Westneat: Laughter might be best medicine to combat alt-right, racism

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Danny Westneat is a columnist for the Seattle Times.

The headlines are ominous and almost certainly correct: “Hate groups vow more to come.”

So the question is: What to do about it? Charlottesville was the largest rally of white nationalists in at least a decade. More rallies of white supremacists, “alt-right” or just aggrieved “new right” provocateurs undoubtedly are on the way.

Peacefully protest? Fight? Ignore it all, thereby not giving them the attention they crave?

It used to be the latter was an option. That was back when outward white jingoism was more of a fringe movement. One without a chief enabler in the White House.

But there has been “an explosive rise in the number of hate groups,” says the Southern Poverty Law Center, “driven in part by anger over Latino immigration and demographic projections showing that whites will no longer hold majority status in the country by around 2040.”

So doing nothing is out: “Sitting home with your virtue does no good,” the SPLC advises.

But local Seattle writer David Neiwert, who has been tracking this phenomenon for his well-timed forthcoming book, “Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump,” says it likewise does no good to confront extremism with anger. In fact it’s exactly what they want.

“Fascists, you need to understand, are the ultimate psychic vampires,” he writes. “They feed off hate. They want to stoke it as much as possible. They want things to become as violent as possible. They love it when you become violent, and give them martyrs.”

Neiwert specifically chided the “Black Bloc” anti-fascist protesters for confronting the right-wing crowd during protests that ended in violence at the University of Washington when Milo Yiannopoulos spoke there. It only fed the beast, he wrote at the time. Sure enough, when King County later charged a couple with assault in the shooting of a protester, prosecutors contended the couple went there with a gun precisely “to provoke altercations.”

In these scenarios, “if you think that the Left is going to win — hell, if you think anyone is going to win, except violent men — you have another think coming,” Neiwert wrote. “We have to stop feeding them.”

This is exactly right. You can already hear the sense of grievance post-Charlottesville, coming from President Donald Trump. Even though a protester and two state police troopers were the ones killed, Trump now seems more concerned about the feelings of the attendees of a neo-Nazi rally (“not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch.”) It’s like they’re somehow now the victims — of a big misunderstanding.

Turn to nonviolent action

Neiwert argues the right course is “a serious dedication to nonviolent action.” And because the right-wing marchers are absurd and yes, deplorable, the action should, most of all, be mocking.

Example: In 2005 the National Socialist Movement chapter in the Northwest paraded a dozen or so sieg-heiling brown shirts around the state Capitol steps in Olympia. It was supposedly a recruiting session for the coming “race war,” the group said.

But instead of shouting or, worse, attacking, protesters dressed up as Nazi clowns to mimic the rally. Ever seen a Nazi clown goose-stepping? It was like “Springtime for Hitler!” Neiwert says after a time onlookers seemed to forget about the deflated white nationalists entirely: “That was the most striking defeat I’ve ever seen dealt to neo-Nazis.”

As tense as these times are in America, as much it may feel like a death match out there, remember: That’s what the extremists want you to feel. Don’t give in to them. If you can muster it, have a laugh, at their expense, instead.