Fascist movements must be met with forceful resistance — and the socialist pushback against racist groups in the 1980s and 1990s offer useful examples of how to do that, according to a veteran of those conflicts.
Donald Trump’s campaign and election win have emboldened racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the National Policy Institute, whose “alt-right” leader has been approvingly profiled by mainstream media and prompted cable TV discussions about whether Jews are people — but the left has pushed back against hate before, reported the Socialist Worker.
About two decades after the Civil Rights era, racism crept back toward the political mainstream as Republicans pursued the Southern Strategy and conservative elected officials pushed back against the gains of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups began organizing rallies in American communities to attempt to gain visibility and recruit new members — much like those groups have tried to do since Trump’s rise.
The Socialist Worker points to the organized resistance to those efforts in Dubuque, Iowa, in the early 1990s, when the KKK and the white supremacist Nationalist Movement attempted to exploit economic insecurity related to the farm crisis of the 1980s and the recession of the early 1990s.
The Nationalist Movement announced a January 1992 march of about 60 members in Dubuque, but an impromptu counter-demonstration brought about 150 anti-racists to drown out their message.
Those efforts became more organized as racist hate groups organized additional rallies in other Midwestern cities, and in February 1992 the International Socialist Organization set up the Midwest Network to Stop the Klan — which was intended to publicly confront bigotry.
“The goal was always to turn out the greatest number of anti-racists possible, outnumber the racists, shout them down and show that anti-racist ideas were far more popular than racist ideas,” wrote Leonard Klein, a former MNSK member from Iowa.
The KKK organized another rally in Dubuque for May 1992, and many anti-racists felt that the NAACP, along with the mayor, were offering a free platform to the group by deferring to their free speech rights and planning a peaceful demonstration blocks away.
The MNSK planned to directly and loudly confront the KKK march with as many anti-racist demonstrators as they could muster.
“If [the racists] don’t see people in opposition, it only makes them feel stronger,” said group member Jim Wesengerg at the time.
They rallied other groups, such as Citizens United for Respect and Equality, that had peacefully demonstrated against the previous Nationalist Movement march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — and their response dwarfed the KKK’s puny march.
Up to 600 anti-racists converged on the KKK march, which drew just 15 hooded demonstrators and a small group of curious supporters.
“They ended their rally close to an hour earlier than planned since they couldn’t hear themselves spew their hate,” Klein recalled. “Demoralized, the Klan left Dubuque and even announced that they wouldn’t be attempting to recruit in Dubuque in the near future.”
The Midwest Network organized similar responses to hate group rallies in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, although Klein admits not all of them were quite as successful as Dubuque.
But the group’s reputation for organization grew to the point that hate rallies were canceled as soon as the MNSK announced counter-demonstrations.
That confrontational spirit — combined with a willingness to set aside internal differences — is what’s needed to combat the rise of Trump-fueled bigotry, Klein said.
“We need to organize to defend oppressed people under attack — and push the racist right back into the hole it crawled out from,” he wrote. “The successes of the Midwestern Network to Stop the Klan can serve as proof that the racists are outnumbered in the U.S. — and can be driven back.”