Corrupt Power Players

Staff Reports

Opinion: Corrupt Local Power Players in Politics

By Frank Salvato

They say that all politics is local. This is true. Equally true is the notion that the government closest to you is the entity of government that affects you the most. So, when local politics and the power brokers behind local politics are corrupt, the people suffer.

Corrupt politicians are nothing new to politics. They are chronicled back to the Roman Empire and before. Power plays during the times of the pharaohs were commonplace and the Ides of March saw Caesar on the wrong end of a multitude of daggers. So, too, are power brokers infamously enshrined in the annals of history.

One of the most significant double-edged swords to emerge in recent years where politics and government are concerned is social media.

On the one hand, it obliterates the monopoly on information that the mainstream media held to date. No longer can the “Big 3” networks propagandize ideologically about things like the Tet Offensive (actually a significant victory for the United States but characterized as a loss by CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite and others) and get away with molding the opinions of the American people. Social media has allowed the people to call the propagandist media out on manipulation.

On the other hand, we have disingenuous power players (or “trolls”) who seed disingenuous content on social media to further the poison-politics of their “operative” candidates, most often elected officials running for re-election who would serve as a gateway to monetary benefit to special interest parties. A perfect example of this would be the politician running for re-election who is bankrolled by deep-pocket developers who expect quid pro quo when zoning variances and other legislation come before the local authority. “You give me a contribution and I will see the good in your project for the community,” or, in other words, “You wash my back and I’ll wash yours.”

Social media trolls will gin-up unwarranted outrage by seeding disingenuous content and queries so that people engage emotionally, and before they explore the facts of the matter from valid and legitimate sources. This is the sharper edge of the double-edged sword. Our society has become so addicted to convenience that it mistakes (or not) supposition for fact because it believes it is getting legitimate information on social media.

To that end, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest of the more popular social media platforms play into this informational power grab by inferring that they vet informational sources. Facebook instituted new algorithms and protocol to vet informational sources, but the “vetters” themselves have been called into question for their biases.

Facebook “groups” have established administrators to vet individuals and content, but many of those groups are decidedly jaded to a position or a movement, political or ideological. Who is to say that those administrators aren’t ideologically skewed to a particular line of thought; that they aren’t willing to dedicate themselves to one-sided coverage or to advancing known untruths to achieve their goals?

Progressives and disingenuous political operatives believe, in their heart of hearts, that the end justifies the means.

While this malady is certainly happening at a national level, it is more destructive and more prevalent on local levels. Because media — and especially mainstream media — is geared toward attracting the largest audience (a must for purposes of ratings and profit) local politics is most often incubated on social media. This allows for inexperienced and disingenuous political operatives and “wannabes” to pollute the information that voters (read: citizens and taxpayers) consume about the goings-on. False statements, known untruths, disingenuous memes and flat-out smears are their practice and trade. Want to be a “news source”? All you have to do is throw up a Facebook page, call it a newspaper, buy a banner and pretend you are a journalist. The result of their efforts is elevating corruption to elected office.

So, what can be done to neuter the disingenuous local power brokers? The answer is simple but it requires effort, and sadly effort is something our society has conditioned ourselves not to expend unless it is about our own personal pleasures.

We all — all of us — need to go to the sources for information. If information is cited in an article, go to the citation and consume the information from the source. If a notion is floated that seems explosive, question the author or poster for source information. Don’t consume hearsay on social media as fact; vet the information for validity. Question everything and everyone. Demand sources, and if the originator cannot provide them consider that source as invalid. Demand and expect truth and when you come across someone who is advancing propaganda or untruths; unmask them and brand them with a nuevo scarlet letter: “P” for propagandist.

Social media is a fantastic forum and it helps us to keep in touch with people, alerts us to events and, yes, keeps us up with the happenings in our neighborhoods, towns and cities. But just like any other information source, social media has its dark side and its dark players — those who would gain (usually monetarily) from manipulating your understanding of the issues.

Please take the time to find source information so you aren’t duped into doing the disingenuous their bidding. As President Ronald Reagan said: “Trust but verify.” It’s the intelligent thing to do.


Frank Salvato is the operating partner at The Archangel Organization, a management and organizational strategies group. He serves as managing editor of The New Media Journal. He wrote this for

How new fathers use social media to make sense of their roles

August 9, 2018


Tawfiq Ammari

Ph.D. Candidate in Information, University of Michigan

Disclosure statement

Tawfiq Ammari is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan School of Information. He is funded in part by a gift from Mozilla. Previously he was an intern at Mozilla and at Microsoft Research.


University of Michigan

University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

A lawyer in Bermuda became internet-famous for dancing ballet alongside his two-year-old daughter, comforting her stage fright by being there and doing the dance moves right with her. He knew the part because he had practiced ballet with his children before – and said it was just a normal part of fathering daughters.

That isn’t a common sentiment about fatherhood, even now. But social norms have been changing over the past 40 years, as more women – and mothers – have entered the workforce. While mothers still do more work at home, the burden is becoming more equal. However, the concept of father-as-breadwinner is still stronger than ideals of fathers as nurturers. As a result, fathers often find themselves out of place at parks, malls and other areas frequented by mothers and children. The same problem happens when they visit most parenting forums online.

My research focuses on understanding how modern fathers find and use online communities of men in similar situations, as they all try to make sense of their own parenting identities. By interviewing fathers and using big data analysis, my co-author and I found that fathers seek information and support online, use more anonymous social media sites like Reddit to discuss sensitive issues such as divorce and child custody conflicts, and blog about do-it-yourself projects as a way of legitimizing their childcare and domestic work as masculine labor.

Fathers look for community online

Analyzing 102 interviews, a team of us found that fathers are active on social media, including posting photos about their children’s milestones, such as walking or crawling, and pictures of activities like dancing and baseball. But fathers are less involved than mothers in managing online sharing of child-related content. We found that moms were fielding the questions and making the decisions about whether Grandma could share a picture with the baby on her Facebook wall or if friends could share photos of the child’s birthday party.

I and others have also found most fathers reluctant to share family content with social networks that include colleagues and managers. Mothers felt fewer such constraints, even when their social media accounts also included professional contacts.

In private Facebook groups, though, fathers are willing to discuss their parenting experiences – whether they are small local groups, private chats or even groups with thousands of members. In these groups, dads gain social support and seek advice, especially from older fathers who have experienced similar problems. Fathers told me that Facebook group discussions ranged from daily parenting experiences like diaper changing to more serious issues around marital problems, especially for new parents.

Some dads make online videos about their experiences.

Reddit as a haven

In contrast, some fathers were reluctant to discuss more personal issues – like divorce and custody – on Facebook, where posts are labeled with their names. Instead, they felt safer using other online names on sites like Reddit, where it was harder for people to associate their posts with their actual identity. When posting under pseudonyms, fathers were willing to share deeply personal details beyond what’s usually appropriate on Facebook.

My collaborators and I analyzed how fathers use Reddit by studying about 2 million parenting comments. We focused on three parenting forums, including r/Daddit, a subreddit for “Dads. Single Dads, new Dads, Step-Dads, tall Dads, short Dads, and any other kind of Dad.”

When fathers discussed divorce and custody issues on Reddit, they covered topics as diverse as venting about their plight in family court and detailed legal questions about their cases. Fathers also discussed controversial issues like vaccination and circumcision. One father suggested in an interview that Reddit is a “peaceful place to post an opinion” because he did not have to deal with reactions from friends, colleagues and family members.

The DIY dad

When I started talking to fathers about their use of social media sites, I did not set out to ask about do-it-yourself projects, but the theme emerged from the interviews. In one project, I supplemented interviews with visual and rhetorical analyses of father blogs, finding that fathers blog about their DIY projects and tie that work into their fatherhood experiences and their domestic roles. They engaged their children in projects like retiling bathrooms, teaching useful skills while also carving out quality father-child time. Blogging about these projects gave these fathers a way to describe how they could be both caretakers and providers at the same time.

Notably, fathers used DIY language to describe work traditionally considered feminine. For example, fathers blogged about preparing lunchboxes and craft work like creating children’s toys from recycled trash. When working on traditionally feminine domestic work like cooking, fathers emphasized that they were not only cooking but “hacking the kitchen,” imbuing daily tasks with more masculine entrepreneurial language.

Fathers today face the paired challenges of shifting domestic pressures in dual-earner families and lagging social preconceptions of dads as breadwinners and mere helpers for mothers. Through my research, I am shedding light on the ways that fathers can find support and guidance on social media, and I hope to promote involvement and inclusion among men in their roles and responsibilities as fathers.

The Conversation US, Inc.

How the smartphone affected an entire generation of kids

Jean Twenge

Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University

As someone who researches generational differences, I find one of the most frequent questions I’m asked is “What generation am I in?”

If you were born before 1980, that’s a relatively easy question to answer: the Silent Generation was born between 1925 and 1945; baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964; Gen X followed (born between 1965 and 1979).

Next come millennials, born after 1980. But where do millennials end, and when does the next generation begin? Until recently, I (and many others) thought the last millennial birth year would be 1999 – today’s 18-year-olds.

However, that changed a few years ago, when I started to notice big shifts in teens’ behavior and attitudes in the yearly surveys of 11 million young people that I analyze for my research. Around 2010, teens started to spend their time much differently from the generations that preceded them. Then, around 2012, sudden shifts in their psychological well-being began to appear. Together, these changes pointed to a generational cutoff around 1995, which meant that the kids of this new, post-millennial generation were already in college.

These teens and young adults all have one thing in common: Their childhood or adolescence coincided with the rise of the smartphone.

What makes iGen different

Some call this generation “Generation Z,” but if millennials aren’t called “Generation Y,” “Generation Z” doesn’t work. Neil Howe, who coined the term “millennials” along with his collaborator William Strauss, has suggested the next generation be called the “Homeland Generation,” but I doubt anyone will want to be named after a government agency.

A 2015 survey found that two out of three U.S. teens owned an iPhone. For this reason, I call them iGen, and as I explain in my new book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” they’re the first generation to spend their adolescence with a smartphone.

What makes iGen different? Growing up with a smartphone has affected nearly every aspect of their lives. They spend so much time on the internet, texting friends and on social media – in the large surveys I analyzed for the book, an average of about six hours per day – that they have less leisure time for everything else.

That includes what was once the favorite activity of most teens: hanging out with their friends. Whether it’s going to parties, shopping at the mall, watching movies or aimlessly driving around, iGen teens are participating in these social activities at a significantly lower rate than their millennial predecessors.

iGen shows another pronounced break with millennials: Depression, anxiety, and loneliness have shot upward since 2012, with happiness declining.

The teen suicide rate increased by more than 50 percent, as did the number of teens with clinical-level depression.

A link that can’t be ignored

I wondered if these trends – changes in how teens were spending their free time and their deteriorating mental health – might be connected. Sure enough, I found that teens who spend more time on screens are less happy and more depressed, and those who spend more time with friends in person are happier and less depressed.

Of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation: Maybe unhappy people use screen devices more.

However, as I researched my book, I came across three recent studies that all but eliminated that possibility – at least for social media. In two of them, social media use led to lower well-being, but lower well-being did not lead to social media use.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study randomly assigned some adults to give up Facebook for a week and others to continue using it. Those who gave up Facebook ended the week happier, less lonely and less depressed.

What else is lost?

Some parents might worry about their teens spending so much time on their phones because it represents a radical departure from how they spent their own adolescence. But spending this much time on screens is not just different – in many ways, it’s actually worse.

Spending less time with friends means less time to develop social skills. A 2014 study found that sixth graders who spent just five days at a camp without using screens ended the time better at reading emotions on others’ faces, suggesting that iGen’s screen-filled lives might cause their social skills to atrophy.

In addition, iGen reads books, magazines and newspapers much less than previous generations did as teens: In the annual Monitoring the Future survey, the percentage of high school seniors who read a nonrequired book or magazine nearly every day dropped from 60 percent in 1980 to only 16 percent in 2015. Perhaps as a result, average SAT critical reading scores have dropped 14 points since 2005. College faculty tell me that students have more trouble reading longer text passages, and rarely read the required textbook.

This isn’t to say that iGen teens don’t have a lot going for them. They are physically safer and more tolerant than previous generations were. They also seem to have a stronger work ethic and more realistic expectations than millennials did at the same age. But the smartphone threatens to derail them before they even get started.

To be clear, moderate smartphone and social media use – up to an hour a day – is not linked to mental health issues. However, most teens (and adults) are on their phones much more than that.

Somewhat to my surprise, the iGen teens I interviewed said they would rather see their friends in person than communicate with them using their phones. Parents used to worry about their teens spending too much time with their friends – they were a distraction, a bad influence, a waste of time.

But it might be just what iGen needs.

The Conversation

Programmers need ethics when designing the technologies that influence people’s lives

August 8, 2018


Cherri M. Pancake

Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Oregon State University

Disclosure statement

Cherri M. Pancake receives research funding from the US Federal Government.

Computing professionals are on the front lines of almost every aspect of the modern world. They’re involved in the response when hackers steal the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people from a large corporation. Their work can protect – or jeopardize – critical infrastructure like electrical grids and transportation lines. And the algorithms they write may determine who gets a job, who is approved for a bank loan or who gets released on bail.

Technological professionals are the first, and last, lines of defense against the misuse of technology. Nobody else understands the systems as well, and nobody else is in a position to protect specific data elements or ensure the connections between one component and another are appropriate, safe and reliable. As the role of computing continues its decades-long expansion in society, computer scientists are central to what happens next.

That’s why the world’s largest organization of computer scientists and engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery, of which I am president, has issued a new code of ethics for computing professionals. And it’s why ACM is taking other steps to help technologists engage with ethical questions.

Serving the public interest

A code of ethics is more than just a document on paper. There are hundreds of examples of the core values and standards to which every member of a field is held – including for organist guilds and outdoor advertising associations. The world’s oldest code of ethics is also its most famous: the Hippocratic oath medical doctors take, promising to care responsibly for their patients.

I suspect that one reason for the Hippocratic oath’s fame is how personal medical treatment can be, with people’s lives hanging in the balance. It’s important for patients to feel confident their medical caregivers have their interests firmly in mind.

Technology is, in many ways, similarly personal. In modern society computers, software and digital data are everywhere. They’re visible in laptops and smartphones, social media and video conferencing, but they’re also hidden inside the devices that help manage people’s daily lives, from thermostats to timers on coffee makers. New developments in autonomous vehicles, sensor networks and machine learning mean computing will play an even more central role in everyday life in coming years.

A changing profession

As the creators of these technologies, computing professionals have helped usher in the new and richly vibrant rhythms of modern life. But as computers become increasingly interwoven into the fabric of life, we in the profession must personally recommit to serving society through ethical conduct.

ACM’s last code of ethics was adopted in 1992, when many people saw computing work as purely technical. The internet was in its infancy and people were just beginning to understand the value of being able to aggregate and distribute information widely. It would still be years before artificial intelligence and machine learning had applications outside research labs.

Today, technologists’ work can affect the lives and livelihoods of people in ways that may be unintended, even unpredictable. I’m not an ethicist by training, but it’s clear to me that anyone in today’s computing field can benefit from guidance on ethical thinking and behavior.

Updates to the code

ACM’s new ethics code has several important differences from the 1992 version. One has to do with unintended consequences. In the 1970s and 1980s, technologists built software or systems whose effects were limited to specific locations or circumstances. But over the past two decades, it has become clear that as technologies evolve, they can be applied in contexts very different from the original intent.

For example, computer vision research has led to ways of creating 3D models of objects – and people – based on 2D images, but it was never intended to be used in conjunction with machine learning in surveillance or drone applications. The old ethics code asked software developers to be sure a program would actually do what they said it would. The new version also exhorts developers to explicitly evaluate their work to identify potentially harmful side effects or potential for misuse.

Another example has to do with human interaction. In 1992, most software was being developed by trained programmers to run operating systems, databases and other basic computing functions. Today, many applications rely on user interfaces to interact directly with a potentially vast number of people. The updated code of ethics includes more detailed considerations about the needs and sensitivities of very diverse potential users – including discussing discrimination, exclusion and harassment.

More and more software is being developed to run with little or no input or human understanding, producing analytical results to guide decision-making, such as when to approve bank loans. The outputs can have completely unintended social effects, skewed against whole classes of people – like recent cases where data-mining predictions of who would default on a loan showed biases against people who seek longer-term loans or live in particular areas. There are also dangers of what are called “false positives,” when a computer links two things that shouldn’t be connected – as when facial recognition software recently matched members of Congress to criminals’ mug shots. The revised code exhorts technologists to take special care to avoid creating systems with the potential to oppress or disenfranchise whole groups of people.

Living ethics in technology

The code was revised over the course of more than two years, including ACM members and people outside the organization and even outside the computing and technological professions. All these perspectives made the code better. For example, a government-employed weapons designer asked whether that job inherently required violating the code; the wording was changed to clarify that systems must be “consistent with the public good.”

Now that the code is out, there’s more to do. ACM has created a repository for case studies showing how ethical thinking and the guidelines can be applied in a variety of real-world situations. The group’s “Ask An Ethicist” blog and video series invites the public to submit scenarios or quandaries as they arise in practice. Word is also underway to develop teaching modules so the concepts can be integrated into computing education from primary school through university.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. My personal favorite was the comment from a young programmer after reading the code: “Now I know what to tell my boss if he asks me to do something like that again.”

The ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct begins with the statement, “Computing professionals’ actions change the world.” We don’t know if our code will last as long as the Hippocratic oath. But it highlights how important it is that the global computing community understands the impact our work has – and takes seriously our obligation to the public good.

The Conversation US, Inc.

Hibakusha and Hope in the Nuclear Age

By Robert F. Dodge, MD

This week marks 73 years since the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, ultimately resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. With the dawn of the nuclear age, the term “hibakusha” formally entered our lexicon. Atomic bomb survivors are referred to in Japanese as hibakusha, which translates literally as “bomb-affected-people.” The bombings and aftermath changed the world forever and threaten the very future of mankind to this day.

According to the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, there are three hibakusha categories. These include people exposed directly to the bomb and its immediate aftermath, those people exposed within a 2-kilometer radius who entered the sphere of destruction within two weeks of the explosion, and people exposed to radioactive fallout generally from assisting victims and handling bodies. These also include those exposed in utero, whose mothers were pregnant and belonging to any of these defined categories.

Hibakusha have provided a living legacy to the horrors and threat of nuclear war. The threat continues to this day, fueled by a new nuclear arms race initiated by the United States proposal to spend upwards of $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to rebuild our entire nuclear arsenal. Every other nuclear nation is following suit in modernizing their arsenals as well, giving rise to the myth of nuclear deterrence that has driven the arms race since its inception.

This renewed arms race threatens us and everything we care about every moment of every day. As tensions have grown between the nuclear superpowers, the threat of nuclear war by intent or miscalculation or increasingly by cyber-attack threatens us and everything we care about.

This is not a reality that has to be. Recognizing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences from any use of nuclear weapons, civil society and NGOs around the world—working with hibakusha—initiated an international effort over the past decade to abolish nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, led this international effort. On July 7, 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weaponswas adopted by 122 nations, representing a majority of the world’s people at the United Nations. Opened for signature on September 20, 2017, the International Day of Peace, the treaty makes nuclear weapons illegal under international law just as all other weapons of mass destruction have been declared. Once 50 nations have ratified the treaty it goes into effect 90 days later. Thus far there have been 15 nations who have ratified the treaty with New Zealand signing this past week (signing is step one, ratifying is the final step).

Under Article 1 of the treaty, nations are prohibited from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, deploying, stationing, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, under any circumstances.

The nine nations who possess nuclear weapons have officially boycotted the efforts to abolish these weapons. However, there are significant efforts by the people in these countries to move their governments to come in line with the international community working to eliminate nuclear weapons. Most of these countries are legally bound to do so with their 48-year obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, committing them to “work in good faith to eliminate nuclear weapons.”

In the United States, there is a rapidly growing movement called “Back from the Brink”that is gaining momentum as individuals, organizations, cities and communities across the nation are endorsing this resolutions that allows them to take action now. This resolution, emanating from the efforts of many different organizations, can be endorsed by all. It calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

· Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first

· Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any US president to launch a nuclear attack

· Taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert

· Canceling the plan to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons

· Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

This effort empowers us to take action to end this insanity and realize the opportunities that our democracy provides. As the people lead, the leaders will follow.

This week, solemn memorials commemorating the nuclear attacks of August 6th and 9th, 1945 around the world will be attended by a decreasing number of the hibakusha bomb survivors. These individuals have never lost hope. Hope demonstrated from their courage, compassion, conviction and witness that no one will ever suffer or confront the horror they experienced. We owe it to them and to all future generations to do everything in our power to eliminate this immoral and now illegal man made threat to humanity. The time is now to add your voice to the growing chorus calling for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.

Robert Dodgewrites for PeaceVoice, is a family physician practicing in Ventura, California, is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and is the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

How should we protest neo-Nazis? Lessons from German history

Laurie Marhoefer

Assistant Professor of History, University of Washington

After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, many people are asking themselves what they should do if Nazis rally in their city. Should they put their bodies on the line in counter demonstrations? Some say yes.

History says no. Take it from me: I study the original Nazis.

We have an ethical obligation to stand against fascism and racism. But we also have an ethical obligation to do so in a way that doesn’t help the fascists and racists more than it hurts them.

History repeats itself

Charlottesville was right out of the Nazi playbook. In the 1920s, the Nazi Party was just one political party among many in a democratic system, running for seats in Germany’s Parliament. For most of that time, it was a small, marginal group. In 1933, riding a wave of popular support, it seized power and set up a dictatorship. The rest is well-known.

It was in 1927, while still on the political fringes, that the Nazi Party scheduled a rally in a decidedly hostile location – the Berlin district of Wedding. Wedding was so left-of-center that the neighborhood had the nickname “Red Wedding,” red being the color of the Communist Party. The Nazis often held rallies right where their enemies lived, to provoke them.

The people of Wedding were determined to fight back against fascism in their neighborhood. On the day of the rally, hundreds of Nazis descended on Wedding. Hundreds of their opponents showed up too, organized by the local Communist Party. The antifascists tried to disrupt the rally, heckling the speakers. Nazi thugs retaliated. There was a massive brawl. Almost 100 people were injured.

I imagine the people of Wedding felt they had won that day. They had courageously sent a message: Fascism was not welcome.

But historians believe events like the rally in Wedding helped the Nazis build a dictatorship. Yes, the brawl got them media attention. But what was far, far more important was how it fed an escalating spiral of street violence. That violence helped the fascists enormously.

Violent confrontations with antifascists gave the Nazis a chance to paint themselves as the victims of a pugnacious, lawless left. They seized it.

It worked. We know now that many Germans supported the fascists because they were terrified of leftist violence in the streets. Germans opened their morning newspapers and saw reports of clashes like the one in Wedding. It looked like a bloody tide of civil war was rising in their cities. Voters and opposition politicians alike came to believe the government needed special police powers to stop violent leftists. Dictatorship grew attractive. The fact that the Nazis themselves were fomenting the violence didn’t seem to matter.

One of Hitler’s biggest steps to dictatorial power was to gain emergency police powers, which he claimed he needed to suppress leftist violence.

The left takes the heat

In the court of public opinion, accusations of mayhem and chaos in the streets will, as a rule, tend to stick against the left, not the right.

This was true in Germany in the 1920s. It was true even when opponents of fascism acted in self-defense or tried to use relatively mild tactics, such as heckling. It is true in the United States today, where even peaceful rallies against racist violence are branded riots in the making.

Today, right extremists are going around the country staging rallies just like the one in 1927 in Wedding. According to the civil rights advocacy organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, they pick places where they know antifascists are present, like university campuses. They come spoiling for physical confrontation. Then they and their allies spin it to their advantage.

I watched this very thing happen steps from my office on the University of Washington campus. Last year, a right extremist speaker came. He was met by a counter protest. One of his supporters shot a counter protester. On stage, in the moments after the shooting, the right extremist speaker claimed that his opponents had sought to stop him from speaking “by killing people.” The fact that it was one of the speaker’s supporters, a right extremist and Trump backer, who engaged in what prosecutors now claim was an unprovoked and premeditated act of violence, has never made national news.

We saw this play out after Charlottesville, too. President Donald Trump said there was violence “on both sides.” It was an incredible claim. Heyer, a peaceful protester, and 19 other people were intentionally hit by a neo-Nazi driving a car. He seemed to portray Charlottesville as another example of what he has referred to elsewhere as “violence in our streets and chaos in our communities,” including, it seems, Black Lives Matter, which is a nonviolent movement against violence. He stirred up fear. Trump recently said that police are too constrained by existing law.

President Trump tried it again during the largely peaceful protests in Boston – he called the tens of thousands who gathered there to protest racism and Nazism “anti-police agitators,” though later, in a characteristic about-face, he praised them.

President Trump’s claims are hitting their mark. A CBS News poll found that a majority of Republicans thought his description of who was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville was “accurate.”

This violence, and the rhetoric about it coming from the administration, are echoes – faint but nevertheless frightening echoes – of a well-documented pattern, a pathway by which democracies devolve into dictatorships.

The Antifa

There’s an additional wrinkle: the antifa. When Nazis and white supremacists rally, the antifa are likely to show up, too.

“Antifa” is short for antifascists, though the name by no means includes everyone who opposes fascism. The antifa is a relatively small movement of the far left, with ties to anarchism. It arose in Europe’s punk scene in the 1980s to fight neo-Nazism.

The antifa says that because Nazism and white supremacy are violent, we must use any means necessary to stop them. This includes physical means, like what they did on my campus: forming a crowd to block ticket-holders from entering a venue to hear a right extremist speak.

The antifa’s tactics often backfire, just like those of Germany’s communist opposition to Nazism did in the 1920s. Confrontations escalate. Public opinion often blames the left no matter the circumstances.

What to do?

One solution: Hold a counter event that doesn’t involve physical proximity to the right extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a helpful guide. Among its recommendations: If the alt-right rallies, “organize a joyful protest” well away from them. Ask people they have targeted to speak. But “as hard as it may be to resist yelling at alt-right speakers, do not confront them.”

This does not mean ignoring Nazis. It means standing up to them in a way that denies them a chance for bloodshed.

The cause Heather Heyer died for is best defended by avoiding the physical confrontation that the people who are responsible for her death want.

Staff Reports