Last Friday, a band of white supremacists and Nazis rallied in Emancipation Park on the campus of the University of Virginia ostensibly in defense of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In reality, these white protesters beckoned a revival of the cause for which Lee and his army fought: preserving a society built upon white supremacy.
The Virginia governor was forced to declare a state of emergency when one of those white supremacists rammed his car deliberately into a crowd that had mobilized to counter-protest. The result: one dead and 19 injured. Other innocents were beaten with clubs and bats as the nation became embroiled in an all-too-familiar national crisis.
Every state in the union should take heed: What erupted in Charlottesville can arise anywhere in America — including Wisconsin.
Lest we forget, a white supremacist was found recruiting on the campus of UW-Madison just last year. In the midst of Donald Trump’s disgraceful run for the presidency, a Trump fan on public display in Camp Randall stadium paraded about in a costume depicting the lynching of President Barack Obama.
So it was with determination a few months ago, when after hours of waiting, I testified against a racially charged anti-free speech bill authored by the Republican speaker of the state Assembly. The bill would allow the expulsion of students who protest racist provocateurs brought on campus to provoke outrage and violence.
In my testimony, I warned the bill's authors that white supremacy is a violent and terroristic ideology which if given oxygen is like fire and can erupt into a destructive wildfire and spread, including across college campuses in Wisconsin, like the one I attend in Madison.
Our pleas met deaf ears in the Assembly, as the chamber’s Republican majority voted in near-unanimity to pass the bill — despite the grave constitutional and moral questions about the government punishing students for expressing themselves on political issues.
This anti-free speech bill is a clear signal white supremacists would be given an unfettered platform to spew hate and violence. In reality, under this bill and a similar version before the state Senate, the counterprotesters in Charlottesville could have faced expulsion for standing up against those white supremacists.
At best, Republicans are expressing naiveté. At worst, they are intentionally ignoring white supremacy. Perhaps it is because most are white and they do not understand how insidiously white supremacy operates as a terrorist ideology. Wisconsin experienced this in 2012, when a white supremacist massacred six people in a Sikh temple.
Wisconsin leaders have aided and abetted white supremacy. During his spectacularly short 71-day run for president, Gov. Scott Walker demurred in cowardly fashion that removing the Confederate flag was a state’s rights issue. In the 1990s as chair of the Assembly Corrections Committee, Walker had a front-row seat as Wisconsin became the nation’s leader in percentage of black men incarcerated. As governor, Walker has signed into law an abundance of unconstitutional voting restrictions, specifically intending, as one federal judge wrote, to disenfranchise Milwaukee’s African-American population.
As of this writing, Wisconsin Republicans have done mental gymnastics to exonerate themselves. Walker and Speaker Paul Ryan won’t denounce Trump by name. GOP Rep. Jim Steineke said we should “talk about today and move forward,” as if the trash will take itself out. Sen. Ron Johnson said he wants to “move beyond the white nationalism issue.”
History shows that conveniently ignoring white supremacy will only let it fester and grow. This is an American issue that has brewed for too long, and requires all of our attention.
We need to be proactive to address and heal the wounds of white supremacy in this country.
Savion Castro is a UW-Madison senior majoring in sociology and a One Wisconsin Now research assistant.
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