Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Neo-Nazis in Toledo

This story concerns me mainly because my wife's family comes from the Toledo area, leading me to have developed a passing familiarity with the city. Granted, most of my wife's family lives in small towns and rural areas west of the city beyond the airport; so I can't consider myself to know the city well. However, having grown up in Detroit, I've come to view Toledo as a kindred city, once thriving but now down-and-out, but still scrappy.

As regular readers know, I have an interest in the Holocaust and the sort of extremism that led to it. Twenty-five years ago, Jake Blues famously said in The Blues Brothers, "I hate Illinois Nazis." Well, I hate more than just Illinois Nazis, but Nazi-ism in all its forms. Today, I hate Ohio Nazis (like the ones in the picture above), and with good reason. On Saturday, a planned march by Neo-Nazis in North Toledo against "black crime" provoked a riot. A group called the National Socialist Movement claimed to be "protesting" black gangs' alleged harrassment of white residents. Counter demonstrators gathered at the planned site of the Nazi rally, and, before the march could even start, the mood turned ugly, as this account describes:
Shortly after 10 a.m., when a dispatcher reported that gang members wearing colors were gathering along Stickney, Central, and Ketcham avenues, Chief Navarre began to worry.

“This is not going to be pretty,” he predicted. “I’m starting to get a pretty bad feeling.”

Residents in the neighborhood had even earlier signs of trouble.

Ramon Perez, a Lagrange Village Council member, said he was canvassing the neighborhood for days before the planned march.

“Even Friday night, at Bronson and Stickney, that’s all we were hearing: ‘We’re taking this place down.’”

Though police had feared there could be violence — they initially brought in 150 extra officers — they expected any trouble would be between the Nazi marchers and protesters. And initially, that appeared to be a possibility.

Around 11 a.m. yesterday, about 15 Nazis had gathered next to the east side of Woodward High School, holding signs and chanting things like “white pride, not hate.” They carried homemade signs, such as, “White People Unite! Fight For Your Race.

A crowd of about 300 counter-protesters across the street from them also shouted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this Nazi hate has got to go.” Their signs included, “Black and White Unite” and “No Racists in Toledo.

John Haynes, 22, a black North Toledo resident wearing a Dallas Cowboys football jersey, said the Nazis were “crazy for coming down here and starting all this.”

As he watched them from across the street, he observed that “they’re lucky there’s a lot of police around, or they’d get hurt. There ain’t no problem here” between the races.

The National Socialist Movement, who call themselves “America’s Nazi Party,” said they came to Toledo because of “black criminal behavior,” according to Bill White, a spokesman from the group who lives in Roanoke, Va.

He said the spark for their visit was a dispute between a white North Toledo man and black North Toledo woman who are neighbors.

By 11:15 a.m., police had already reported rocks flying. Along Stickney Avenue, as mounted patrol officers pushed back the crowd off the sidewalk, angry residents screamed at passing police.

“Which side are you on?” shrieked one woman. “I don’t see you pushing any Nazis back!”...

By noon, the Nazis were pretty much out of the picture. Police canceled the march after reports began to trickle in of violence breaking out along the planned march route.

The chief declared: “It’s over. It’s done. Get ‘em back in their cars and get them the heck outta here.”

“They accomplished what they wanted,” Sheriff Telb said of the Nazi group. “They got chaos.”
Indeed they did. Toledo suffered riots on a scale not seen since the 1960's, and images of the chaos, looting, and violence were beamed around the world. The crowd then turned on police, angered that they were arresting rioters rather than neo-Nazis, and the looting and rioting continued through the afternoon. A more detailed timeline of what happened is here.

This sort of reaction to racist scum like the Nazis is exactly the wrong reaction. It is exactly what these racist pinheads were hoping to provoke when they decided to march. In fact, it was probably more than they were hoping for. Chances are, the Nazis were hoping for a confrontation, but not something so out of hand that their own lives could be in danger despite police protection. Nontheless, the violence perpetrated mostly by gangs in response to their planned march gives them a perfect incident to use to propagate their racist view of blacks as violent and criminal. I don't know if Andrew was right when he said that the gangs probably "boosted neo-Nazi membership a bit this weekend," but they sure didn't hurt their recruiting efforts any.

So what is a better reaction? In my mind, there are two more appropriate reactions to these twits: ignore them or ridicule. The former is probably the best in most circumstances, at least in this country where neo-Nazi marches numbering more than a couple dozen skinheads are rare. Ridicule is also effective, because--let's face it--these guys are, if you look at them closely, very, very silly. Yes, their views are odious and despicable, but they themselves are quite ridiculous, dressing up like Nazi stormtroopers and bleeting about "white pride"--which is why ridicule is appropriate. But the pathe of ridicule is more risky, because it takes a commitment to nonviolence, an ability to resist provocation, and the discipline not to let the creeps get under your skin, none of which are associated with gangs. All it takes is a handful of loose cannons to cause a confrontation to escalate and ruin everything, which is why ignoring these clowns is probably the safer path.

The sad thing is, on the very morning of the riots, a Toledo Blade editorial issued a plea which seems prescient now and, if heeded, could have prevented this tragedy:
Young black people, let me be blunt: The march by hate groups in North Toledo today is aimed at you. Don't give them the time of day. Please.

If the hate groups can upset you enough to cause you to react and get arrested, or cause you to show an outburst of violence, then they will have accomplished their goal.

Don't give them that satisfaction, no matter how upset they might make you, and believe me, their words can make a minority pretty upset. You are not what they say you are, so stay home, do something else, or go to some worthwhile community function instead.
People of every race and all ages should know that the hate groups' putrid outbursts are intended to incite their audiences, and they are especially designed to prompt gang members to react.

Let me tell you up front, young people, what the group says can upset you, but don't let it. If hate groups have any skill, it's knowing how to stir up communities.

They have taken a dispute between a neighboring black woman and a white man and caused it to mushroom. At the march, police will stand between observers and the nationalists as the latter spew vitriol intended to provoke angry reactions.

Avoid the event. Your presence will not change the groups' minds. Telling them where they are wrong and urging them to move toward civility and harmony will not persuade them to change their minds, either.
Sadly, this plea fell on deaf ears. The racist twits got what they wanted, and Toledo got a big black eye. Again. (This poor city just can't seem to catch a break.) There are times when hatred must be confronted (such as when hate groups themselves start the violence, rather than just provoking it), and there are times when making sure its intentionally provacative cries of victimization and rage fall on deaf ears is the best course. This was one of those latter times. Hate-filled racists like these Nazis, as odious as their message is, do have a First Amendment right to speak and to protest (something that those who complained about the City of Toledo allowing the Nazis to march and those who used the provocation of the Nazi rally as justification to loot and riot appear not to comprehend). However, the First Amendment does not guarantee them an audience. Too bad the rioters gave these poseurs and thugs a far bigger audience than they could ever have hoped for.

ADDENDUM: According to a story this morning, apparently Toledo gangs had even called a truce in the days before the march, in order to present a united front against the neo-Nazis.

9 example(s) of insolence returned:

At 10/18/2005 8:39 AM, Anonymous sophia8 said...

Yes, the Nazis got pretty much what they wanted - lots of publicity and the chance for some fighting.
There could have been a different way to approach this. Two or three years ago -I cannot remember where - Fred Phelps' gang homophibic bigots announced that they would descend en masse to picket a gay-owned restaurant.
The owners countered by announcing a big street party for that date, with everyone invited for food, drink, music and general fun.
When the demonstrators turned up, all three of them were welcomed effussively and ushered to a table laden with refreshments, where they were serenaded by musicians.
They left after fifteen minutes - the party continued all d


At 10/18/2005 9:05 AM, Anonymous ryanbeed said...

I was a camera operator for a documentary about this group recently. They got a rally together in Yorktown, VA. They are really a very sad little group. They're so afraid of the media that we weren't allowed to film their rally or the march. This is despite the fact that the producer actually wanted to show something that was almost positive to them. But anyway, the uniformed group was somewhat frightening, but mostly sad, but the rest of the attendees were mostly just fairly normal people looking for validation. They wanted a reason for why they weren't as successful as they'd like.
The only real disturbing thing about the group is that the uniformed members are certain that there will be armed insurrection soon. So they're getting prepared. Take that as you will.


At 10/18/2005 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Nazis should have been forced to continue their march. They shouldn't be allowed to cause this much trouble without having to face the people's hate for everything they stand for.


At 10/18/2005 10:49 AM, Blogger ebohlman said...

Another neutralizing technique, which has been used against the Phelps cult but would also work against neo-Nazis, is to organize a pledge drive where people pledge to donate a certain amount for each minute that the noxious group demonstrates, with the proceeds going to a charity that the noxious group would disapprove of (in this case, a local organization promoting racial harmony would probably have been best). This has the advantage of minimum provocation while allowing the opponents to do something that actually makes a difference.


At 10/18/2005 12:28 PM, Blogger decrepitoldfool said...

Another effective response I can imagine is silent people lining the streets with their backs turned to the march route. It would require a lot of self-control but would express volumes.


At 10/18/2005 1:22 PM, Blogger Frito Xyx said...

Personally, I think the best thing you can do with people like this is laugh at them. What they believe should be considered such pathetic drek that it should be funny. Mockery of them is the key.

Unify and just point and laugh, even if you are boiling inside. The best thing that happens is that they go away and they never come back. The worst is they come after you... and then you have an excuse to smash their heads into the pavement.


At 10/18/2005 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to believe that these extreme groups love creating chaos (and this has nothing to do with their Neo-Nazi beliefs). They want to get people riled up, upset, angry, even violent. They want to make the news and say, "I told you so! These blacks are criminals!" They want to create the ultimate "reaction." The solution is to NOT react and NOT show up to their marches and protests. I think the best policy is to let these fools march ALONE. If no one had showed up, they would have walked away disappointed and empty-handed. But since they got the reaction and the attention they were looking for, now they're loving it.


At 10/19/2005 5:57 AM, Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Every year, there are large neo-Nazi marches in Lund, Sweden, with anti-Nazis marching against them. A large part of the people marching against them have always been Danes, especially Danish anarchists.

Danish anarchists are not quite as bad as the black bloc from Italy, but violence is an option. Indeed, one of the most violent confrontations between police and civilians in post-wartime Europe happened between Danish police and anarchists on May 18th, 1993, resulting in the police firing 113 shots, and wounding at least 11 people.

Even knowing this, the Swedish police were not prepared for what a confrontation between Danish Anarchists and Scandinavian neo-Nazis would result in. The first few years, the neo-Nazis got beaten up badly in raging street battles, which unfortunately also resulted in many Swedish policemen getting injured, and shops getting damaged. However, at no time did these confrontations result in looting or rioting - all the action was aimed against the neo-Nazis, and the police trying to protect them.
This is not ment as a defense of the Anarchists, rather it's a comment on how weird I find the result in Toledo.

Now, the Swedish police outnumber the neo-Nazis, and all the Danish anarchists are arrested and turned back at the border.


At 10/19/2005 1:03 PM, Anonymous Stephen Benson said...

this is where "the rubber meets the road" for civil libertarians. we are often faced with the duty to protect the freedom of repulsive speech. my personal choice is usually to take the ridicule route. properly done, it makes the point and does not incourage debate. i have invoked the flying spaghetti monster to creationists with pleasing success. for nazis i would suggest a loud playing of spike jones' "der fuhrer's face."


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