A few months ago — probably even a few weeks ago — the question of whether you should or should not refuse service to Nazis wasn’t something we were really planning on dealing with on a national level. Sure, the political climate was bad, the alt-right had become more emboldened, and racists (many of them weeping) were putting their hatred on display, but most of us hoped (wrongly, it seems) that shit would simply calm down, that the white supremacists would go home, and that we could all go back to having maybe one major crisis per day.
That all changed over the weekend. Nazis gathered, protested, held torches aloft, and eventually killed someone. And now the question of serving Nazis isn’t simply academic anymore. It’s something all business-owners and employees have to deal with.
Let’s look at two incidents that happened this week. The first occurred on Sunday in Charlottesville, VA, when a group of Nazis (we’re calling them that even if many outlets claim that they’re trolls) (take. Nazis. seriously.) rolled into Ace Biscuit & Barbecue and started fomenting hate in full view of the owner, Brian Ashworth:
On Sunday, he says a group of four or five men and one woman came in wearing #MAGA apparel and shirts that said things like “Pinochet Helicopter Company” (a popular alt-right meme that’s a nod to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who threw political opponents out of helicopters). He felt urged to turn them away, but he let them stay and eat anyway. He says they behaved themselves fine until the very end, when they were all outside smoking; they reportedly gave the Hitler salute in full view of Ace’s other customers. Ashworth lost it, telling them to leave, “admittedly in unkind words” that apparently involved a multitude of F-bombs.
Ashworth’s anger was met with threats and, at least according to latest reports, he’s terrified that these people — who threatened and slung anti-gay slurs at him — will return. Many people, upon reading this account, probably asked themselves “Is calling them out even worth it?” I know I did. That’s not because I condone Nazis — I’m a Moldovan jew whose family had to flee the country due to anti-semitism — but because I don’t think of myself as a confrontational person. And because, like many, I’ve tried not to take the Nazis who are coming out of the woodwork in the name of “white pride” and “protecting our heritage” seriously.
But that’s wrong. With these issues hitting the front page (and front pages around the world) we have to admit that nothing is small stakes anymore. And now — if you’ll allow me to be a little grandiose — is the time to stand up and be counted. You don’t have to punch Nazis, but you’ve got to realize that you don’t have to serve them. And you don’t have to work with them, either.
By now you’ve probably heard of the other incident I’m going to mention. It involved one of the tiki-bearing marchers from Charlottesville, Cole White. Shortly after White was identified from pictures of his presence at the white nationalist rally at UVA, he was fired from his job at a Berkeley hot dog joint. Rather, he was fired due to the bad publicity that his views caused the restaurant when people discovered where he worked and started calling up the place to express their disdain for his actions. Ryan Roy, who’s severe haircut makes him easy to recognize, was similarly fired from his job at Pizzeria Uno. 27-year-old Nigel Krofta lost his job too, after pictures surfaced of him standing next to James Alex Fields Jr. (the man charged with the murder of counter-protestor Heather Heyer) in Charlottesville on Saturday. Others are about to face the same fate: Peter Cvjetanovic, a man whose angry face had been circulated widely, has claimed he was misrepresented. Still another, Peter Tefft, has been disowned by his family, which is likely only the beginning.
Watching these men’s lives be ruined has been cathartic for many. Just reading about the Nazis kicked out of the Charlottesville eatery felt like a sign that humanity wasn’t all bad. But now that we’ve moved past the initial stages of learning about these men’s actions and doxxing the hell out of them, a new question has emerged: Is kicking people out of restaurants and stores and coffee shops and Build-a-Bears for being alt-right the same as not serving racial minorities or members of the LGBT community?
Two answers to this little riddle:
- Why are you devil’s advocating for Nazis, man?
- The reason that federal protections extend to people on the basis of race, color, citizenship, and sex, among other things (we’re still arguing about the LGBT community) is due to the fact that these groups have been historically oppressed…by the same groups that are rolling through barbecue joints and ending their meals with a hearty salute to a man who ordered the killing of millions. You know who hasn’t been oppressed? Nazis. Nor has the Nazi’s free speech been curtailed. Because, listen, I know we say this 50 times a day, but we’ve got to say it again: Having the right to free speech and having the right to be free of the consequences of that speech aren’t the same thing. The only thing that Nazis are guaranteed is that they won’t be arrested. No one owes them a job or services. (And just an important point: If these Nazis were doing their nazi bullshit in Germany, they would have been arrested 100%, because, guess what, the country where actual OG nazis came from has learned that this kind of thing shouldn’t ever happen again.)
Side note to these points: Take Nazis seriously. Recognize that they come from everywhere, not just where the movies tell us. If someone is spewing hateful rhetoric, take them at their word. People didn’t take Nazis seriously last time, and look what happened. We must stand up to the cos-players, and the pranksters, and the social experimenters, and the trolls, and whatever else they’re calling themselves before they realize they have influence and reveal they guess they weren’t joking, after all.
But let’s say you’re just trying to run a business. And kicking out Nazis may be bad for that. I get that and it sucks and you’re still going to have to go into the bathroom and look in the mirror and think about whether you’re the type of person who’s chill with serving nazis, because while that doesn’t make you a Nazi yourself, it certainly makes you a Nazi enabler. And there’s a slippery slope there. If we don’t start fighting nazis now, when they’re just getting emboldened, how are we going to fight them if/when they grow into a significant number that has actual influence? (And think of your employees, whom you have to protect; and if you’re an employee, consider talking to your boss about not serving obvious Nazis.)
You need inspiration? Please check out this flower shop — a flower shop!! — in Chicago that has had it up to here with Nazis:
Put a sign in your window! Have a meeting! Talk it out. Let people know that you’re going to be intolerant of intolerance and that it’s the only way to stop the spread of bigotry.
Note that you can’t and shouldn’t go on a Nazi hunting spree. Can you ask every person who you serve or employ if they think that Jews and Blacks are a threat to the white man in order to ascertain someone’s political beliefs ? No. And people will probably think that you’re the Nazi if you do and also there will be a lawsuit. But if someone rolls up in swastika couture and demands to be served? Well, hate speech isn’t protected and a symbol of hatred is a symbol of hatred. Kick them out. Call the police. Stand your ground.
There is one small snag, though. Speaking to The Atlantic, Monmouth University Historian Walter Greason said he believes that firing people who hold alt-right views isn’t the answer that we’re looking for. Sure, it may feel good (and it will absolutely make Nazis feel like they don’t have a place, hopefully shutting some of them down), but “those folks are then sent out into the world without any means of changing, [and] they connect with others who share that same hate,” he says. And that’s something we should constantly be on the lookout for.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you or I will talk down someone who’s already pressed enough to go to a white supremacist rally. It’s also not going to help educate strangers. So start reaching friends and family before they get kicked out and fired for believing that people of other races, creeds, genders or sexual orientations are the reason this country has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Many years ago, when I was still using OkCupid to pick up dudes on the internet, one of the most popular quizzes (now gone) on the site was entitled “Would You Have Been a Nazi?” The test’s aim was to mentally transport you back in time and use your answers to determine whether you would have been a nazi had you been a german in the 1930s.
I don’t remember the questions, but I do remember the results, which, embarrassingly didn’t paint me in the most flattering light. While I wasn’t awarded the title of Nazi general, I wasn’t congratulated on being a scrappy member of the resistance, either (only five percent of quiz-takers were). There was no indication that I would have likely died while fighting Hitler. Instead, it was revealed, I would have been an everyday German.
“Had you lived in Germany in the 1930s, you’d have probably just gone along with the flow,” the results read. “The data show you’re a decent person who’s willing to listen to what people of authority tell you. That’s what most people are, and in most times and most places, that’s okay. But not then; not there.”
“The sad conclusion: you would’ve missed your Jewish friends, but you would’ve done nothing about it. Seriously. But rest assured, you would’ve forgiven yourself eventually.”
It’s a dumb test, I thought, and if you’ve taken it, then you probably remember the slightly dirty feeling you had reading those paragraphs and finding truth in them and the relief that came from knowing that you were lucky enough not to live in Nazi Germany so none of this would ever matter.
But it matters now — more every day. Call Nazis out. Ban them from establishments. Fire them. Eject them from their press conferences. These are the only options we have left. If our highest authorities waffle on this issue, then it’s our duty as citizens to make it clear that we won’t; that we’ll fight this hatred every step of the way.