceful positive change and the centrality of the First Amendment, even for ideas we loathe, whether it be on the streets or college campuses.
A Maelstrom of Violence
On Saturday I went to Anaheim, a beautiful and diverse city, armed with a pen, iPhone and index cards to conduct research on hate groups, something I have done for decades. The California Realm of the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights Klan (LWK) group was supposed to come to a park for an "informational walk." California Grand Dragon William Quigg, 48, who organized the march, is as reprehensible as a hate monger can get: a racist, anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, who offers praise on Adolph Hitler and the Mother Emmanuel Shooter. He also praised Donald Trump in an effusive September twitter post.
As soon as the LWK arrived shortly after noon, the street adjoining the park turned into a violent maelstrom of knives, wooden planks, metal rods, fists, feet and blood. I can not say for sure who attacked first, as there were different brawls erupting at the same time. Almost immediately, I saw two Klansman in retreat with one Mr. Quigg on the ground. He was set upon by a violent mob armed with improvised wood and metal weapons. For the events visible on my side of the Klansmen's SUV, it was a subgroup of counter protesters who were the aggressors, but there was another battle that ensued on the other side of the vehicle where there was a stabbing, allegedly by a third Klansman.
When Mr. Quigg fell to the street while being chased he was instantaneously struck and kicked repeatedly in the head and ribs as others with improvised weapons closed in. I did not have the luxury of grand introspection, my only thought being that it appeared he would be severely injured or killed, when my old NYPD training kicked in. I was not trying to make some grand philosophical statement, just trying to prevent severe harm to another person.
I ran over as fast as I could, put myself over him and with an outstretched arm commanded the crowd to stop, in order to give him enough time to get up. I then tried to vigorously walk between him and a group of assailants who were swarming around us, armed with a wooden plank and a metal rod. It was the longest three minutes of my life as I braced for my face to smashes with the wooden plank.
Afterwards I was compelled to ask Mr. Quigg how it felt to have his life possibly saved by a Jew, and he thanked me, although I'm sure by his other horrible comments that his heart is as resolute in its hatred as before. Still, I would do it all over again if that situation arose.
While I was jostled, I was miraculously not physically hurt in the attack, though I am still very, very shaken from what I experienced. I have heard my Christian friends say that there were times they felt that Jesus carried them through difficult times, and though some may mock this I truly believe God watched over me that day for some purpose, although I'm not exactly sure for what. In rejecting anti-Semitism, Pope Francis reminded us, "Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother, regardless of his origins or religious beliefs." I guess I subscribe to that, even when in this case it is hard.
President Obama's eloquence at January's Righteous Among Nations Ceremony now has a special resonance for me and hopefully for others who are concerned with the direction our nation is going in:
And finally, all of us have a responsibility to speak out, and to teach what's right to our children, and to examine our own hearts. That's the lesson of the Righteous we honor today -- the lesson of the Holocaust itself:
Where are you? Who are you? That's the question that the Holocaust poses to us. We have to consider even in moments of peril, even when we might fear for our own lives, the fact that none of us are powerless.
We always have a choice. And today, for most of us, standing up against intolerance doesn't require the same risks that those we honor today took. It doesn't require imprisonment or that we face down the barrel of a gun.
It does require us to speak out. It does require us to stand firm. We know that evil can flourish if we stand idly by.