In the week since white supremacists descended on Charlottesville with tiki torches blazing, tech companies have begun to eliminate website hosting or accounts run by neo-Nazis. The decision to kick people off the internet—a world many of us occupy in equal measure, if not more than we do the physical one around us—is not one taken lightly, and these companies have remained cautious until proven complicit.
The CEO of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, explained in a public blog post why he chose to drop the Daily Stormer, a hate-mongering website that published openly racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist screeds, including a post about Heather Heyer. “Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion,” writes Prince. “The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.” (ProPublica skewered Cloudfare earlier this year for providing the Daily Stormer with information about people who criticized or complained about the website’s explicitly offensive content.)
Cloudflare is not alone in abandoning Nazi clients. As Adrienne Jeffries reported at The Outline, in the last few days Squarespace has dropped an array of so-called “alt-right” sites, including the think tank of neo-Nazi poster boy Richard Spencer. On Tuesday, Sean Captain at Fast Company noticed that publishing platform WordPress.com (the parent company of Longreads) is no longer hosting the website for the ultra-nationalist organization Vanguard America. (The man who drove the car that killed Heyer and injured 19 other people was allegedly a Vanguard America member, though the organization has tried to disown him.) Read more…
This weekend’s events in Charlottesville will resonate long after the crowd was dispersed, long after the cable news trucks leave, long after the school year begins—new students are scheduled to arrive on the University of Virginia campus on Friday. The confrontation — and the resulting deaths of three people, two national guard pilots who were killed in an accident, and counter-protestor Heather Heyer, who was killed in a deliberate act of domestic terrorism — is neither the beginning nor the end of an ongoing resurgence of white supremacy. What was once discussed in closed online forums is now on the streets, armed—as Virginia Governor Terry Mcauliffe described —with more firepower than the Virginia National Guard. “Emboldened” is the word that’s been used by politicians and the media to describe the relationship between white nationalists and Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “Blame” is what the word should be.
Here is our reading list of features from the past two years that trace the disturbing path of how we got to Charlottesville. Read more…
U.S. flags, swastikas and a portrait of George Washington at a meeting of the German American Bund held at Madison Square Garden, New York City, Feb. 29, 1939. The American Nazi organization attracted 20,000 people to the meeting, which was addressed by its leader Fritz Julius Kuhn. (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
In late February 1939, roughly 22,000 people gathered at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for a rally, which included a 50-member drum and bugle corps and a color guard of more than 60 flags.
What type of gathering would draw this much scrutiny and opposition? A pro-Nazi rally organized by the German American Bund, which festooned MSG’s interior with both American flags, swastika-bearing banners, and a thirty-plus foot high painting of George Washington. Also included were signs that read “Wake Up American. Smash Jewish Communism” and “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans.”
The 1930s were a boon period for American supporters of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. A depressed work force coupled with little chance of upward mobility and an economy not yet on the rebound led to a majority that was fearful of their place in the world, and Hitler’s rhetoric added fuel to an already lit population.
In 1933, deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess ordered Heinz Spanknobel, a German immigrant, to form Friends of New Germany, a group based in NYC, with the goal of spreading National Socialism throughout the United States. Though Spanknobel was eventually forced to leave the country—he had failed to register as a foreign agent—and his organization collapsed, the German American Bund, or Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund, emerged in the vacuum and coalesced FONG and the other American-based groups that supported the Reich.
A New York City mounted policeman outside Madison Square Garden during a pro-Nazi rally is shown attempting to take an American flag away from one of the demonstrators on Feb. 20, 1939. (AP Photo)
By the time of the rally at Madison Square Garden, the German American Bund had as many as 25,000 members nationwide. At that time, holding an event at the Garden and filling the cavernous space gave any group an air of legitimacy, and that’s what the leaders of the German-American Bund sought. “The Pro-American Rally” was scheduled to take place on George Washington’s birthday—the group considered the president to be the “first fascist“—and though NYC mayor La Guardia considered shutting down the event, he agreed to let the Bund proceed, arguing:
Our government provides for free speech, and in this city that right will be respected. It would be a strange kind of free speech that permits free speech for those we agree with.
LaGuardia then departed the city on what was described as a “western trip“. His constituents, though, certainly did not agree with the mayor’s rationale:
From 2/6/1939 New York Times.
Inside the Garden, the thousands who had gathered heard dozens of speeches denouncing “International Jewry,” while at least 100,000 protesters organized by the Socialist Workers Party—equipped with anti-Nazi posters and banners that read “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of the Nazis“—picketed, held back from storming the Garden by police mounted on horseback. One protester named Isidore Greenbaum did manage to slip into the Garden and rushed the stage at one point, only to be badly beaten by “Bund storm troopers” who “ripped [his clothing] to shreds.”
According to Felix Morrow of the Socialist Appeal, the turnout was diverse and the protest unifying:
Among those who pressed against the horses, fighting for every inch of ground, were Spanish and Latin American workers, aching to strike the blow at fascism which had failed to strike down Franco; Negroes standing up against the racial myths of the Nazis and their 100% American allies; German American workers seeking to avenge their brothers under the heel of Hitler; Italian anti-fascists singing “Bandera Rossa;” groups of Jewish boys and men, coming together from their neighborhoods, to strike a blow against pogroms everywhere; Irish Republicans conscious of the struggle for the freedom of all peoples if Ireland is to be free; veterans of the World War; office workers, girls and boys, joining the roughly-clad workers in shouting and fighting; workers of every trade and neighborhood of the city.
Mounted police form a solid line outside Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1939. To prevent any clash between bundsmen and counter-demonstraters, police surrounded the area with a force of 1,500. (AP Photo/Murray Becker)
The Pro-American Rally was the Bund’s final hurrah; its leader was convicted for tax evasion and embezzlement and the group dissolved after the United States entered World War II, but it never really disappeared. The recent violence in Charlottesville is a reminder that hate and fear don’t need many openings to cross from the shadows and into the mainstream. Once there, it is difficult to unroot.
Signs of the resistance were everywhere. Strolling Central Avenue, I spotted blue paper menorahs in dozens of windows — the same menorahs that had first surfaced in Billings six years earlier. Same goes for the Love Lives Here logo. Picking up a local paper, I read about the bipartisan team of top Montana politicians —Democrats Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines and Gov. Steve Bullock, and Republicans Rep. Ryan Zinke (Trump’s nominee for secretary of Interior) and Attorney Gen. Tim Fox — who had recently joined together to declare that “those few who seek to publicize anti-Semitic views … shall find no safe haven here.”
A cashier at Amazing Crepes, one of the targeted businesses, recalled how her boss had refused to serve Richard Spencer, and how he continued to refuse even after Spencer, seeking to capitalize on the exchange, began to record it on his smartphone; a bartender at Tupelo Grille told me how her mixed-race friend had confronted Spencer at a local coffee shop. “Who picks fruit in your white state?” he’d asked.
Elsewhere, Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial — who served as an officer in Skokie, Ill. back in 1977, when another band of Nazis famously tried to march through town — kindly explained that if any of their descendants were “going to protest in our city, I want them to understand they’re going to do it our way … or we’re going to kick their a**.”