First, here's where I stand: The Unite the Right rally was itself an act of terrorism. If US citizens who support ISIS wanted to hold a rally, waving its flags and openly carrying weapons, declaring, "It's time to take this country back," do you think we'd all step back with a shrug and say, "Oh, that's just first amendment stuff"? Interestingly, the ACLU defended the white nationalists' right to rally in support of the Robert E. Lee statue on first amendment grounds, of course without foreseeing the violence that would ensue. But I argue that we should hold our first amendment to a higher standard than that. The march itself was an act of terrorism because it involved the congregation of hundreds of ideologues and members of cults that have a not-so-distant history of lynching, burning, assaulting people of color, and enforcing racist legislation. They congregated and marched through a university campus carrying torches (not expecting the fodder that tiki torches would rain on Twitter) and Confederate flags representing the lowest point in American history, in order to instill terror in their opponents and in minority groups. As former KKK-leader David Duke put it, they were out to "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump" to "take our country back." They showed up with weapons and militia gear. There was no indication that they wanted a peaceful protest. Beyond the bloody skirmishes between protesters and counter-protestors, a young man rammed his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, and a black teenager was beaten with poles by rally participants in a parking garage.
While there was a heartening scramble throughout the political spectrum to denounce all forms of Nazism and white supremacy (even Sessions called the car attack a terrorist incident, surprisingly), something disturbing bubbled through it. In the right-wing media response, I witnessed a nauseating emergence of this comparison -- made by some Republicans and Trump in his "many sides" statement -- of white supremacist movements to Black Lives Matter. This is a trend of Conservative media outlets seeking to deflect the topic at hand: when they get caught in a rut, they try the "Democrats should look in the mirror" argument, which is juvenile. If you look back at how white opponents smeared the Civil Rights Movement, they used the same tactics that Conservatives do now with Black Lives Matter: First, minimize the messaging of the movement as redundant and unnecessary (i.e. "Racism doesn't exist"). Second, brand the movement as dangerous and erratic, so that the general public will be fearful of its entire mission. Third, use that fear as leverage to continue excusing your own bigotry and bolster your personal brand.
Fox News brought forth some gems this weekend:
Hannity used this opportunity to emphasize that hatred and violence are "not exclusive to one party." After the rally, he spent the first minute of his show strongly denouncing white supremacy. This allowed him the flexibility for the next thirteen minutes to focus on what he really wanted to talk about: a defense of Conservatives and Trump and an attack on the left. Not to mention, he seized the opportunity to plug Trump's words -- "on both sides" -- as much as possible, and to play a long clip of Reverend White in order to brand President Obama as a black liberationist. I give this a 9 out of 10 as far as being a clever way to leverage news of a Neo-Nazi rally into a left-bashing, feel-good segment for viewers who are apathetic to civil rights!
Watters Words also plugged Trump's "both sides" statement as subliminally as possible (was I witnessing brainwashing in action?). He also followed the model of: White supremacy is bad, but let's talk about how bad the left is. Take a look:
I can dismantle Watters' presentation in four points:
1) He purposefully neglects drawing the connection between this rally and Trump. Notice how he excluded all details of how rally leaders were quoting Trump and claiming that their white nationalist agenda can be fulfilled through his campaign promises. Many of the protestors were wearing Trump gear and chanting his own words. Remember how Watters ends his rant with: "If hundreds of thousands of Islamic terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, then what does one white supremacist have anything to do with Donald Trump?" Notice how his argument, like many arguments made by Fox News pundits, makes sense only by the omission of facts. From David Duke's own mouth, it is a fact that Trump's words have inspired confidence in these so-called fringe movements and bolstered their sense of security in marching openly in the streets. There is something to be said for that, and that is a major reason why people are so concerned about Trump's response to all this.
2) Watters makes the bulk of his argument on the presumption that Black Lives Matter is an extremist hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center does not recognize it as such, because it is not. Fox News does this often; without supporting this position with facts, it frequently tosses BLM into a conversation with a knowing nod and expectation that viewers will understand the negative connotation.
Watters also manipulates the assassination of Rep. Steve Scalise by a former Sanders campaign volunteer as evidence; he says the left didn't take responsibility but deflected it to say that "both sides" are to blame. His viewers, after all, will relish an unsupported story if it throws liberal words back in their faces. To support his point, Watters shows a handful of disjointed, out-of-context clips that were not actually in response to the Scalise shooting, but rather just commentary about rhetoric, of all things. He consciously chose not to show Sanders' actual reaction to the shooting, where he condemned such violence in the strongest possible terms, and said true progress can only come through nonviolent action. At no point did Sanders attempt to cast blame for the senseless violence. Again, Watters makes his arguments by carefully omitting detail and stringing together convenient information that only superficially appears to support his point. This is a practice of media bias at its core, and as soon as people learn to recognize it, the better informed they can be.
3) Watters draws an odd comparison between the tragic 2016 police officer assassinations and Alex Fields Jr. This comparison is illogical and misleading. First off, the Baton Rouge and Dallas police shooters did not self-identify with Black Lives Matter in any way, and vice versa -- so where is this connection Watters is trying to make? Contrastingly, Alex Fields was pictured with insignia from the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, formed in 2005, whose mission is explicitly to make America an "exclusively white nation." They are self-described fascists, who state in their "Blood and Soil" manifesto that "the time of the Republic has passed" (ironic that they lean on their first amendment rights so heavily, isn't it?). Vanguard has distanced itself from Fields and was not behind the attack, but the messaging (let alone the very history of the Nazist movement) of white supremacists remains a siren to its followers.
The mission of Black Lives Matter, on the other hand, is this: "Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our dehumanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society...Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression."
At no point does BLM start talking about a superior race or creating a one-race America. Instead, it talks about systemic oppression rooted in this nation's violent history. You should look no further than this past weekend for an explanation for its stance on "virulent anti-Black racism." Its message is not one of destruction, but of building up. It is also an inclusive movement that values all lives, "regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location." BLM is explicit in its messaging that "all lives matter," because that is the foundation of the equality they fight for. To make them out as some doppleganger to a white-led ethnic cleansing movement is just absurd.
4) Watters criticizes the left's demand for Trump to call out white supremacism, calling it hypocritical because the Democratic party itself won't say "Islamic extremism" to describe jihadist groups. Here, Watters is capitalizing on this weekend's tragedy to politicize an entirely different issue. Is anyone else confused about why he is trying to compare apples and oranges? Can't he stay on topic? These two concepts are so fundamentally and historically different that I am seriously concerned about Watters' I.Q.
So, what is my takeaway from all this nonsense from Conservative media? You can always count on them to use tragedy to further their agenda.