George on Georgia: Why We’re Not Just Arresting White Guys With Guns
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Georgia is leading a national conversation today about white men with guns.
A few weeks ago, the Michigan branch of Vanilla Isis carried rifles into the state capitol and screamed hell past lines of state troopers. And we asked ourselves, if they were black men with guns, how quickly would they have been arrested, or shot?
Last week, we watched video footage of three white men confront and shoot to death a black jogger in south Georgia — footage that the Glynn County prosecutor had been sitting on for more than two months. And we asked ourselves, if they were black men with guns, how quickly would they have been arrested, or shot?
Wittingly or not, I think we’re linking these scenes together in our minds. The news cycle juxtaposes these images in front of us. We can bear only so much hypocrisy.
We are seeing our elected leaders ignore terrorism, though people resist calling it that because white men with guns don’t just shape our policies, they also shape our language about who is and is not considered violent or threatening. And I think we’re finally tiring of it.
Under any other conditions, a man with a rifle screaming demands of you is an act of intimidation. In my view, it is a terroristic threat and a crime. And they know it. It’s a dare.
I had a chat with Jerry Henry, the executive director of Georgia Carry, about the capitol protests last week. Georgia Carry is amid a fairly important — and frankly interesting — legal battle with Governor Brian Kemp over gun permits. If you moved to Georgia, you can’t get a Georgia driver’s license right now with all the tag offices closed. Hell, they’re handing driver’s licenses to 20,000 people without a road test. The governor has been able to suspend enforcement of some laws, like one outlawing the wearing of a mask in public. But if you want a new gun permit with the county courthouses closed, you’re out of luck.
For gun rights activists, this is infuriating. But Henry’s crew doesn’t participate in public gun demonstrations, and certainly not at the capitol, he said. A protest “can make you look real good or look real bad,” Henry said. “The liberal press will pick out the worst people there … or no one will show up.”
So, to be clear, armed protesters at state capitols in Michigan, Texas and elsewhere don’t have much of anything to do with gun rights. But I don’t think the white supremacist messages we’re seeing with those armed protests are incidental.
If they were black men with guns, how quickly would they have been arrested, or shot? Well, probably pretty quickly, because thousands of black people are not having long chat room sessions fantasizing about armed insurrection after a confrontation with state police, as they are on the Fascist Forge board right now.
Here’s some context people might be missing.
The 2017 racist alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., fundamentally screwed up the white supremacist movement in America, believe it or not. Heather Heyer’s murder and the images of running street battles turned the world decidedly against the alt-right. Activists like those behind Unicorn Riot infiltrated and exposed racists’ Discord channels, making clandestine recruiting all but impossible. They began outing the foot soldiers’ identities through social media, like Trent East, a deputy sheriff and National Guardsman in Haralson County who lost his job last year after activists spotted his online racism. The increased attention cost them their jobs, personal relationships and community standing. (This, by the way, is why the far-right loathes Antifa and propagandizes against it as much as it does: it’s an effective intelligence-gathering group).
White nationalist leaders and publications got sued and de-platformed, and financial supporters abandoned anything tinged with racial hatred. People like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopolous were cut off from being able to raise money easily from the public. Two of the largest formal groups — the Traditionalist Worker Party and the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement — no longer exist as functional organizations today.
That doesn’t mean things are getting better. They’re just getting weirder, and perhaps if the El Paso shooting is any indication, more violent.
As a Southern Poverty Law Center’s surveillance report notes, the white supremacist movement has fractured, and the conversation in the quiet places has changed.
“The movement’s followers are breaking into two major strategic camps: so-called accelerationists who wholeheartedly embrace violence as a political tool and ‘mainstreamers’ (or the “dissident right,” as they often call themselves) who are attempting, with a degree of success, to bend the mainstream political right toward white nationalist ideas.”
Consider how both views play out in Georgia. Last year, Chester Doles, who has a lengthy history of white supremacist organizing, staged a rally in Dahlonega. Shortly after that, he launched American Patriots USA. This group has made four political endorsements across the state. Amazingly, one of them is in DeKalb County — that of Hubert Owens, the Republican challenger to State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick. Owens has allegedly accepted this endorsement … perhaps because as a relatively recent transplant to Georgia, he doesn’t know any better.
This post was not available on Hubert’s Facebook page as of Wednesday, May 13. Reached by phone, Hubert said he was unaware of this endorsement and hadn’t removed anything from his Facebook page.
“I’m not even in the state of Georgia right now,” he said. He ended the conversation with, “I’m in D.C. I’ve got to get back to work.”
On the other side of the coin, the FBI arrested three Georgia men in January, who are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a criminal gang. They, and other members of “The Base” are accused of, plotting to murder a Bartow County couple they believed were Antifa members and training for a race war on a range just south of Rome.
There’s a lot of push and pull between these views among white supremacists. Mainstream white supremacists want to carry their message in a suit and tie into schools and churches and legislation. Accelerationists want someone, somewhere, to kick off the “boogaloo,” or the long-awaited apocalyptic race war that will reset America. And they want to recruit fighters.
But every time they’ve tried to stage a major public demonstration like the neo-Nazis tried in Newnan two years ago, or Chester Doles’ tried in Dahlonega last year, they’re met fifty-fold with anti-fascist local protesters and cameras ready for a repeat of Charlottesville. They look weak, because they are weak. They’re completely outnumbered and despised.
And then the pandemic locked everyone down.
The guys with guns wearing Hawaiian shirts under their camo and giving the Pepe the Frog OK sign aren’t out here because they’re protesting the pandemic. That’s incidental.
They’re out here because we can’t counterprotest in force.
They’re piggy-backing off the pandemic protests in exactly the same way that black bloc anarchists use the relative anonymity of anti-police brutality street protests to flip over cop cars. It’s an opportunity presenting itself, a means to an end. The end, for the alt-right guys, is visibility without the opposition making them look small. They know they’re running a risk of getting COVID-19, but if the rest of us start confronting them as before, our greater numbers would actually create an exponentially greater risk of infection.
It’s an elegant game theory put to disturbing use.
While weak, they’re hoping for a galvanizing Ruby Ridge confrontation of some sort to rekindle public support. The best thing that could happen to them, in their view, is a violent confrontation with authority — preferably liberal authority — that sparks massive armed conflict. It’s a fantasy. But it shapes how we react. State leaders across the country are denying them their Waco moment.
George Chidi is a political columnist and public policy advocate.
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