How do you prefer your racists: open or anonymous?

Charlottesville, Virginia, is America, neo-Nazis, cute cafes and all.

Here's your chance, closet racists, keystroke neo-Nazis and dog-whistling white supremacists.

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The stage is yours in the nation's capital this weekend, and it is time to stand up for your beliefs and show your faces in public. Come, step away from your computers. Take your hoods and masks off, smile for the cameras.

Of course, much of the city - and the nation, and me - would prefer the "white civil rights" rally, as the Unite the Right Rally 2 was described to the National Park Service in the permit application, just go away.

When these bigots gathered with their torches and their tortured beliefs in Charlottesville last year, there was violence that led the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counterprotester.

Nobody wants that again. And nobody wants to see the bloodstained ghosts of the past resurrected on our soil. Nazis? Confederates? Fascists? That was dealt with ages ago, extinguished at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives in armed conflicts.

There is no denying the racists have been invigorated in the age of Trump.

While overall crime has been slowly declining in the United States since the 1990s, hate crimes in the nation's largest cities jumped by 12 percent in the past year. And they've been steadily rising over the past four years, according to official data compiled by the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism.

All this fresh hate is appalling, yes. Here is what makes it especially insidious. For the most part, except for the rally in Charlottesville and a few other gatherings, the haters remain in the shadows.

From the barrage of anonymous, online, n-word hatred targeting the first African-American fire chief in one of northern Virginia's wealthiest suburbs to the racist flyers being left overnight on porches across the region, to swastikas showing up on public buildings, the racists may be emboldened, but they are certainly not brave.

Why won't they come out of the shadows? Because they are wrong.

When they are outed, when they put their real faces and their real names behind their sickening ideas, they suffer the consequences meted out by civilized society.

"There is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps," wrote Maj. Brian Block in a release published by the Jacksonville Daily News in North Carolina, after the corps kicked out Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis last week for his involvement in the Charlottesville rally. "Bigotry and radical extremism run contrary to our core values," Block wrote.

Pistolis lost his military career. Defense contractor Michael Miselis, who was also identified at the rally, lost his job. Student Allen Armentrout was kicked out of Pensacola Christian College in Florida after he was photographed standing in front of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Confederate flag in hand, three days after the violent rally.

Sure, going public can be costly.

You can see that in the court action that unfolded in California earlier this week, when Jane Doe - who also goes by the Nazi-affirming online handle "kristall.night" - fought for her anonymity.

In the lawsuit filed by victims, counterprotesters and residents of Charlottesville against last year's Unite the Right rally organizers, attorneys tried to unmask Kristall to learn more about the way the violence was promoted.

Using a messaging app that helped hide her identity, Kristall urged demonstrators to bring helmets and shields, to use things like flagpoles as weapons. Apparently bold enough to organize violence and to use a handle referring to the deadly 1938 violence against Jews known as Kristallnacht, Kristall is apparently terrified of using her real name. But she may not have choice after a federal judge in California ordered the app to disclose her identity.

If that happens, it will get uncomfortable for Kristall.

When bigots stay anonymous, in their online groups and with their like-minded friends, their bubble protects them from a public reckoning.

Sure, there is a school of thought that publicity and a public forum only normalizes their hatred and gives bigots the spotlight they crave.

"Media coverage would only give them the attention they were hoping for, thereby encouraging them to do more of the same," wrote Elizabeth Moore, a former member of the Canadian white extremist group, The Heritage Front, in a piece published this week in Maclean's. "The only way to successfully deal with those who deal in hate, some argue, is to smother them with silence."

But, given her own experiences, she disagrees.

"It is a reasonable theory, but it doesn't work in practice. As a former extremist, I know this firsthand," she wrote. Going public made her understand how out-of-whack their movement was. "They were eventually stopped not through silence, but by exposing them and confronting them at every turn."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter: @petulad

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