Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 33 / 17 August 2017

There are not 'many sides'


President Donald Trump held combative news conference Tuesday. Photo: Courtesy ABC News
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President Donald Trump failed to forcefully and explicitly condemn white supremacist hate groups responsible for the violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia that ended with the death of Heather Heyer, 32, and injury to 19 others.

Trump bumbled his way through equivocal remarks that also blamed the anti-racist activists. "We condemn in the strongest most possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. On many sides," Trump said Saturday. On Tuesday, at a raucous news conference in the Trump Tower lobby, Trump doubled down, and said "both sides" were to blame, instantly blowing up his more scripted, moderating statement that was issued Monday, after 48 hours of intense criticism.

Let's be clear: there are not "many sides" to what happened in Charlottesville. And when Trump finally condemned them by name 48 hours later, singling out the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, it was too late. Trump has always had a soft spot for bigots and racism, demonstrated in episodes throughout his long career in business, and more recently, politics. Trump fueled his political career by riding the birther movement – the lie that Barak Obama was not born in the U.S. – and now in the White House, Trump surrounds himself with white nationalist advisers. It's time for three of them: Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka to go.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, of all people, exhibited more moral backbone than the president. He called the violence in Charlottesville what it is – domestic terrorism – and announced that the Justice Department would open a federal civil rights investigation. Vice President Mike Pence, who's as anti-gay as they come, called out the Charlottesville bigots by name in a statement Saturday night while Trump remained silent.

In addition, it's time for those LGBTs who voted for Trump to speak out and condemn him. The neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and their ilk in Charlottesville shouted "fuck you faggots," among other slurs and chants. The LGBT community has been bombarded with troubling rhetoric and outright deception by the president since he took office. And while Trump did hold a rainbow flag emblazoned with "LGBTs for Trump" at a campaign rally, it's clear that it was all a cynical performance.

His first tweet after the 2016 Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida made no mention of LGBTs, who were the intended targets among the 49 people killed. It was only days later that he said, "Our nation stands together in solidarity with the members of Orlando's LGBT community." Just as Trump couldn't bring himself to mention LGBTs in his first comments after Orlando, in his first remarks on Charlottesville he wouldn't squarely condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists by name. Trump is obsessed with assigning blame, and he winks and nods to white supremacists when he minimizes their guilt by shifting blame to "many sides." They're his base after all; he's one of them, after all.

That's not leadership any country needs.

The predominately gay Log Cabin Republicans, which did not endorse Trump for president, nevertheless has been doing verbal gymnastics – or worse, keeping silent – trying to square a blatantly homophobic and racist president with the claim that Trump is the most pro-gay Republican president ever just because he held a rainbow flag and sent a couple of tweets. Log Cabin's website contains no statement denouncing the violence in Charlottesville or calling out the president for his wholly inadequate first response.

For years, Log Cabin has argued that it's a vital organization and can make change by working inside the Republican Party establishment. That justification has not yielded much over the years. It's mission, as stated on its website, is "Log Cabin Republicans are LGBT Republicans and allies who support equality under the law for all, free markets, individual liberty, limited government, and a strong national defense." But in a time of national crisis, why can't gay Republicans be as plainspoken as party stalwarts like Senators John McCain (Arizona) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), both of whom condemned last weekend's violence? "We should call evil by its name," Hatch tweeted. "My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home." We'll tell you why, it's because they're afraid of losing whatever influence they have now that the Republicans control the government. Here's a newsflash: Log Cabin is a non-player in this administration, so there would be no cost for taking a moral stand.

What gay GOPers and others who voted for Trump don't seem to understand is that it's almost beside the point that the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville were spewing anti-gay bile. Their hatred of anyone who is not a straight, white Christian or of pure European ancestry should be a wake-up call to everyone, regardless of their political party. Trump and his appointees have clearly shown their true animus: the administration has rescinded policies protecting trans students; Trump banned trans people from serving in the military; and now there is the president's shallow initial response to a deadly rally in Charlottesville.

It's time that Log Cabin realize that it must be critical of the president. Richard Grenell, a gay Republican who's rumored to be in the running for ambassador to Germany, brushed off our question about Trump's trans military ban when he was in town last month. Last weekend was a moral point of no return for the president. In national crises people seek comfort from their elected leaders. Trump failed that test because he would rather not lose his white nationalist supporters. Gay Republicans have lost their credibility by sitting in silence when the situation cries out for a unified response from LGBTs.


Don't go to the SF 'Patriot' rally

Calls and emails are flooding the National Park Service over a planned "Patriot Prayer" free speech rally at Crissy Field next weekend. The Park Service has tentatively issued a permit for the August 26 event, leading Mayor Ed Lee, Police Chief William Scott, and Board of Supervisors President London Breed to hold a news conference Tuesday where they said hate has no place in the city.

"#SF has a long history of championing freedom of expression, but hateful speech and violence have no place in our city," the mayor tweeted, adding, "Hate has no place here."

Patriot Prayer is also planning a "No Marxism in America" rally for Civic Center Park in Berkeley Sunday, August 27. It has apparently not yet applied for a permit.

"Their event is not permitted," Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin tweeted. "Despite that, they plan on coming. We are preparing to keep our community safe."

We understand that counterprotesters want to respond to the hatred the white nationalists and neo-Nazis espouse. But if you really want to send a message, you should stay home or go somewhere else. There's talk of a counterprotest at some other venue, such as Golden Gate Park, away from Crissy Field. That's a sensible alternative.

These groups crave attention and the conflict that often follows. Like other fringe elements (think Fred Phelps and his God Hates Fags family members, or the anti-same-sex marriage groups) the neo-Nazis want to get a reaction out of people to spread and mainstream their ideology. What better place to do that than San Francisco – with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop – and Berkeley, two of the most progressive cities in the country? But imagine if they all showed up with their Stars and Bars and Swastika flags flying, only to be met with ... silence and an empty field. Sure, there will be a few news crews, and some photographers, but absent any conflict, it will be a non-event, a dud, and the media likely will quickly leave. If we take the attention away by not showing up, then they are the ones who lose. It will be better, and safer, to respond on social media.

These groups, as much as we abhor them – and their beliefs are vile – have First Amendment protections, just like Phelps did when he'd bring his caravan of harassers to the Castro. Back then, the community was warned not to physically touch them otherwise they could claim assault. The far-right activists follow those same tactics. It was the same with the National Organization for Marriage and similar groups: when they'd show up at the various court hearings, they were on TV for a few seconds, but as the case dragged on, fewer and fewer showed up. They were diminished.

"When they go low, we go high," was former first lady Michelle Obama's elegant statement made at last year's Democratic convention. She should know. For eight years she was the subject of repugnant racist remarks online and noxious comments by right-wing media clowns.

That's the advice we should follow in San Francisco and Berkeley. LGBTs, blacks, Asians, Muslims, Hispanics, and everyone who is against hatred need to follow Obama's mantra. The high road is to ignore the white supremacists and stay away from Crissy Field and the Berkeley park.

Be smart and don't take their bait.



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