Should we tolerate intolerance?

Colin Roberts, Copy Editor

When the news cycle latched onto the white supremacists and Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., I was surprised.

That the Nazis and supremacists thought they had enough support to appear in public was delusional, but as talented journalists soon uncovered, they had a thorough dissemination plan for their ideology, and public demonstrations were just a part of it.

Of course, the conversation at the time was whether we should we allow them to march in the streets. Some people grimly shook their heads, doing their best to look pained, and explained that the First Amendment protected all speech.

This is true. Any speech (besides a few rare and specific cases) is protected. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of that speech, but it does protect the speech itself.

Other people said no: emphatically, unequivocally, no to Nazis. No Nazi flags, no Nazi ideology, no marches, no speech.

Once, back in high school, I got into an argument with a friend. I was a little cynical back in the day and was making the argument that once the last Holocaust survivor died, people would start successfully denying it ever happened. Now, mind you, this was before 2016, before fake news and alternative facts and our day-to-day lives became a circus of lunacy, so when my friend heard me, they were rightfully angry. They told me that would never happen, that people would never forget. The stories would always be with us.

People forgot. I find myself more often than not having to explain why the Nazis were, and are, bad. People instinctively know this, but for whatever reason, the severity of the Holocaust lessens in their minds with time – at least until you remind them. Then they nod their heads solemnly and agree.

But are the Nazis in Charlottesville the same as the fascist who killed 10 million people in a systematic effort? That depends on who you ask. To some, they are outcasts easily preyed upon by supremacist recruiters. But here’s the thing: there were outcasts in the Nazi party in Germany. Stalin was an outcast loser. It does not matter who you are if you are complicit in what happens.

Here is the most important part: these so-called outcasts hold all the same ideologies as their historic counterparts. Nothing has changed about the show, just the venue. Given the chance, these people have admitted, openly and publicly, that they would eradicate the Jewish people and dominate other minorities.

Given that their ideology advocates for the extermination of a group of people, should we allow them to talk about it?

Germany says no. They lived through it. They know what happened. They looked in the mirror and saw what waited on the other side.

“What about the KKK?” you may ask. “What about Christian groups who are against homosexuality? What if ‘Nazi’ is just a word for ‘white people I don’t like?’ Where do you draw the line? You can use this thinking to silence anyone!”

This should have been easy, but welcome to the modern world. Since outlawing ideology with tragic historical consequence and statements about the inherent supremacy of certain “races” is controversial, I suppose we have to look at it from another direction.

I am against society policing behavior, because depending on who is doing the policing, lots of people can disappear overnight. But you cannot just allow everything, because then Nazis happen. Damned if you do, damned if you do not.

So let us make the Nazi issue easy. If your ideology resulted in the Holocaust, then you should no longer practice it. But what about the other ones? The KKK have a history of killing and terrorizing people. Should they be allowed to preach their ideology? For most people, this is an easy no. But again, once you start on this path, people get uneasy. What about religious groups that fund organizations that actively work to deny gay people rights? Ahh, now we have hit some interesting territory, but I am out of words, so until next time, just remember: Nazis are bad, empathy is good and you should examine what it means to tolerate intolerance.    

Colin Roberts is a senior English major. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].