Don’t identify the Nazis. Don’t share social media pictures asking people to identify the Nazis. Don’t spread the names of people identified as Nazis. And no, you’re not doing this because some innocent people might be misidentified. You’re doing this to protect the Nazis.
Look, I get it. Nazis are so bad that it’s a grave insult to call any other reprehensible person a Nazi. Nazis are the ne plus ultra of reprehensible. We shouldn’t give a damn what happens to anyone who calls himself a Nazi. But still, don’t identify Nazis.
Picture this: it’s 2022. Everyone has really really good cameras, not just on their phones. Everyone has access to much better face recognition than we have today; maybe it’s a subscription service, maybe it’s a freebie on Facebook. Privacy protections have continued to erode, so most folks have exposed home addresses, employers, family members, and email addresses and social media accounts where they can be harassed. 4chan is still a thing, and there are thousands of people with automated tools to completely fuck with anyone whose name they type into a search bar.
Or, if you prefer, it’s 2019, and Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has the same damn tools. Take away the social media harassment, add a soupçon of prosecution.
Do you think these tools will be used against the Nazis? Hell no. Sure, they’ll get doxxed too, but they won’t be doxxed first. The first targets will be the people who piss off the
alt-right white nationalists, who will be angry, disaffected, and with time to burn. Trump protestors, anti-war activists, Black Lives Matter; pretty much anyone who takes to the street with a left-wing or liberal political message is going to be targeted. (Will conservatives also be targeted? Maybe. There isn’t really a hotbed of liberal digital assholes yet.)
All of this is going to happen anyway. It’s inevitable. (Or rather, it’s inevitable because we live in a country that doesn’t give a damn about privacy if it impedes the almighty dollar or corporate power.) Outing a Nazi won’t affect the outcome one way or the other. But what it will do is provide the Fox News chuckleheads with ample opportunity to equalize what’s happening to Nazis now (using low-key, manual methods) to what will happen to us then (using firehose, automated methods). Said chuckleheads will empower their lackeys in Congress to implode or impede any legislation that might provide some relief. Said chuckleheads will also spread the word to low-information, disaffected, and underemployed idiots who might want to get in on the fun.
So that’s why you shouldn’t out Nazis; it’s in your best interests. But there’s one more reason.
Think Nazis are reprehensible? Great. They weren’t in the 1930s. But not too much earlier, labor unions were. Martin Luther King, Jr.—sainted MLK himself? Contemporary white sentiment was sorta kinda in favor, but thought he was way too radical about how fast he wanted change; and by all means, when all those negroes turned out to hear him speak, it was a threat to the public order and they should stay home.
I’m not invoking a moral relativism to say that Nazis aren’t always evil. They are, and any society which says otherwise (including this one) should give up all aspirations to calling itself civilized. I’m saying that a lot of folks who aren’t evil and aren’t reprehensible, by our current standards, used to be, and might be again.
Are you in favor of American values? Well, here’s the thing about values: they don’t mean a goddamn thing if you only hold them when it’s painless to do so. Believe in freedom of speech? Then you’ve gotta let the Nazis march. Believe in the rule of law and the right to a fair trial? Then you’ve gotta give your captured al-Qaeda or ISIS asshole a goddamn lawyer and a jury.
The Nazi fuckers and opposition in Charlottesville who hurt people? Identify them, find them, prosecute them, and lock ’em up if they’re found guilty. (But, you know, try to find out who threw the first punch and who acted in self-defense.) The ones who committed property damage? Go ahead and do the same, but for God’s sake, let’s not treat them like they’re nearly as bad as the people who were violent.
The Nazi fuckers who “only” carried a Nazi flag, and yelled at nearby counter-protestors that they were vermin? Guess what? Not illegal. Protected speech. Of course protected speech has consequences; if a Nazi is dumbshit enough to give an interview to CNN and get seen by millions of people, fuck it, let him lose his hot dog job. Same thing goes for any organizer of the rally, or the officials of organizing groups; they’re public figures.
But your average brownshirt? He gets to go home, and that way, when you’re out there protesting him, so will you.
Rule of thumb. Someone goes out in public and says, “North Koreans are evil and all of them should die in nuclear hellfire”? Protected. Someone says, “Attack a Korean today”? Fuck him, and lock him up.
Postscript, August 15: since I’m making strong First Amendment arguments in this piece, I want to add something that I’ve written elsewhere.
The First Amendment crucially clarifies that it only extends to peaceable assembly. In my view, this means that if you show up at a protest with a weapon of any kind, you’re abrogating your First Amendment rights by doing so. No guns. No pepper spray. These are offensive weapons, and remain weapons even if they are used in self-defense. Guns and obvious weapons also carry a heavy intimidation factor which is the antithesis of free speech. Objects like torches, which are dual-use items that can also be weapons, must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Worried about your safety at a protest? By all means, bring helmets and shields (although you might look a bit silly doing so, and prepare yourself for a dual-use argument). Bring goggles and Visine if you’re concerned about being pepper-sprayed or tear-gassed. These are defensive items and allow you to maintain both your moral and legal arguments for First Amendment protection.
I think there are very interesting questions that can be raised about the prior conduct of Nazis and white nationalists; there is a long track record of showing up to protests with weaponry. Governor McAuliffe said yesterday that Virginia police have found caches of weaponry stored around Charlottesville by the Nazi marchers. This obviously means a premeditated intent to use them. I think this raises a valid question of whether Nazi organizations can be presumed to bring weapons to future protests, and if so, whether they retain First Amendment protections. (The same can be said of Antifa activists, but in the research I’ve done since Saturday, I’ve found almost no evidence of actual Antifa activity; nearly all references to Antifa are right-wingers indiscriminately calling every liberal and leftist organization Antifa.)
But what’s clear is that a violent ideology on its own cannot be construed as an intent to commit violence. Nazis are genocidal; nearly all neo-Nazi organizations attempt to distance themselves from this, but such claims cannot be taken seriously. On the other hand, similar claims are made about Black Lives Matter regarding white people. At the Sunday vigil I attended for Charlottesville, multiple speakers called government and police actions against black people genocide.
I think it’s entirely rational to call Nazis genocidal, and it’s entirely ridiculous to call Black Lives Matter, police, and the federal government genocidal. (Regarding police and government: violent, yes. Genocidal, no. For genocidal federal policy, c.f. colonial and American governments regarding Native Americans between the 17th and 19th centuries.) But the rationality of the claim can’t be taken into account, unless you want to give the power to every judge in Alabama to restrict protest for any group he deems too violent. Again, it’s protected to have a violent political ideology; it’s illegal to incite violence.
In my view, this reinforces the idea that free speech protections only extend to people who don’t prepare to be violent. But I have no idea how such a view can be pragmatically enforced.