I really want to talk about the recent neo-Nazi march and rally that happened in Portland.

The thing is, I don’t get it. I don’t get how it is that we must once again say, out loud, that Nazis are the bad guys.

If you don’t have the time to do the deep dive into the history books, pop culture is happy to oblige. Try “Sound of Music” (obviously), “X-men: First Class,” “Hellboy,” “Inglorious Bastards” or any Indiana Jones or Star Wars movie. You could even go classic with Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” All of these and more are very clear in what we all know to be true: the Nazis are the bad guys.

It is unambiguous.

Hitler’s army was large. It included true-believer hate mongers like him, and also ordinary citizens who afterwards would wonder at, and be ashamed of, their participation in his terror. It also included people who didn’t actively participate, but didn’t stop it either.

And here we are in the enlightened times of 2023, watching neo-Nazis march down our streets, proudly proclaiming their alliance to hate. This at a time when we are seeing racial tensions rise, crimes against people of color all over the news, and a staggering resurgence of antisemitic language and violence.



Then there is free speech. Aye, there’s the rub. As we saw in the 1978 Skokie case, there is an argument to be made for, as the ACLU put it, “defending the speech we hate.” This is tricky for me, because, yes, I believe in free speech. I believe in your right to say, or write, your beliefs free from censorship. Ayn Rand should be as safe from the bonfire as Judy Blume, despite Blume being amazing and Rand, well, not.

The theory among free speech advocates is that the solution to bad speech is more good speech. You combat the nonsense with evidence and sanity. This idea has been tested lately, with mixed results.

The true line for most of us arrives when speech turns to incitement. That is to say, you are free to believe and say whatever you desire, even if it is wrongheaded or loopy, but those rights stop, to paraphrase an old idea, at the tip of someone else’s nose. In other words: you be you, but you don’t get to cause harm to anyone else in the process.

You know who has a really extensive and well documented track record of crossing over the line from rhetoric into incitement and flat-out violence? The Nazis.

Therefore, while we might not be able to “stop the speech” without losing our Constitution in the bargain, we absolutely must prevent the harm. That is a baseline non-negotiable, and we haven’t been great at it.


Then comes the real work.

We have numerous studies, ample evidence and actual real-life case studies to support devoting our time, energy and resources – both civic and governmentally funded – toward  combating the hate. See  the deradicalization story of Angela King, a former skinhead and co-founder of Life After Hate, the only nonprofit in the U.S. founded and run by ex-violent extremists. Look at the U.N.’s strategy and plan of action on hate speech. Google former neo-Nazi Christian Picciolini, also a co-founder of Life After Hate. He’s my hope.

It won’t be easy, it likely won’t be fun, and we can’t leave the heavy lifting to the folks who are the ones under attack. We allies are going to have to do more than just say the right things at dinner parties with our friends. And yes, I’m looking at myself there.

We all, each and every one of us, deserve the chance to lead our lives free from violence and in unfettered pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It will take us all working hard to get there.

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