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How we shut down the hate in San Francisco

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A counter-protester who was struck with a stick by an “alt-right” member is covered with blood on his face during a rally on Aug. 12 in Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. (Go Nakamura/Zuma Press/TNS)
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After the violence in Charlottesville and the reaction by Donald Trump, let there be no doubt: Our president and his key advisors are knowingly empowering the KKK and neo-Nazis — and they are all demented.

Doesn’t sink in too easily, does it? But if we want to stop them, we must clearly see what is happening and we must act.

When asked if he had created a monarchy or a republic, Benjamin Franklin is said to have answered: “A republic. If you can keep it.”

Maybe our system of governance will ultimately prove to be a failed experiment. Democracy is messy, with all of its rights and responsibilities that aren’t always clear and with technology changing things too fast for many to keep up with. But are you ready to let everything we have ever believed in fighting for slide into a burning pile of nihilism, lit by a cadre of broken, bitter men who are incapable of accepting that they aren’t necessarily smarter, more important, wealthier or carrying the only cultural legacy that matters, simply because they are white men?

I’m not.

Convinced that they are “losing” under a system in which others are increasingly recognized, and lacking imagination and the capacity for self-reflection, these damaged souls we recognize readily in the form of Trump, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller are hell-bent on destruction. They are trying to spread hatred into our own communities and they must be shut down.

By now, you have probably heard that Trump supporters are planning to come to Crissy Field in San Francisco on Aug. 26 under the guise of free speech — when we all know they are only coming here to create chaos. They portray decent people who decry hate as violent “antifa” or “alt-left,” terms they strategically appropriated and invented to discredit all people who stand up to Trump as violent and equally or more responsible for violence at their staged events.

Some call this “both sider-ism.” As if racism and common decency are simply different perspectives, neither with any moral underpinning. It’s way to drag us down to their level and discredit us.

Communities must recognize that these events are not about free speech. They are intended to create violence and chaos. City leaders who don’t see these events for what they are should at least recognize that they might be held responsible if they willingly provide a staging ground for what are clearly planned riots, not forums for a public exchange of ideas.

So what can communities do if they find their public spaces invaded by neo-Nazis and other hate groups? Some are already figuring this out …

First, they want a fight. This couldn’t be clearer after Charlottesville, so any direct engagement is not only dangerous, but it potentially furthers their cause. Showing up to confront them directly on the front lines only lends credibility to the riot organizers’ claims that these events are actually about free speech. It helps legitimize their presence.

Besides demanding that city leaders not offer a platform for riots, there are other ways to thwart these groups who descend upon communities where they are not welcome.

A Twitter account called @YesYoureRacist aims to expose those who come to these rallies in support of white supremacy. So far, it has resulted in lost employment and public disavowals by family members of identified participants. Public shaming around racism isn’t new. Before social media, reporters wrote exposés on hate groups that helped shut them down. Yes, there is always a risk of mistaken identity, so care must be taken, but it has an impact in stopping hate.

White supremacists cry foul and call this “doxxing” — a tactic they use to intimidate people who speak up against hate or people they simply don’t like, especially online. They conveniently ignore the fact that there is no assumption of privacy when you participate in public spaces and that shaming people who choose to foment hatred and division isn’t the same as shaming someone based on their gender, race or religion.

Haters are not a protected class. In fact, protected classes under the Civil Rights Act were created as a result of this very kind of hateful activity. So again, there is no moral equivalence, although these protesters are quick to play the victim card to make it look like we are the bullies. Sometimes it works, and the press backs off. We can’t fall into this trap.

Other ideas I’ve heard for creative, non-violent ways to thwart the agitators include: logistics jamming, such as taking all of the parking spaces near their venue before they arrive in town; sideshow creations to draw away media attention, like flash mobs or other street theater; and sending up drones to take pictures of protesters, if being close to them creates a hazard. Others have used these events as fundraising drives to support anti-hate groups.

Actor George Clooney funds a project called the Satellite Sentinel Project that uses satellites to track the movements of warlords and document human rights abuses. It doesn’t stop everything, but it makes their jobs harder and, maybe as individuals, a little more miserable. If people in our country are engaged in promoting domestic terrorism, why can’t those with actual moral authority apply the same principle?

Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.

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