Ideas des­tined to die

Loath­some white na­tion­al­ists will wither un­der the glare of na­tional scru­tiny.

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTON FORUM -

AF­TER A few dozen racists led by Richard Spencer, the white na­tion­al­ist, re­turned to Char­lottesville for 15 min­utes of torch-lit march­ing and chant­ing last week­end — a short-or­der reprise, with­out the vi­o­lence, of their much larger demon­stra­tion in Au­gust — Mayor Mike Signer (D) said he is “look­ing at all our le­gal op­tions” to pro­hibit fu­ture such spec­ta­cles in the city.

It’s easy to sym­pa­thize with Mr. Signer’s anger and dis­gust: No mayor would want his town, his po­lice and his con­stituents ex­posed to re­peat per­for­mances by the loath­some Mr. Spencer and his band of thugs. Still, bar­ring pub­lic as­sem­blies and speeches by fringe groups, no mat­ter how hate­ful, is the wrong way to re­spond to them, not to men­tion con­sti­tu­tion­ally in­de­fen­si­ble. Bet­ter to let them march, and wither, in the full glare and gaze of the pub­lic’s re­vul­sion.

No doubt, na­tivism, re­van­chism and brazen dis­plays of race-bait­ing are en­joy­ing a mo­ment in the United States, pro­voked and ex­ploited by Pres­i­dent Trump’s tol­er­ance of them. De­spite that, the large ma­jor­ity of white Amer­i­cans re­ject racism, and most were ap­palled by the sum­mer’s vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville and the nox­ious ideas that im­pelled those marchers to de­scend on the city, waving Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flags and chant­ing anti-Semitic slo­gans.

There is no surer way to ex­pose ex­trem­ism’s mal­ice and tox­i­c­ity than to let it bask in the sun­light, where all Amer­i­cans can ex­am­ine it plainly. The more Mr. Spencer spouts his gospel of ha­tred — he ad­vo­cates “peace­ful eth­nic cleans­ing,” by which he means Jews and non­whites should have no place in the United States and should be in­duced to leave — the more his coun­try­men will be re­pelled.

On his re­turn to Char­lottesville last Satur­day night, many of Mr. Spencer’s acolytes ap­peared wear­ing ties, as if that sar­to­rial flour­ish would sud­denly con­fer a de­gree of re­spectabil­ity. In fact, the ef­fect was like a drop of per­fume on a skunk. “We come again in peace,” said Mr. Spencer, fool­ing no one.

Cities and in­sti­tu­tions be­set by odi­ous fa­nat­ics are right to take se­ri­ously his an­tics and the men­ace they rep­re­sent; they can­not shrug at the venom in­jected into their com­mu­ni­ties. In fact, they have no choice but to brace for the gut punch to their col­lec­tive con­scious­ness and to pro­vide com­pe­tent, ad­e­quate se­cu­rity that will pre­vent vi­o­lence.

Mr. Spencer has planned his next ma­jor ap­pear­ance for the Univer­sity of Flor­ida, where he has sched­uled a speech on cam­pus this month. Univer­sity of­fi­cials, mind­ful of the events in Char­lottesville, are spend­ing an an­tic­i­pated $500,000 on se­cu­rity for the event at the Gainesville cam­pus. Like other uni­ver­si­ties where Mr. Spencer has spo­ken and wants to speak, the Univer­sity of Flor­ida nei­ther wanted nor in­vited him. But as a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion, it has lit­tle choice but to al­low the event to go ahead.

The con­tent of his speech is un­likely to be ed­i­fy­ing, but the long-term out­come of the spec­ta­cles Mr. Spencer and his ilk are stag­ing across the coun­try is likely to be this: In the free mar­ket of ideas, flash-in-the-pan ex­trem­ism has rarely car­ried the day in Amer­ica. That’s not likely to change now.

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