Opinion: When tolerance is too tolerant

By Kevin Knox

“Should a tolerant society tolerate intolerance? The answer is no … When we extend tolerance to those who are openly intolerant, the tolerant ones end up being destroyed and tolerance with them.”

I have thought a lot about philosopher Karl Popper’s words since white supremacist hordes descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11. That event is enough to make anyone question how far their tolerance for different ideas and politics should extend. Personally, mine ends when white supremacists bearing torches and swastikas march alongside Klansmen in the streets of America.

History has already proven that their vitriol puts society in tremendous peril. World War II proved what happens when a country remains apathetic toward such groups who openly wish to oppress others.

They lure people in by making them feel special and superior, blaming every problem on other, “inferior” groups. When they finally seize power, all who apathetically dismissed them as “crazies” find their lives suddenly very difficult because they’re not part of that “elite” class. This scenario can happen anywhere, and has.

This fascist rhetoric has wormed its way into our society for years now, and apathy has allowed it to resonate within a significant portion of our populace. The fact that the rally in Charlottesville even happened in the first place proves this. More importantly, the police response that day may reveal this ideology has found its way into our government as well.

Footage taken by one Emily Molli shows a group of these white supremacist demonstrators pushing up against a line of riot police, literally assaulting the police. How did Charlottesville P.D. respond? Well, they just stood there and took it.

There were no tear gas canisters fired, no vicious beatings given, at least not by the police. In fact, it seemed as though the local police were content to give these Nazis free reign, even after one of them committed an act of terrorism by driving into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring more.

In a Democracy Now segment, Cornel West described how a local church that hosted an event of its own was beset by these white supremacists that day. West and other parishioners were essentially held hostage inside the church, unable to leave after the services for fear of being attacked. If it weren’t for the protection of counter-protesters, West and his group would have stood no chance. Still local police made no attempt to get a handle on this escalating situation.

That same segment features footage of other counter-protesters surrounding a statue of Robert E. Lee while white supremacists swung torches and threw lighter fluid at them. Also featured was footage of a prominent Reverend being whisked away by security in the middle of an interview as violence broke out around her. Two policemen died in a helicopter crash that day. Still no attempt by local police to contain the situation.

Photos of DeAndre Harris being viciously beaten by armed white supremacists have circulated. People have managed to identify several attackers, expose their names and hometowns, where they work, and where they go to school. But no charges have yet to be filed against any of these attackers, and no law enforcement agencies appear interested in pursuing a case.

Now think back to the Standing Rock protests. Peaceful Native Americans trying to nonviolently protect their land were sprayed with fire hoses in the middle of the night during North Dakota’s harsh winter. Local police needed little provocation to unleash violence against far more peaceful protesters.

Think of any Black Lives Matter protest. At every single one the local police immediately take swift action to disperse the crowds and beat the daylights out of anyone who sticks around. A photo of several policemen who look like they’re about to invade Afghanistan, aiming their guns at an unarmed minor in Ferguson is burned into my brain.

There’s a clear discrepancy between how police behaved in Charlottesville and how they behaved at any other protest of the last decade. A discrepancy that looks like an endorsement of the white supremacist marchers, which indicates that adherents to their ideology could be lurking amongst America’s police departments.

Meanwhile the federal government has shown no interest in coming down on the very violent Charlottesville protesters the way they did on the groups who, for example, protested Donald Trump’s inauguration. When Charlottesville is brought up, the President resorts to pathetic whataboutism. “What about the other guys? What about the ‘alt-left’?” He offers nothing beyond a toothless, delayed condemnation of just one protester, the one that actually killed somebody.

Another endorsement. This time from the President of the USA. It’s a prime example of our inability to properly counter this extremist vitriol has helped it take root in our country. We are now seeing some disturbing words and actions from our own high-ranking authority figures. The rhetoric is dangerously close to becoming mainstream.

I don’t advocate for legislation against expressing this kind of rhetoric, but what I am saying is that it is now the responsibility of us all to diligently condemn and counter it at every opportunity. Do not be afraid of debate. If they march, we must march in response. We cannot afford to tolerate this type of fascist, racist, prejudiced, intolerant rhetoric in this country. As paradoxical as it may seem, defending a tolerant society requires us to not tolerate such intolerance.