At "White Lives Matter" rallies held in cities across the country last Sunday, turnout was very low, but experts who track extremist movements online warn that this doesn't necessarily mean white supremacists are losing ground.
Having just a few people show up could have been the strategy all along, Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County and Long Beach, told the Los Angeles Times. When a handful of supporters face off against vocal counterprotesters, this "feeds into the agenda that white men no longer have constitutional rights," Levi said. "They try to assemble, and they can't assemble. They try to have free speech, and they can't."
Before the Sunday rally in Huntington Beach, California, some organizations tried to dissuade counterprotesters from going to the event, saying they would play right into the white supremacists' hands. "They use this for lawsuits," Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah told the Times. "They use this for PR. They use this for media attention, and it's hugely problematic. We don't want to buy into their narrative; we don't want to feed their narrative."
It's also possible the low turnout wasn't strategic, and was aided by a lack of leadership. The "White Lives Matter" rallies were first promoted on Telegram in March, but no one stepped forward as a central organizer, the Times reports. Huntington Beach Police Department spokesman Lt. Brian Smith told the newspaper officers tried to reach organizers to remind them of laws and municipal codes ahead of the rally, but they were never able to track down anyone behind the event.
Many white supremacist groups are using hot topics like immigration and police brutality to get their followers riled up and attract new members, experts who monitor these groups told the Times, and this could lead to lone-wolf attacks. "Don't think the extremists are out of commission — they've just realigned in ways that are disturbing," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, told the Times. "Now we're seeing a leaner, meaner, and less publicly brazen type of extremism taking place." Read more at the Los Angeles Times.Catherine Garcia
The Department of Homeland Security might track travel patterns of suspected domestic extremists, Politicoreported Tuesday. That could include "monitor[ing] flights they book on short notice and search[ing] their luggage for weapons," plus putting them on the No-Fly List and targeting them for extra questioning and searches of their digital devices at customs.
DHS will respect "privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties," the agency told Politico — but c'mon.
The use of "suspected" gives the game away. DHS's targets won't have been duly convicted of a crime. Nor is this a focused investigation for prosecution. It's a broad abrogation of constitutionally guaranteed rights of people DHS decides are probably bad.
Granted, many of the people who would be affected by this approach are honest-to-goodness domestic extremists. (If recent history is any guide, of course, the net would soon spread far wider.) But diminishing due process rights and civil liberties, even for bad people, is bad.
We forget this a lot as a country. We're particularly inclined to forget it when someone very unsympathetic receives correct and lawful treatment from our justice system. When former President Donald Trump's campaign chair Paul Manafort was convicted, the most common pushback I saw to the notion that his punishment shouldn't include prison time because his offenses were nonviolent was that it's not fair for his sentence to be reasonable when the sentences of other, less privileged nonviolent offenders are not. As I wrote then, it's not fair, but making things worse for the lucky few is the exact opposite of what we need.
The same forgetful impulse is visible again this week, after two mass shooters (in Colorado and Georgia) were taken into police custody alive. As many (e.g. this widely shared Instagram meme) have observed, perhaps they wouldn't be alive were their skin a darker shade. The trouble is when the unspoken second half of that is not, "so police should be this careful and competent with everyone," but rather seems to be, "so these bad people should be subjected to police misconduct, too."
No, they shouldn't. Our country won't be made more secure and just with more violence and injustice. We need more due process, more civil liberties, more rule of law, not less. Bonnie Kristian