When approximately 200 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched in Philadelphia right before Independence Day, I found myself asking a single question: How do people find time to travel across the country in furtherance of hate?
With Americans needlessly dying from COVID-19 when vaccines could save their lives; with gun violence bringing death to workplaces, street corners, and homes; with politicians arguing over infrastructure even as buildings collapse in our midst, America shouldn’t have time for hate.
That’s why white people who believe in this country must join the fight against racism.
We’ve seen it before, most notably last summer when millions of white people joined African Americans and others in the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. If future fights against racism are to succeed, white people will have to stand up again, just as they’ve been forced to do in the past.
Abolitionist John Brown, a white man who fought violently to defeat slavery, staged a bloody raid on a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Va., that arguably served as a catalyst for the Civil War. Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother who traveled from Detroit to Alabama to help with the 1960s civil rights movement, was killed by the Ku Klux Klan for her efforts. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were killed along with a Black man named James Chaney while investigating the burning of Black churches in 1960s Mississippi. And Heather Heyer, a white anti-racism protester, was murdered in 2017 by James Fields, who drove his car into a crowd of demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., injuring 20 others in the process.
That violent confrontation in Charlottesville, which centered on the city’s decision to remove a monument of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, took place at an event called the Unite the Right rally. The gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis was instigated by a number of groups, including a white supremacist group called Vanguard America. Fields — the man who murdered Heyer — was photographed at the rally with that group, though its leaders later claimed he was not a member. Charlottesville was a precursor to what happened in Philadelphia. In the age of Donald Trump, racists felt free not only to remove their hoods. They also felt emboldened to march through unfamiliar streets.
That’s how Patriot Front was born. It was a byproduct of Charlottesville and a spin-off from Vanguard America.
So while I found it amusing to watch grown men marching around in matching khakis and hats, the potential for deadly violence is always there, and it should never be taken lightly.
That’s why none of us can stand by and watch as white supremacists arrive with plastic shields and hateful rhetoric. We can’t let them pass off racism as patriotism. White people, especially, must challenge this kind of foolishness, and they must do so in the places where the seeds of racism are planted — in their homes and in board rooms, at family gatherings, and in corporate settings.
White people must confront the fact that groups like Patriot Front are anything but patriotic, and their own writings confirm it.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Front, which was founded in 2017, calls for the creation of a white state, claims that democracy has failed, and says that the African “may have lived, worked, and even been classed as a citizen in America … yet he is not American.”
Thankfully, when they came to my city with that brand of racism, they were chased through the streets by Black and white citizens before several members of Patriot Front were arrested.
But this is not a police problem. This must be solved by white Americans confronting their own people, and challenging racism head-on.
I’m glad some white Philadelphians understood that and joined the fight this time. But chasing a couple hundred racists out of town is just the beginning. To beat racism, we need white people in this fight until the end.