In the aftermath of Charlottesville and Boston, there have has been much discussion on race relations, right-wing extremists, left-wing extremists, the First Amendment, Confederate statues and symbols, the Donald’s remarks on Charlottesville, and possible removal of anything relating to any Founding Father who owned slaves. Some people claim America is a nation full of bigotry, while other people might say Americans have not come to grips with its past. One thing is clear, and that is history repeats itself.
Charlottesville is not the first city to have white supremacists have rallies or marches in which they were either confronted by leftists or faced the possibility of being confronted by leftists — scenarios that were most likely to end in violence. Two cities in particular come to mind — Skokie, Illinois and Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1977, a neo-Nazi group in Illinois led by Frank Collin was banned from holding rallies in the Chicago parks due to violent confrontations with protesters. So Collin decided to hold a rally in Skokie, not just because it had a high Jewish population, but also due to much of its Jewish population being Holocaust survivors. Such a decision sparked outrage in Skokie and elsewhere across the nation.
Collin attempted to get a permit to have a rally in Skokie but was denied. He then turned to the ACLU to sue on the grounds that his First Amendment rights had been violated. This course of action become ironic especially since the ACLU lawyer who chose to represent Collin was David Goldberger, who happened to be Jewish.
As lawsuits surrounding the matter moved through the courts, Skokie officials passed a series of ordinances that would practically prevent Collin from coming to Skokie. Eventually, the matter would reach the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Frank Collin. Subsequent cases would also be won by Collin and the ACLU.
Thus, Skokie had to let Collin demonstrate. And it appeared that violence would be the result, due to a planned counter-demonstration by the Jewish Defense League, an organization known for its militancy. Counter-demonstrations by other groups were also planned. And despite the measures taken by the Skokie authorities, it seemed that a violent confrontation would be the result.
However, the Justice Department intervened and asked Collin what it would take for him to hold a rally anywhere but Skokie. Collin replied that if he could be allowed back in the Chicago parks, then he would not go to Skokie. So the Justice Department worked with Colin in being allowed to demonstrate in Chicago, which was achieved via a District Court ruling. Colin then cancelled his plans to have a rally in Skokie, and disaster was averted.
Frank Collin was later ousted from the National Socialist White People’s Party due to the fact that his father was Jewish (and a Holocaust survivor). Apparently he became a Nazi because he hated his father. Collin would later be convicted of child molestation and spent a few years in prison. He then faded into obscurity.
Whereas disaster was averted in Skokie, that would not be the case in Greensboro, North Carolina. On November 3, 1979, the KKK and the American Nazi Party attempted to have a rally in Greensboro, only to be confronted by the Communist Workers’ Party and other protesters. Fighting between both groups broke out, and the white supremacists soon resorted to shooting at their adversaries, killing five of them and wounding six others. As was the case with Charlottesville, the police presence was minimal, thus allowing the violence to escalate.
Charges were brought against the white supremacists who carried out the shootings, but they were acquitted at the state level on the grounds that they had acted in self-defense. A federal trial also ended in acquittal. A lawsuit was brought against the KKK and American Nazi Party, as well as the Greensboro Police Department, FBI, and ATF (all of whom had people who had undercover officers and agents within both white supremacist groups). The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (consisting of those who had been wounded and the relatives of those killed) who would receive monetary compensation.
It is unclear if the authorities in Charlottesville heeded the lessons from Skokie and Greensboro, i.e., having enough law enforcement or even the National Guard on hand to prevent violence from taking place. But regardless of whether or not they did, hopefully other cities will.
Image: By The Romero Institute – upload of old photos, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32926489