In one of the most morally satisfying moments in the classic 1980 John Landis film, The Blues Brothers, John Belushi as “Joliet” Jake Blues and Dan Aykroyd as his brother Elwood encounter a group of Neo Nazis holding a rally and blocking traffic on a bridge. Stuck in the backup, Jake asks a Chicago police officer, “What’s going on?”
The officer replies, “Aw those bums won their court case so they’re marching today.”
“What bums?” asks Jake.
“The f——- Nazi Party,” replies the officer.
Elwood scoffs, “Illinois Nazis.” To which Jake replies with the classic line, “I hate Illinois Nazis.”
Elwood then proceeds to drive their car through the crowd forcing the Nazis to jump from the bridge to the cheers of the counter protestors.
The scene was inspired by the 1978 Illinois Supreme Court decision in Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party of America, 373 N. E. 2d 21 (Ill. 1978) – in which the court ruled that the display of swastikas did not constitute fighting words and thus the enjoining of that speech was an unconstitutional prior restraint) and Collin v. Smith – 578 F.2d 1197 (7th Cir. 1978) – in which the 7th Circuit ruled that Skokie’s permitting ordinance was invalid on the grounds that it violated the 1st Amendment. These decisions were based on a 1977 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 where the Court ruled 5-4 per curiam reversing earlier decisions against the Nazis in the above referenced cases and others which cleared their legal path to march through the Village of Skokie, a town that had a large Jewish population, including several thousand survivors of the Holocaust.
Recently, Georgia has seen an uptick in the promotion and distribution of anti-Jewish and pro-Nazi propaganda. Leaflets have been distributed in driveways in several neighborhoods in Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb Counties and neo-Nazis have held demonstrations in front of synagogues in Macon and Cobb County, the latter being held this past Saturday, June 24 as the small group of Neo-Nazis stood in front of the Chabad of Cobb synagogue waving Nazi flags and holding up signs with anti-Semitic messages. The small group, which calls itself the Goyim Defense League (goyim is Yiddish for non-Jewish people) held their other “rally” in front of a Macon synagogue on Friday, June 23.
Cobb County has had a unique and complicated relationship with its Jewish community. In 1915, the leaders of Cobb County, including several elected officials, drove 150 miles on mostly unpaved roads to the State Prison in Milledgeville to abduct Leo Frank and bring him back to Marietta where they lynched from a tree near the present day intersection of Highway 120 and I-75.
Frank, a Jewish manager at the National Pencil Company in Marietta was convicted of murdering 13 year-old employee, Mary Phagan. Given the weak evidence, Georgia Governor John Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence despite intense opposition threats of violence. Frank’s lynching is considered the only lynching of a Jewish person in the United States.
Eighty-seven years later in 2002, Cobb County would elect a Jewish Republican, Sam Olens, to Chair the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.
The Nazi rally began early evening and lasted a couple of hours until the Neo-Nazis left around 10:00 PM. By that time, the crowd of counter protestors had swelled from a few dozen as shown in the video below that was shared exclusively with Peach Pundit, to, by estimates of those in attendance, between 150 and 200 who drowned out the Nazis’ chants and slogans.
In addition to the shouts of “go home!” (at least one of the Nazis at the Cobb rally was arrested at the Macon rally and later bonded out, gave his address as West Palm Beach, FL), reports from at least one person at the scene was the chants of, “USA! USA!” by a group of teenagers who drove by a couple of times before parking and joining the counter protest.
Many counter protestors carried American and Israeli flags as well as held up their own handmade signs.
Cobb County police officers were on hand to conduct traffic along Lower Roswell Road and keep the groups separated. The officers continuously advised and reminded the much larger group of counter protestors what they could and could not do to make sure that no one did anything that would get them arrested (or give more fodder to the Nazi group). In the end, the police escorted the Nazis, who by then had been surrounded on three sides, back to their cars as the East Cobb community did with their free speech what the government was not able to do considering court precedent, they had shut the Nazi rally down.
We want to speak out against ideologies that run counter to our core beliefs. For most Americans, the core beliefs of Nazism chill our very soul. One cannot hold to their ideas and simultaneously hold to America’s creed that, “all men are created equal” as Nazism holds fast to an inherent belief that all are NOT created equal.
Community wide, we condemn the beliefs of those whose believes run dangerously counter to our own system. A dozen people rally, and it commands the condemnation of statewide elected officials and news coverage across the nation.
But in the rush to declare our opposition, are we giving them what they most crave …attention?
If a tiny group of Nazis rally in the woods, and there is no one to report on their sad, small group, did they really rally (or did the tree that fell on them even make a sound)?
There will always be those who for whatever reason embrace anti-social, anti-community standards. There is a point where being “counter-culture” reaches a darker side. While giving national media attention to a small group standing on a sidewalk in Cobb County, Georgia yelling hateful epithets may in one sense seem like using an Abrams tank to swat a fly, it also means that acting almost as a safety valve, the group may feel like they do not need to escalate their actions to get the attention they believe they deserve.
There is also societal value in constantly articulating which ideas and values we hold fast to and which ideas and values we condemn to instruct the next generation. There is always the danger of forgetting the past. More on this in a future post.
In truth, there is no need for us to condemn these people or their beliefs. History already has. The once powerful nations build on their ideology died humiliating deaths decades ago as their leaders took the coward’s way out. The United States, our allies, and Israel remain strong to this day because we share a core belief in the inherent greatness of all humanity. The defeated should remember that they are defeated. Their tiny numbers show they are.