Racist rally in Virginia - it absolutely could happen here
Many people in our communities were horrified this last weekend when a rally in Charlottesville, Va., devolved into white supremacist chants, Nazi flags and salutes, and eventually violence: one woman was killed and an estimated 30 injured when a driver slammed into counter-protesters.
It's easy enough to sit back in our Northwest enclave and bemoan the violence and racism in Virginia.
It probably would be smart to realize the same could easily happen here. And if it does, to prepare for it.
Let us start, first, by establishing one theme for this editorial: Anyone marching with a Nazi flag and chanting neo-Nazi propaganda is a racist and is anti-American. Full stop.
Readers can take exception to the newspaper's position on this; indeed, they are encouraged to write in and do so if they wish. But our position is resolute: there are no two sides to identifying yourself as a Nazi, or neo-Nazi, or a white supremacist. Do that, and you're the "bad guy" of the story.
A reader might ask: But isn't that against the code of journalism? Don't newspapers pride themselves on being unbiased?
Newspaper people pride themselves on being fully aware of institutional bias and taking steps to counter for it. Bias is everywhere. Every time we chose to print a story about an elected official, we're saying, "Elected officials are intrinsically important." That's a bias.
Newspaper reporters and photographers, editors and publishers, are human and are susceptible to the same foibles as anyone else. We just try to be aware of our own cultural lenses, and attempt to counter for them.
And one bias is this: We're the Metro area. We wouldn't see the type of "Unite the Right" rally, with the slurs, the swastikas and the divisiveness, that Virginia saw.
That would be wrong.
We would be naive to assume that racism is somehow a Southern thing. It is not. Or that communties in the Northwest, and Oregon, and Washington County, are above such contemptible actions. They are not.
In May, a Portland man allegedly harassed two young women on a MAX train because of of them wore a hijab. That incident ended with two dead and another man injured. That wasn't in the South; that was right here.
Most people we know disdain racism. But not everyone does. As Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Sunday, there are people who, "get out of bed every day to hate people and divide our country."
True there. True here.
Racism and xenophobia are part and parcel of every society. It's as old a story as Sumer and Babylon. And we are not immune to it.
Remember, too, that Oregon courts have consistently held that the Oregon Constitution provides broader free speech rights than does the U.S. Constitution. Blame Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon constitution if you like, but free speech is baked into our community. If someone wanted to march down Hall Boulevard with Nazi signs, and if they had gone through the proper permitting process, there would be little that city officials could do to stop them.
Oregon has a history of Ku Klux Klan activity. Shameful marches of the bigotry-besotted bedsheet brigade were a common site up into the 1920s. Cut to modern-day Oregon, go to almost any political protest, and you can find people with signs, buttons, shirts or regalia for the Klan, or the Nazis, or other white supremacist movements.
Usually, they are a small minority. But they are there.
So it's fine to watch what happened in Virginia and to mourn the violence, the death, the divisive comments, the Nazi paraphernalia. But it would be foolish to think that we won't ever see that here.
And when it does, good people will need to be ready to speak up to counter it.
Robert Kennedy said that his brother, John F. Kennedy, liked to quote from a translation of Dante's "Inferno" thusly: "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality."