When presidential candidates and other politicians lament the rise of white nationalist extremist violence, it’s easy for us to dismiss such comments as these politicians’ lame attempts at “virtue signaling” their wokeness. Yet now that we’re nearing the two-year-mark since the “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, it’s important for us to remember what happened there, how it’s influenced civic life since, and why we should expect our national leaders to do more than merely pay lip service to such “crazy” ideas as diversity, human rights and mutual respect.
Gather around. It’s story time.
Normally, we don’t dig deep into children’s storytime at the local library. This one is different, as the mayor actually spoke out against it. Yet with some 600 locals turning out in support, “Drag Queen Story Hour” made its successful debut at the Washoe County Library in Sparks last Saturday.
This pro-literacy program first launched in San Francisco in 2015, and it’s really just drag queens reading children’s books to an audience of children. Yet when Sparks Mayor Ron Smith essentially repeated the same (debunked) arguments used by far-right extremists in their national doxxing campaign against “Drag Queen Story Hour”, Nevada has once again been thrust into the national conversation on hate, extremism, and what the hell we’re actually going to do about it.
Just a few miles away from my home in Henderson, Elizabeth Cole was shot and nearly killed in January when an argument over a cigarette-induced fire near their apartment building escalated into violence. Nationwide at least 11 trans people have been killed in hate crimes this year, after at least 26 trans people were killed in hate crimes in 2018. This corresponds with the recent rise in reported hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ Americans and other historically oppressed communities.
This isn’t the first time Nevada has been thrust into the spotlight like this. In August 2017 University of Nevada, Reno, student Peter Cvjetanovic became infamous as one of the faces of the “Unite the Right” riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in the murder of anti-fascist counter-protester Heather Heyer. Cvjetanovic has never been charged with a crime for his involvement in “Unite the Right”, and he’s reportedly taken a course at the London School of Economics after UNR resisted calls from fellow students to discipline Cvjetanovic for his participation in the neo-Nazi riots.
Since then Charlottesville UNR has brought in a new Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, but that came after waves of hate crimes on campus (and the subsequent student backlash) compelled administrators to take further action. If the recent turmoil at UNR has made anyone down south feel better about the state of higher education in Las Vegas, think again: After a February 2018 incident involving a man shouting homophobic slurs and assaulting someone at the UNLV Student Union, UNLV also experienced a wave of anti-Semitic threats on campus in October 2018. And this past May, Turning Point USA (a Trumpist far-right group targeting college students) was shamed into ousting the president-elect of its UNLV chapter after he contributed to a “white power” video that went viral on social media.
And it’s not just Nevada’s higher education institutions that are vulnerable. Back in April 2014, Cliven Bundy’s “Range War” against the federal government brought in white nationalist militias from across the nation to fight the fed’s alongside his family. (Ammon Bundy has since parted ways with the militias over their support for Trump’s white nationalist platform, but let’s just say the train left that station long ago.) Some two months later, Bundy Ranch ex-pat’s Jerad and Amanda Miller went on to further their “revolution” by assassinating Las Vegas Metro Police Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, along with civilian Joseph Robert Wilcox when he tried to stop them.
Back then, we could see the rising white nationalist militia movement that’s since fomented in ongoing neo-Nazi violence in cities like Portland, the aforementioned neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville, the Parkland Shooting, shootings at a Kroger store near Louisville and a yoga studio in Tallahassee, last October’s “MAGA Bomber” plot to bomb several people who’ve regularly been verbally attacked by Trump, last October’s Tree of Life Synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, and the ongoing QAnon conspiracy theory movement that’s fueling further far-right extremist violence.
“I think we all know that we are better than this. We must fight for a better America, and fight for it we will.”
– Kamala Harris, at yesterday’s Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus virtual town hall
Last Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden again denounced the rise of white nationalist extremism while visiting Las Vegas. He spoke about how Charlottesville convinced him to run against Trump this cycle, and he denounced Trump’s continuing attacks against “The Squad” (Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-New York], Ayanna Pressley [D-Massachusetts], Rashida Tlaib [D-Michigan], and Ilhan Omar [D-Minnesota]) in proclaiming, “This is wrong. Guys, this is wrong.”
And at the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus’ virtual town hall yesterday, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Kamala Harris (D-California) also condemned Trump’s recent racist and misogynistic attacks. Klobuchar denounced Trump’s attacks on fellow Minnesotan Ilhan Omar, and Harris called upon the nation to do better as she proclaimed, “I think we all know that we are better than this. We must fight for a better America, and fight for it we will.”
If we just view Biden’s, Harris’, and other Democratic Party politicians’ comments in a vacuum, it’s easy to conclude they’re just trying to score political points in wokeness. Yet regardless of their respective motives in speaking out like this, their comments gain more meaning when we view them in the context of what’s happening around us.
As I’ve repeatedly stated around these parts for over a year, Donald Trump is embracing the white nationalist ideology at the heart of all this unrest for his own enrichment and empowerment. Yet just because Trump sees no wrong doesn’t make it right. What are we doing to make it right? That’s the question we can and should continually ask ourselves and each other as we try to figure out how the “better angels” of American democracy can finally defeat the ugliest and most bigoted forces in our society.