In Trump’s America, terror is stalking the streets. A vicious, violent and emboldened far right, white supremacist movement is attempting to cohere. It stained the ground with blood in Charlottesville this weekend when a young fascist murdered an anti-racist protester. These developments should provoke a serious discussion the world over about how to challenge the far right. In Australia, we are faced with our own iterations of the KKK and Richard Spencer. There is an urgency to the anti-fascist project the world over.
On Friday night, hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, with flaming torches. The scene was reminiscent of vengeful racist lynch mobs of past decades.
They chanted “Blood and soil!”, “Jews don’t rule us” and “Heil Trump!” Some were decked out in full KKK regalia, Swastika arm bands or “Make America Great Again” hats, while others had the sharp look of the hipster alt right. Busloads of racists had come in from all over the country ready to “take the country back” from Jews, Blacks, migrants and “deviants”.
They heard incendiary speeches from prominent far right leader Richard Spencer, who is unabashed about his desire to engage in “ethnic cleansing” of the USA. They marched into the centre of the university campus to stand at the feet of the statue of Robert E Lee, a confederate general. The protest was initially called to defend the statue from the local council, which is considering removing it because of its racist implications.
The next day, protesters took to the streets ready for battle. One policeman interviewed said, “You saw the militia walking down the street; you would have thought they were an army … they had better equipment than our State Police had”. In the lead up to the protest, neo-Nazi websites encouraged people to bring pepper spray, poles, batons and shields. Thus armed, they were planning on marching into one of the poorer, multi-cultural areas of the city. Racist violence was undeniably on their mind.
The fascist march was met with a strong and determined counter-protest. Socialists, Black lives matter protesters and anti-fascist activists gathered, linked arms, and prepared to challenge the far right’s control of the streets and the narrative. They were determined not to allow the general climate of racism, encouraged by Trump, cow them. Austin Gonzales, from the Democratic Socialists of America, described his feelings about the day:
“Being dark-skinned in a sea of neo-Nazi marchers is an oddly empowering feeling. I had heard reports throughout the day of people of colour being cornered and beaten, and I knew that I would be a target because of the colour of my skin – but that was nothing new; I have been a target for the colour of my skin my entire life. At least in this situation, I was taking a stand and resisting the neo-Nazi effort to eradicate people like me by my very presence at the site.”
This sort of bravery and defiance enraged the fascists, who set upon the crowd with batons and poles. One of the white supremacists, neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, sat in his car overlooking the anti-fascist march. As the demonstration moved toward him, he put his foot on the accelerator and drove straight into the crowd. Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, was hit and killed almost instantly. This horrific murder is the logical consequence of the politics of the far right. It is a politics of violence, threat and intimidation.
The murder of Heather Heyer was not greeted with universal horror. In Australia, prominent figures on the far right celebrated. Neo-Nazi Neil Erikson posted the story of Heyer’s murder on Facebook, accompanied by happy face emojis. Later in the day, he changed his profile picture to a photo of James Alex Fields surrounded by faces with love hearts as eyes. Subtle. The leader of the far right United Patriots Front, Blair Cottrell, let loose in a twitter rant. “Just another car attack”, he wrote. “Nothing to do with white people. Most white people are peaceful.” These two are part of a re-emergent Australian far right that has, over the last few years, attempted to cohere a more serious movement.
They are not worlds away from those in Charlottesville. The same global climate of Islamophobia and aggressive nativism has fed similar currents in many western countries. What’s more, the currents are fuelling each other. When Donald Trump was elected, the far right in this country celebrated. While Blair Cottrell et al stopped short of a “Heil Trump!”, the climate after the US presidential election has bolstered the spirits of the far right – despite their many differences.
When Trump condemns the violence on “all sides”, as he did immediately after Charlottesville, it is understood by the white supremacists everywhere as the wink and nod that it is. The most powerful man in the world thinks they are A-Okay.
In Australia, the far right is attempting to ride off the back of aggressive mainstream Islamophobia and disaffection with mainstream politics. They try and present themselves as the representatives of “real Aussies” and against the dissolution of Australian society.
In this climate, it is even more important that there are those who challenge them. Both ideologically – by building a coherent, class struggle left – and in protest movements. That is a task the world over. As one participant in the Charlottesville counter-protest urged: “This is the goal of the far right: to terrorise, intimidate and destroy the organisations of workers and the left, and anyone else they deem a threat. We cannot let them become more emboldened because of what happened today”.
If you are in Melbourne, join the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism for an action in solidarity with anti-fascists in the USA and against the far right: 4:30pm at the US Consulate on St. Kilda Road.