Long Island immigrants looking at the news today from Charlottesville, Virginia can be forgiven for feeling frightened and confused at the political violence they saw. Many of them come from countries where street violence is a regular part of politics, a part they thought they were escaping by coming here. Unfortunately, the Trump campaign last year and his presidency have emboldened the most racist elements of America to rally to claim the power that they believe they won with Trump’s election. They are violently prosecuting their crusade to maintain white supremacy in America.
Never in the last half-century has an avowedly racist political movement claimed the support of the president of the United States. Whether presidents were Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, they have always denounced white supremacists as a racist fringe movement. Today, after the carnage in Charlottesville, given the opportunity to do just that, President Trump refused. The racists, far from being a fringe, are now central to his political base. Their propaganda minister, Steve Bannon, serves at the right-hand of the president.
A Long Island immigrant watching the street fighting on TV might ask herself, “What is this to me.” The simple answer is “everything.” While some immigrants console themselves in the time of Trump with the idea that he is “only against the gang members” or “only against the undocumented,” this is a naïve consolation. Trump’s base cares little about gang members. Latinos killing Latinos means nothing to them. They don’t care about the victims of MS-13. Nor do they really care about the undocumented. What they worry about is power shifting slowly out of the hands of white people and into the control of a diverse American polity that threatens the very notion of a white identity.
The growth of the white nationalist movement began with opposition to legal immigration. The white supremacists understand that the size of the black population is not growing any faster than that of the white population. But they are worried about immigrants. Every year, the proportion of the population that is Latino and Asian American grows. The proportion of the electorate that is Latino has tripled in size over the last three decades. This is the threat that those dedicated to a white-ruled nation most fear.
A generation ago, the Nazis, Neo-Confederates, White Nationalists and adherents of the Alt-Right theories of Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon would never have shown their faces in public. There were simply too many Americans who had fought against this lunacy in World War II to have even allowed it. Now, Donald Trump has created a safe space for their torch light parades and their chants against Jews, blacks, LGBTI, immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, women, and everybody else who does not look like them. They are taking to the streets with baseball bats, shields, and guns to close the public space off to those whom they describe as sub-human vermin, in other words, to us.
Long Island’s immigrants need to understand the nature of this threat. These bullies want to close off all immigration from non-white countries. They want to expel non-white immigrants currently living here. Many of them accept the need to kill people who don’t fit their ideal of a white American. Immigrants cannot turn their heads to this danger. This is your country too. This country belongs to you as much as it does to the white man who was born here. You have as much right to determine its future as he does and you must defend the open, diverse democracy that you immigrated to.
I monitor anti-immigrant groups around the country. Recently, one of the leaders of a violent group dedicated to street fighting came from California to Long Island. He uses the name “Based Stickman” and he organizes young white supremacists into fighting battalions to try to take control of the streets from non-white peoples. I saw on social media that a number of Long Islanders happily invited him to meet with them. The Charlotteville violence may seem far away, but it can happen here. If we let it.
Over the last two years I have written extensively about the danger posed by extreme right-wing groups. I will continue to tell you about them. Right now, they are a small movement and only a limited number of white Americans are involved in them, but they are growing. We can’t turn our backs on them and we must be courageous in opposing them.
We on Long Island have seen racist thugs beat and kill immigrants. We rooted them out. We must never let them return.