There was a time when Klansmen wore hoods to cover their faces. There was a time when Nazis signaled to each other with dog whistles. There was a time when the U.S. president wasn’t lionized by white supremacist hate groups.
That’s all in the past now.
As we witnessed in Charlottesville last Saturday, we are entering a frightening new era when white supremacist groups are hearing the call to rise up and “Make America Great Again.” The Klan is taking off their hoods. The dog whistles have turned into trumpet blares. The president is cheered in the street with Nazi salutes of “Heil!”
All of this might have sounded like crazy fantasy six months ago, but maybe it was to be expected. Either way, it’s happening.
Charlottesville was not an isolated event. It was a coming out party for white hate groups. A meet-and-greet intended to take the temperature of this nation.
The “Unite the Right” rally was a show of force, a public display of confidence, and an invitation to angry white men across the country. When Virginia finally declared a state of emergency, the Nazis’ deadly retreat was strategic, not final. They had accomplished what they had come to do that day, and retreated to celebrate and regroup. They’ll be back.
Trump, by failing to denounce white supremacist violence in a clear and timely manner, seemed to hand them a victory over the weekend. The Daily Stormer, the self-appointed mouthpiece of the Neo-Nazi movement, praised Trump’s vague and tepid response in the hours that followed. The racists viewed it as a win.
A full 48-hours later, Trump finally read through a carefully worded speech Monday afternoon that denounced the “racist violence” of the Charlottesville protests. Trump said “racism is evil” and called the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacist groups “repugnant.” He promised that justice would be delivered.
But it’s pathetic that Trump was the last person in the country to denounce Nazi violence, and only after someone else wrote words for him to read into TV cameras. The president’s silence for the first 48 hours still speaks louder than his words of condemnation on Monday afternoon.
For Republicans who were still willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, Charlottesville should be all the definitive proof they need to finally see the president for what he is. If Trump’s Mexican border wall, Muslim ban, war on transgender people, and efforts to criminalize and disenfranchise black communities were too subtle for some white Americans to pick up on, maybe last Saturday’s pro-Trump white supremacist rally was a little easier to grasp.
Those who are still trying to give Trump the benefit of the doubt after last weekend are either willfully ignorant or maybe in the process of taking off their own hoods.
Charlottesville was an important moment in many ways. It’s showing white America the country that black America has been warning about forever. It’s helping more people connect the dots and realize that it’s not a coincidence that the president, who was enthusiastically supported by neo-Nazis and Klansman during the campaign, has now invited some possibly similarly-minded people into his administration.
The majority of Americans are appropriately appalled by the racist atavism of this administration. As the white supremacists begin to remove their hoods and step into the angry glow of citronella torches, others are turning to the Internet to out these people in real life. We’re starting to learn who some of these khaki-clad racists are: a basic-training reject from Toledo, an undergrad student at the University of Nevada, a hotdog vendor from California.
As their identities are made known, these weekend Nazis are being forced to deal with their new public infamy as racists. For many of them, it may be an uncomfortable image makeover. It’s costing them their reputations, their jobs, their family relations, and — in the case of the driver in the vehicular terrorist attack— their freedom.
How this continues to play out in the near future remains unclear. The most dedicated of the white supremacist leaders are certainly feeling empowered by what happened in Charlottesville, and thankful for the man in the high tower. But the weekend Nazis are learning a hard lesson: It ain’t easy to make a living in America as a publicly outed neo-Nazi.
If you’re a white man who voted for Trump because of Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!, you’ve just made a bad career choice by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists. That tiki torch might have cost you only $5, but it was a really bad investment in your future. The leaders of your movement will probably profit from last weekend’s rally, but it won’t help the rank-and-file racists. Because when it comes to the white supremacy movement, not all white supremacists are created equal— just ask the guy who lost his job at the hotdog stand for posing with a tiki torch.
Trump certainly didn’t invent racism in America, but his political career was born of it and has embraced it. His rise to the presidency is encouraging America to unhood itself in unsettling ways.
But like any good mechanic knows, sometimes you gotta get under the hood to really see the problem and fix it.
Watch The Feed Tuesday night on Fusion for more on our takeaway from Charlottesville.