Neo-Nazis in Toledo
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:
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.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.”
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.
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.