These are, undoubtedly, tense times in the United States. Heightened political divisions and the anger generated by those divisions all too often have culminated in violence while threatening to undermine the rule of law that serves as the demarcation between civility and chaos.
So, as we assess the fallout from a contentious rally and protest Sunday in Vancouver, we are reminded of the growing need for Americans to find common ground and, when that is not possible, to be respectful of opposing viewpoints. Most important, it is a time for political and social leaders to denounce activists who espouse violence as an appropriate means to an end.
That reminder was delivered when members of the Patriot Prayer group held a rally at the Vancouver Landing amphitheater along the Columbia River waterfront. The gathering drew a large crowd of protesters, including some people wearing the signature black clothing and black face coverings of the loosely organized antifa group. Antifa — short for anti-fascists — has become a frequent counterweight whenever conservative groups gather.
According to reports, some protesters Sunday hurled invectives at rallygoers, spraying some with silly string and sprinkling at least one with glitter. As the rally broke up and people headed toward downtown Vancouver, one man nearly hit several protesters with a pickup. The driver verbally engaged with protesters, some of whom kicked his truck; he then went into reverse, causing protesters to scatter, and members of the crowd tossed rocks and water bottles at the vehicle. The driver swung around the block toward protesters but was stopped by police.
In other words, the situation could have been much worse. Police from Vancouver and Portland and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office deserve kudos for effectively keeping the groups separated during and after the rally, preventing a handful of bullies from escalating a tense situation.
Throughout the event, Vancouver became a microcosm for these contentious times, reinforcing the need for those in power to say enough is enough. It is time to denounce those who espouse hate and violence, recognizing that such actions actually diminish their arguments in the court of public opinion.
One example came when President Donald Trump weakly decried those who marched last month in Charlottesville, Va., while carrying Nazi flags and chanting anti-Semitic slogans. No, Mr. President, there was no gray area in this event. Those embracing Nazi imagery and ideals must be denounced loudly and quickly. While Americans disagree on many issues, we long have found common ground in the thought that Nazis are anathema to our ideals; there is no excuse for a tepid response to those who promote white supremacy.
The same can be said of antifa activists who routinely disrupt conservative rallies. In tacitly approving of antifa actions through a conspiracy of silence, progressive leaders fail to recognize that those who claim to be anti-fascists are damaging their own cause. Every time a rally is disrupted by masked protesters or violence breaks out, those who voted for President Trump are reminded of why they supported him. While many Americans are fearful of what they view as an oppressive presidential administration, many others are disturbed by what they consider to be growing lawlessness.
Yes, these are contentious times. And they are times that call for men and women of good will to speak up loud enough to drown out the extremists.