It did not begin in Charlottesville, but did not end there, either. In August, 2017, self-described White nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying Tiki torches and swastikas, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, and “blood and soil”. Any student of history knows from whence these phrases came. Our country fought a war to defeat this very ideology, and here it is again, in our heartland. Heather Heyer was killed that day, when one of the marchers, James Alex Fields, drove his car into her and others.
Paul Nehlen, who is running in a Senate primary in Wisconsin against Paul Ryan, is also a self-described nationalist. Just after Christmas, Mr. Nehlen tweeted a picture of a nonfiction book he was reading that alleges a Jewish conspiracy to control the media. Mr. Nehlen then went on to attack, by name, a number of Jewish journalists that he claimed were part of a “Jewish cover up”.
This came in a month in which President Trump tweeted that the Dreamer Act, DACA, which protects child immigrants, would not be extended unless Congress approved funding for his border wall, adding that the wall was “needed to protect the country.”
The country does not need protection from immigrants. Immigrants need protection from the country. It is easy to dismiss the marchers in Charlottesville as a fringe group, but one of the marchers took a life. It is easy to dismiss Paul Nehlen as a lone voice, but he is running for Senate, and has hundreds of thousands of followers. It is easy to say that someone with views like Mr. Nehlen’s could never secure a seat in Senate, but Roy Moore professed similar views and was only narrowly defeated by Doug Jones. When Moore lost, he took to social media to blame the loss on “Blacks and Muslims voting”, as if to say that had minorities lacked the right to vote, he would have won the election.
Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famed poem, First They Came, begins, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.” After listing other targeted groups: trade workers, socialists, Jews, the poem concludes, “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me.”
Pastor Niemoller saw first-hand the atrocities committed in Germany not only against Jewish people, but against homosexuals, gypsies, the infirmed, and anyone else deemed to lack Aryan purity. His poem was a condemnation of silent complicity.
80 years later, the phrase “Jews will not replace us”, and “blood and soil”, is chanted on our streets. Our president referred to these marchers as “very fine people.” He seeks to build a wall to “protect the country” from immigrants. One failed candidate for Senate blamed “Blacks and Muslims” for his loss, and a prospective Senate candidate attacks journalists not for what they write, but for being Jewish.
The type of malignant nationalism that seeks to hate and exclude citizens based upon their race or religion has no place in America. We are a nation of all races, creeds and classes, a nation of immigrants. Heather Heyer was not Jewish, African American, or part of any other group targeted by the Charlottesville marchers, but she spoke out for them. It is incumbent upon us to follow Ms. Heyer’s example. It is incumbent upon us to heed Martin Niemoller’s warning, not because if we fail to speak up, no one will be left to speak up for us, but because we are more than a collection of disparate faiths and groups. We are Americans, and we are one.
Contributing Editor: Howard Altman, Long Island, New York
I am an attorney and aspiring writer living in New York with my golden doodle, Barney. I cook, bake, play the piano and write. I wanted to be Weird Al when I grew up, but had to settle for the law and Twitter. You can find me on twitter @HowardA_Esq.