Let’s take what happened in seven days between Saturday 30 May and Saturday 6 June. In Las Vegas, police arrested three far-right terrorists who planned to start fires and cause explosions during protests over the death of George Floyd, to amplify the violence. They are part of the movement that wants to create and accelerate the civil war between the races and the collapse of the American system as we know it – it is an event that they in jargon call “boogaloo” – and they see every wave of disorder and violence as a confirmation of the their vision. A week later, an Air Force Special Forces sergeant, the Phoenix Raven unit, killed a police officer and injured others in an ambush in northern California. The FBI suspects the man took advantage of the demonstrations for Floyd’s death to kill another agent on May 29 in Oakland, also in California. He too is suspected of belonging to fanatics who want to unhinge the America system. Here is the problem: the susceptible and woke left that offends a little for everything and carries on the so-called “cancel culture” is a great noise that distracts us and prevents us from concentrating on the other side of the question, therefore on the fact that there is a movement of people with extreme convictions who takes those symbols very seriously and can’t wait to attack and start a war.
The biggest success of the American extreme right, the so-called alt-right, for now is the Charlottesville rally in summer 2018 to protect the statue of General Lee (a hero of the Confederacy) placed in the middle of a public park. The American Civil War ended in 1865 and the Confederation issue has long since died and gone, but its symbols are still very active. It’s not cold stuff. Around the statue, the defendants organized a torchlight procession and marched to the sound of the slogan “You won’t replace us”, you will not replace us, which immediately became “Jews won’t replace us”, the Jews will not replace us. The next day an assortment of armed militias paraded through the city center, exchanged insults with the thousands of opponents who had organized a rally and then a militia drove the car at full speed against the opponents – an attack equal to how he would have done it a fanatic of the Islamic State.
Last week the United States Marine Corps prohibited the Confederate flag and any declination of it within the barracks – stickers, T-shirts or other. Again it seems the result of the long wave of a widespread cultural controversy against the symbols of the Confederation. But five years ago when Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old extremist, killed nine African Americans inside a church, his photos immediately began to circulate while holding the Confederate flag.
The Confederacy was a mainstay of Roof’s political creed, like Rhodesia, where in the 1970s a white minority in power fought a cutthroat fight against black and leftist guerrillas who wanted to take power. In August 2019 another young man entered a Walmart in El Paso with a rifle and killed twenty people, if you go to read his political manifesto we see that as a better and temporary solution for the problem of races in America he proposes “a confederation ”of states separated by races. Here we are no longer in the abstract debate about Winston Churchill or the Colosseum. These shoot.
The massacre in the church gave a new impetus to the movement that wants to eliminate the symbols of the Confederacy from the United States and led to interesting discoveries. The census of those symbols revealed that the vast majority did not belong to the time of the civil war, but dates back to two successive waves. The first, forty years after the end of the war, coincided with the strongest period of the so-called Jim Crow laws, which established racial segregation in some states. The second wave, more or less a century later, coincides with the battles for civil rights in the 1960s. More than historical evidence they are markers, public signs erected to mark a political position.
And it comes on Wednesday when the American president, Donald Trump, with a series of peremptory tweets, rejected the Pentagon’s plan to rename ten American bases that today bear the name of Confederate soldiers. It was a gesture that the Pentagon thought was obvious and instead Trump blocked everything. There are those who interpreted the president’s intervention as a blow against the defense secretary, Mark Esper, who is guilty of having contradicted him on the issue of soldiers to use in American cities – Trump wanted, Esper said he was against journalists – and there are those who instead saw him as another instinctive positioning of Trump, who knows how to listen to his base and knows how to place a hit. In this ideological battle over statues and symbols it is necessary to start making distinctions, it is not all a historical debate and it is not all an abstract question that arises from too much zeal and too much excitability. There is also a very current part and there are specific problems that for now do not attract the attention they deserve.