A Liberal Dose
February 2, 2023
Troy D. Smith
“Protesting with Nazis is Alliance with Nazis”
As I write this, it is Holocaust Remembrance Day. My uncle-by-marriage, who was a huge influence on me as a child and is the source of my love for history books and foreign languages, was a Holocaust refugee. He and two of his brothers were the only members of his entire extended family to escape and survive. I remember, even as a kid, feeling the weight of history on the couple of occasions I met his sister-in-law… a dignified lady who was also a concentration camp survivor, with numbers tattooed on her arm. I remember the feeling I had just a few years ago when one of my uncle’s cousins sent me a link to their ancestry.com page, and I noticed that dozens of their family members all had the same death date. I remember, also, the many other Holocaust survivors I met when I was living in Brooklyn in the 80s.
And just a few days ago, there were literal Nazis protesting on the streets of Cookeville, waving a swastika flag. I’m still hopping mad. These particular Nazis had joined a small crowd of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and (as I understand it) some members of a local church (including a pastor) in front of Ralph’s Donuts to protest an adults-only drag brunch taking place at the bar across the street. The whole crowd was yelling and chanting insulting things about drag performers and the LGBTQ community, but the Nazis were adding to the mix chants of “kill the Jews” and “Jews rape kids.” Some of the out-of-towners left the group and walked away after the Nazis did these things, while many of the local protesters expressed discomfort and even dismay at the activity- but remained on the protest line.
Let me be clear. Even Nazis have the constitutional right to assemble peacefully and to express their ideas. I’m not one of the people who think the police should have dispersed or arrested them, unless and until they did something illegal. But here’s what I do think.
The rest of us have the right to be disgusted by them. And the rest of us should be disgusted by them, and by their ideas (such as white supremacy, homophobia, and antisemitism). And we should express that disgust loudly, clearly, and without any hesitation or equivocation. It was Nazi ideas that led to millions of people -most of them Jews, but by no means all -being murdered in concentration camps. It was Nazi ideas that led to the situation that our fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers risked their lives to stop, and which hundreds of thousands of American servicemen (and women) died opposing.
It took days for Cookeville city leaders to make any public statements at all about the situation, and on the couple of occasions they did they were very delicately phrased so as not to offend the people there WITH the Nazis. A lot of people are outraged by that, and they should be; we should know where our elected officials stand on issues, and if there is one issue that everyone should stand firmly (and without hesitation) against, it is Nazis.
And if there is one thing no one should ever stand BESIDE, it is Nazis. If you tell me not everyone on that line was a Nazi, I tell you that everyone who remained on that line chose to stand with Nazis and that makes them Nazi supporters and allies. Again, I am not saying the power of the city government should have silenced them, it should not have, but the people of the Upper Cumberland have the right, and in my opinion the moral duty, to condemn them. And WE have the freedom of speech to say so, and say so loudly.
And if your moral and political beliefs match those of Nazis so well they travel to protest with you… and you let them… that should tell you something.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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