Responding to white supremacists
By now, everyone is familiar with the white supremacists who held a “rally” in Charlottesville, VA. I put that in quotes because extremists don’t hold rallies — they hold gatherings that are designed to cause problems.
There was a counter protest, which we all heard about. And there was violence. And even three deaths as a result. Evil usually demands a blood sacrifice, this would be no different.
Frankly I’m tired of white supremacists and their tactics and their belief that their ideas are just a-ok and deserve attention. I understand the desire to hold counter rallies. But here’s some things that concern me with these counter rallies.
What is the purpose of the supremacists in holding a “rally?” to cause problems. Why? To get attention, ultimately. What happens when there is a major counter-protest? The counter protestors give the supremacists exactly what they were seeking — attention. When we give attention to something, we give it legitimacy as if the ideas presented were of equal weight and consideration. Let’s be clear, they aren’t.
I understand that we want to speak out firmly against what the supremacists stand for. I agree. I just wonder if there is a different way to go about it. A way that wouldn’t give the supremacists what they wanted — attention. It seems as though the supremacists plan their rallies so that they hope there is a counter-rally. It just adds to the attention. They are sure to get coverage because emotions run high when you have something like this that touches people’s nerves and identity.
The problem with this is that the supremacists end up controlling the message of the day — they become the focus. Their hatred is the message. The violence that they cause is what is displayed and talked about. They get what they want.
I’d rather see something else take place. What if we responded differently?
These protests are known in advance. That gives communities time to think through a response. Here’s my idea. Instead of holding a counter rally that gives the inmates of the asylum a full voice and all the attention they want, why not give them no attention at all. But do it a coordinated way that is very unique, that is active, and changes the message completely. In other words, change the rules of the game. If the supremacists desire attention and want there to be a counter rally — do what you can to change that so they get minimal attention and the message is not in their control.
How would this happen? Here’s one idea — get everyone to vacate town. What if the town became a ghost town on the day of the supremacists rally. Not a soul in opposition — no one there at all. No one waving any banners. No one chanting at the supremacists. Just an empty town. You see, everyone has a right to speak. But that doesn’t mean we have to listen. It doesn’t mean that what everyone speaks is of equal value and worth.
By way of analogy, take a different situation — when a toddler starts to pitch a fit in a mall, they are seeking attention to get whatever it is they want. When we pay attention to the toddler and respond, or fight with them, or talk with them at all, we are giving the toddler exactly what the toddler wants — control over the situation. Instead, the best thing you can do is realize you are the adult and they are the child. You ignore them completely, even to the point of walking away. You can’t rationalize with a toddler — they don’t have the capacity for rational conversation. You aren’t going to convince them to stop their fit. You just need to walk away. Frankly, these supremacists are no different — only more violent and irrational than a toddler and a bit older (Which means they ought to know better).
If everyone vacated town, it would send a message that the supremacists words are being shunned because they carry no worth and no value. It would also draw attention away from the supremacists to the counter message, if you want to call it that. In this case, you’d have one spokesperson for the town. Someone who could do any interviews the media wanted. It would be best if it was a pastor or someone who could speak from a religious context. The response to any question would be similar — it wouldn’t be to engage in any conversation about the supremacists. Instead, it would be to offer prayers for those that are hurting, prayers for those that are filled with hatred and rage, prayers for those that separate. It would be to shift the focus from the message of the supremacists to a different message — a message of grace, forgiveness, and care for all who come to the town. It would be a message of non-violence. A message that says that we pray for those who are fearful and violent. It would be a simple message, repeated over and over again. It would be said in a calm manner — signifying with body language that there is no intimidation, there is confidence in a better way of living and behaving. It would be displaying a vision for what an alternative way of living would look like and behave.
Could this kind of response be pulled off? I don’t know. The larger the city, the harder that would be. The more likely that others from outside of the town would come in to counter protest. And realize that this way of thinking about countering the supremacists is very different from the norm. Which is why I would be curious to see how well it would work. And there is an added benefit — because this would be an unusual response, it would throw the supremacists off kilter. They probably wouldn’t know what to do. They might even wrap it up quickly and go home. This would be telling — it would signify that all they really want is attention, and they didn’t get it.
I welcome your thoughts on how to respond to extremists actions in unique ways that disrupt the message they spout. Please share them in the comments section.
Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on August 14, 2017.