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Grant Bosse: I wish I could ignore Charlottesville

August 14. 2017 10:27PM

My first instinct is always to ignore the Alt-Right, or whatever the racist fringe of white supremacy calls itself whenever its new name becomes too toxic.

The point of public protest marches is to draw more attention to their fringe movement than could be justified by its electoral weight. So my preference would be to ignore for as long as possible the hateful bigots who organized last weekend’s rally in Charlottesville.

It is no longer possible.

These vile cretins have never gone away, but they have been encouraged to crawl out from under their rocks, emboldened by disaffected populists willfully ignoring the true nature of their new political allies.

There is a creeping evil attempting to gain legitimacy in our politics. On the self-described right, it comes from remnants of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, recycling their racial resentment through a new set of excuses. On the left, it is radical anarchists seeding protests in hope of sowing chaos.

President Donald Trump wasn’t wrong to condemn violence on all sides. He was wrong to ignore the specifics of Charlottesville for 48 hours.

I was as harsh as anyone on President Barack Obama for his obstinate refusal to acknowledge Islamic terrorism. Trump beat that drum incessantly. Evil should be named, and failure to publicly address the nature of Islamic terrorism makes it harder to stop.

Trump’s refusal to specifically repudiate white supremacists, until finally doing so Monday, was a moral failure. Many of these racists were explicitly marching in Trump’s name, and he had a duty to renounce them. And that was before a woman was run down and killed.

Terrorism is the use or threat of violent means for political ends. When a white supremacist allegedly murders a counter-protester, it is proper to call that terrorism.

Trump is not shy with criticism, but is remarkably reluctant to give even the mildest rebuke of anyone willing to feed his ego. That seems to me to be the root of his failure to stand up to Vladimir Putin. So he tries to lump violence at antifa and Black Lives Matter protests in with Charlottesville by condemning “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

Such stubborn imprecision makes it seem as if he believes there is a moral equivalence between the racists and those protesting them.

Trump’s cowardice was more than a missed opportunity to unite the country against hatred and violence. It was also an invitation for more petty politics.

Not content to criticize Trump, partisan opportunists have been turning the Charlottesville march into a weapon against all Republicans. Trump’s failure as a moral leader does not obligate Republican lawmakers to start voting with Democrats, and such shallow political ploys are shameful.

I don’t hold Trump responsible for the increased visibility of the Alt-Right. I’m not sure the movement would have been any less energized by the election of Hillary Clinton. There’s a growing segment of young men in America cut off from society. Underemployed and resentful, some troll the internet, while a few are drawn into fringe movements. Some resort to violence.

It is these “Lost Boys,” as Professor Tom Nichols calls them, who populate the Alt-Right, and who become lone-wolf Islamic terrorists. The hateful ideologies they adopt are pretexts to justify their own failures.

We must not rationalize these justifications by buying in to the self-victimization inherent in the Alt-Right’s bigotry. We must expose these pathetic, hateful losers for what they are.

The organizers of the Charlottesville rally stoke these resentments. They are provocateurs, hoping for a violent response so that they can scurry behind the protection of the police and the First Amendment.

Heather Heyer was killed Saturday while exercising her rights to free speech and free assembly. That is tragic. But even if that tragedy had been averted, if the Charlottesville rally organizers had kept themselves within the limits of their own First Amendment rights, that hateful march would still have warranted a universal rebuke.

You may hate political correctness. You may rail against liberals, the press, and the swamp of Washington, D.C. But responsible Americans have no common cause with racism.

Trump’s failure to immediately call out the Alt-Right for its hateful ideology, and not just the violence, would be frustrating if it were not so predictable.

Opposing the left does not make the Alt-Right an ally to conservatives. The white supremacist movement, no matter its name today, remains an enemy to American life.

Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.

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