It’s been twenty-four hours since, hopefully, the last of our unwanted guests left town. The day was exhausting both physically and mentally. In some respects, even though I was face-to-face with the reality, it was still difficult to fathom that people have such hatred for other human beings, and that for a brief time they chose our city. Through the course of the day-after, I’ve had a mixture of emotions and reactions. I’ll discuss a few of those thoughts below.
While I’ve seen photographs and footage of military forces carrying machine guns, riot police in the streets and armored vehicles, seeing them in my home city was disconcerting. I’m thankful we do not live in a place where that is normal. While the overpowering police presence probably helped, and they had no way of knowing what numbers and what situations they might face, I do regret that so much was required and that a small group such as this can command such a large expenditure.
The thing I appreciated most about the police and other law enforcement agencies was the fact that they communicated with each of the groups very effectively. They were clear and they were firm, but by informing each group as to expectations and listening to each group’s intentions and concerns, they enabled each group to make good decisions and to avoid major problems.
My respect has grown for the press in situations like the one yesterday. I realize most reporters and photographers have opinions on topics like immigration and hate-groups as well as freedom of speech. To maintain a semblance of impartiality is very difficult. I planned to simply take photographs, jot a few notes and remain detached, despite my strong feelings. I found it impossible. This is my city that I love. As a city, we are flawed, but the thought of an outside group coming into our midst, assuming we will be supportive and damaging the world’s view of who we are makes me angry.
Regarding the neo-Nazis, my dominant emotion was sadness. For people to hold such abhorrent views of other human beings and to display such certainty that their view is correct is disturbing. I believe very strongly in free speech, but I worry when the speech dehumanizes or demonizes other people. Once a person is less than human, any level of abuse is possible. I felt the greatest sadness for the young Nazis. Two girls and one young boy appeared to be teenagers. One girl looked as if she had barely reached her teens. To have such young people shaped into hate-filled automatons is tragic. Will they ever be able to break free to become fully functioning adults?
I also can’t help but wonder what it is in modern society that produces such people. I know it isn’t just the United States. There are intolerant and hate-filled people all over the world. Still, is there something we could do as a culture that would curtail the development or appeal of such groups? If, as some would say, these are people who felt isolated and yearned for a place to belong, do I reach out to people around me and let them feel that connection or do I leave them in their isolation to search for a group such as this one?
I also could not help thinking how uncomfortable I would be if I shared the same opinion as this group on the topics of immigration, abortion or states rights. If I was a person who defended the display of the rebel flag I would be uncomfortable. That banner flew alongside the swastika, which they also insisted is a misunderstood symbol.I will not say that a person who agrees with them in one regard is like them. I will only say I would be uncomfortable and I would have to do some soul-searching.
The response to the neo-Nazis was the subject of much debate and angst among the people of Knoxville. Some groups stayed away. Some groups organized and prepared to confront. Individuals made difficult decisions. While I would agree the group would be embarrassed if no one showed, I don’t think that was a realistic option.
While I might not agree with the behavior or approach of every counter-demonstrator, I do feel a clear message was sent yesterday: Knoxville thinks you are a joke and we don’t want you in our city. While exchanges yesterday were rife with references to the holocaust, it might be instructive to consider the effectiveness of silence in the face of that growing evil. If they could re-live history, how many who were silent early would, with hindsight, chose to speak in a loud clear voice? That’s what Knoxville did yesterday, and I was proud of her. Todos somos inmigrantes.