Conservative students like me need to confront neo-Nazism rather than ignore it

This article originally appeared in Washington Examiner, dated November 21st, 2018.

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On November 7, a Twitter activist traced a virulently anti-Semitic Twitter account under the handle @femanon to a female student at Davidson College, a North Carolina school which I attend. 

@femanon had posted images that matched those of this student’s own personal account, whose name will not be shared in this article. @femanon also had repeatedly tweeted elements about her own personal life that matched the personal identity of the accused student, such as her involvement in ROTC and role as a German teaching assistant. 

This revelation, made just days after the anti-Semitic Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, lurched my campus into protests similar to the responses to white supremacist incidents at more than 292 other campuses during the 2017-2018 school year. These events can include anything from posting derogatory flyers at the University of Chicago to organizing the Unite the Right neo-Nazi rally at the University of Virginia. 

Conservatives like me cannot simply dismiss these incidents as just unfortunate events unworthy of serious alarm. 

Neo-Nazism is an evil worldview that really does threaten our society. It is a view that combines the worst of both worlds: the radical identity politics of the far-left and the hateful ethno-nationalism of the far-right. It leaves no space for inherent human rights. It rejects the idea that people ought to be judged on the content of their character rather than color. Worse, it says that some people, especially those of Jewish descent, aren’t really people at all. 

This view is growing, and it’s growing because some on the margins of white society feel displaced and tired of a political consensus which leaves them out—one that preaches tolerance and diversity while shunning wide swaths of nonconformants as “deplorables.” Many far-right sympathizers are drawn to the movement’s critique of our toothless virtue-signaling culture. But they respond to it in the worst possible way. 

Members of white supremacist groups believe that identity politics and black power movements should be met with radical white power. Yet, by falling into this trap, they play to the same identity politics that we denounce on the Left, but end up somewhere much worse. 

These are not conservatives. Even when far-right extremists take positions with which traditional conservatives can agree, their reasoning is entirely wrong. When conservatives say we should preserve the classical tradition, we are expressing our belief that the ideas propounded in Ancient Greece and Rome are foundational toward understanding the principles, culture, and history of the West—and its mistakes. When far-right extremists call for the defense of the classics, however, they are calling for the praise of whiteness and racial superiority. 

At its core, Neo-Nazism is aligned opposite to the principles that make me proud to be American, the same ones that have defined my own conservatism. Americans have enshrined religious tolerance into our Constitution, but neo-Nazis believe in the subjugation of many different groups—most famously Jews. Americans have always welcomed foreigners who seek to become Americans, while neo-Nazis can’t get past the color of their skin. Americans have always praised rule of law, while neo-Nazis foment violence. 

Even as conservative students denounce these views, however, we should never take physical or legal action against white supremacist perpetrators for simply exercising their right to free speech. Taking away that right would make us no better than them. Instead, conservatives across the nation should remind each other of the reasons for our conservatism. My campus conservative group maintains a statement of principles that we need to re-circulate among our members. We should be teaching each other how to distinguish between healthy patriotism and hateful ethno-nationalism. Most of all, we should think more about how our principles and values should be applied to support the marginalized communities within our midst. 

It is times like these that should remind my peers about our highest American ideals—human dignity foremost among them. There is a fine line between harmony and chaos, and it is one set by how fiercely we guard the principles we enjoy. Neo-Nazism is testing our resolve today. But I believe we have to rise to the occasion and respond with the firmness and grace that my college, and our country, need now more than ever.

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