Should we get white nationalists fired from their jobs?

Cole White, formerly of Top Dog, marches for whiteness in Charlottesville.

The thing about white nationalists is fuck them. Ordinary rules of civil society, such as “don’t persecute people for their beliefs,” break down as those beliefs approach fascism. We already tried responding to fascism with sanction and argument, and it ended baldy. This history puts fascism in a  unique category of beliefs that might justify preemptive violence. If NAMBLA organized a march through downtown Missoula, I would oppose heading over there to beat them up. We have seen what happens when fascism gets rolling, however, and the way it seeks to make force superior to reason or democratic processes, in a way that might justify wielding force against fascism right off the bat.

I mention this because of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. It ended in violence and what appears to be a vehicular homicide. Even those marchers who did not show up with sticks and torches espoused an ideology antithetical to this country’s values. The white race is a fiction, in my opinion, but even if it were real, you cannot say one race is superior to or even just inherently different from others while simultaneously claiming that all people are created equal. Race nationalism is incompatible with American democracy. The people who believe in it are assholes, but are they Nazis?

This question should not be taken as a defense of any of the ideas expressed by what is called the alt-right. I’m not steeped in that culture, but literally everything I have heard from them has been stupid. Not everything I have heard from them has been what I would classify as Nazism, though. This distinction is important to me, because while I am comfortable with the idea of stomping Nazis for their beliefs, I am not comfortable with the idea of stomping someone because they believe, for example, that white people are inherently better at math.

That claim affronts me, and I would hold whoever said it in contempt. I would not persecute them, though. In most cases, that’s a distinction without difference. When you see some Richard Spencer type marching down the street with a club and shouting about Jews, by all means, knock him down. But what about when you see some asshole like Cole White, pictured at the top of this post? He marched in Charlottesville Friday night. The Twitter account Yes, You’re Racist identified him from a picture on Saturday, and by the end of the day he had been fired from his job at a libertarian hot dog restaurant.

Just desserts, right? That’s one white man who will have time to rethink his theories about which race is superior, now that he doesn’t spend all day preparing and selling hot dogs. I don’t feel too bad about what happened to Mr. White, but I don’t feel too good about the mechanism by which it came about. I have two concerns, one of them a lot more esoteric than the other. Both of them can be neatly encapsulated in one thought experiment:

  1. Imagine you are a socialist, and you march in a public demonstration demanding that the United States nationalize its banking system. The Twitter account Yes, You’re a Communist calls your employer about it, and you lose your job at the libertarian hot dog place.
  2. Imagine you are a socialist, and you see Cole White marching in a public demonstration demanding that Charlottesville preserve its monument to Robert E. Lee. You call his employer, and he loses his job at the libertarian hot dog place.

Scenario (1) is very much like what actually happened, except the political belief in question is not as unequivocally bad as racism. Some might even say it’s good. No one of sense would say that about white supremacy, but I can imagine someone of sense saying it about the preservation of Confederate statues. I’m against that. Tear ’em down. But I am not so against it that I believe anyone who disagrees with me should lose their job. This scenario raises questions about how bad a political belief has to be to justify attacking the person who holds it.

Scenario (2) raises questions about how we attack objectionable beliefs. The practice of getting people fired for saying stupid things on the internet is well-established. White was doing stupid things in real life, but he was fired by the same basic mechanism: people were disgusted with him, figured out who he was, and put pressure on his employer. If you believe, as I do, that capital in general and work in particular exercise too much influence on American lives, it’s hard to justify getting people fired as an instrument of political action. White is an asshole, but has he now lost his health insurance? If he gets leukemia next week, are we willing to deny him treatment because of his opinions on Robert E. Lee and so-called racial science?

Again, I’m not trying to drum up sympathy for this jerk. I am trying to ask what we are willing to do to the people for whom we have almost no sympathy at all. We should punch Nazis, but maybe we should refrain from punching people who merely resemble Nazis. Otherwise, the mechanisms of our disagreements might overpower their content. If you had a button on your desk that electrocuted anyone you disagreed with, you could solve the Nazi problem real quick. Maybe, though, you would generate a new problem entirely.

Alabama senate votes to let church form its own police force

Briarwood Presbyterian, right as a symbol of state power accidentally blew into the shot

When we think about the separation of church and state, we tend to worry about government becoming more like church. But maybe the real danger lies in churches becoming more like governments—by getting a piece of the state’s monopoly on violence, for instance. Yesterday, the Alabama state senate approved a bill to let Briarwood Presbyterian Church assemble its own police force. Briarwood police would be sworn officers with the same authority to carry firearms, issue citations and place people under arrest as, for example, university police. The difference is that they would be employed by a church. That’s tricky, since as police they would become expressions of state power. I’m using “tricky” here to avoid repeating the exact words of the ACLU of Alabama, whose executive director described the plan as “plainly unconstitutional.”

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When is leaking patriotic?

Michael Flynn gives the international symbol for imminent resignation.

President Trump took to Twitter this morning to condemn the leaks that have embarrassed his administration for the last month. After The New York Times reported that his campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents last year, citing “four current and former American officials,” the president tweeted that “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Compare this to the less real scandal of accepting the help of a hostile foreign power to become president, which is only mildly un-American. But Trump raises a valid question. When is it a betrayal of the United States to leak classified information to the public, either directly or indirectly through the press, and when is it a service?

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United States reserves the right to launch nuclear first strike

The first and last person to use nuclear weapons in war, Harry S. Truman

The first and last person to use nuclear weapons in war, Harry S. Truman

One of the central propositions of the Obama presidency, along with closing Guantanamo Bay and shooting Osama Bin Laden in the face, was to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US foreign policy. In both Prague in 2009 and Hiroshima in May, the president called for “a world without nuclear weapons.” Until that world is ours, though, the United States reserves the right to nuke first and ask questions later, presumably while pouring water over a rag stuffed in your mouth. The Times reports today that national security advisors have convinced the president to abandon plans to foreswear first use of nuclear weapons in combat. As of today, but also as of 1945, you don’t have to nuke the US for the US to nuke you.

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New Ghostbusters provokes widespread psychological reactance, narrowly focused laughter

What if the ghost librarian looked cooler and slimed her right away? That would be funny.

A scene from the new Ghostbusters, which wisely makes everything look more badass.

“[Psychological reactance is] the feeling you get when people try to stop you from doing something you’ve been doing, and you perceive that they have no right or justification for stopping you. So you redouble your efforts and do it even more, just to show that you don’t accept their domination. Men, in particular, are concerned to show that they do not accept domination.”

Prof. Johnathan Haidt, describing the phenomenon of psychological reactance to Thomas Edsall in the Times. Props to Ben al-Fowlkes for the link.

I have not seen the new Ghostbusters movie, so I cannot say if it is good or important. Judging by the trailer, the decision to cast women is the most interesting thing about it. I am not as interested in the promise of worse jokes but better effects, or in the decision to remake a hit from 30 years ago whose charms are not just fondly remembered but hard to explain. The first Ghostbusters should not have been good. I’m not sure lightning is going to strike that premise twice. Yet rather than not seeing the new Ghostbusters because it doesn’t look funny, large numbers of men are not seeing it because it’s “all women.” On Twitter, they are not seeing it so aggressively they sent threats and racist memes to Leslie Jones, who plays the black Ghostbuster who isn’t a scientist like the other three. After Twitter banned Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos for inciting the abuse, the hashtag #FreeMilo cast him as a victim of censorship. Clinical discussion of what makes people so awful after the jump.

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