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Sleep of the Just
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
There was an extremely peculiar news story that hit the wires and internet a few weeks ago, a story that took place outside of Chicago, and I wonder if most Hoosiers caught it when it broke. On May 19th, a group of self-proclaimed anti-fascists from Southern Indiana attacked a group of white supremacists during an annual luncheon in Tinley Park, Illinois, causing intensive physical damage to both the restaurant and to many of the "white power" group members. The attackers came armed with baseball bats, chair legs, and other battering implements, and they sent three of the guests to the hospital. Five members of the anti-fascists were arrested, and police were looking to make further busts as more information became available about the other attackers. Eyewitnesses said that close to 20 perpetrators were at the restaurant, and they attested to the violence and mayhem caused by the provocateurs.
"This was a real riot," Tinley Park mayor Edward J. Zabrocki told msnbc.com. "These guys started beating the crap out of the other group. A lot of tables were knocked over, dishes were broken and there was food all over the walls. it was terrible. It was a mess."
The story reminded me of a similar event that happened in Fort Wayne in 1987, another time when a group of militants attacked a local business because of the people gathered there. In that case, the attackers were a group of gay-hating antagonists who besieged the local gay bar The Forge, pummeling patrons with their fists and throwing Chinese stars into the woodwork. The cops caught the perpetrators that time, too, for during the bashers' getaway, one of the assailants got ran over by the escape vehicle and was eventually detained by police. And he ratted everybody else out.
It doesn't take a particularly gifted observer of the human condition to point out the irony here — two completely opposite, militant groups, groups that would probably hate each other if they existed in the same time and place, employing the exact same method to get their point across. It would probably horrify each group to be considered in league with the other, but in my mind the two will always be inextricably linked.
That's not what I thought initially, though, about the Tinley Park attack. When I heard the bullet point for the news story — "Anti-racist group attacks white supremacists" — my first response was all bloodlust: I thought, Good. Good for them. I didn't care about the violence and the mayhem. White supremacists are so vile that they deserve anything they get. Maybe they were blindsided, maybe they were absolute victims, but that didn't matter. In my mind there seemed to be a primitive justice at work here, something righteous, something I could support, even if the anarchy at the heart of the attack was disconcerting to me.
Fortunately, though, the rational part of my brain kicked in when I read the nuts-and-bolts of the story. Looked at in a proper, sober light, the attack at the restaurant was nothing more than pure hooliganism, with the provocateurs acting as judge, jury, and executioner to the victims. I can't abide vigilantism in any incarnation, I never have; I don't accept lawlessness and violence as a tool, even when I philosophically agree with the instigators' core beliefs. And more than that, I can't stand to see that most American of liberties — freedom of expression — getting clubbed over the head by a baseball bat. This wasn't an easy decision for me, for there were competing values at work here, but ultimately my abhorrence of racist ideology didn't hold a candle to my hatred towards those who would deny free speech. So, galling as it is, I have to say that I'm firmly on the side of the white supremacists here, and believe me, that's a sentence I hope to God I never have to write again.
What's most frustrating to me about all this — and here's the inevitable dichotomy — is that in spite of my antipathy towards the provocateurs, I sometimes wish that I was one of them. I wish I had a cause that I could support with all my heart and soul. I can't help feeling that life would be easier if I had some animating force that I could direct all my energy toward. Say what you will about fanatics, but they normally sleep well; their crusade occupies their focus, simplifies their life. And it's an enticing notion that there are easily targeted evils in the world, like racism, and all you have to do is attack those things and bam, you've made the world a better place.
For whatever reason, though, I know that I'm simply not cut out to be that committed to any cause. As I get older I find it's harder and harder to identify the true bad guys out there; I seldom see black-and-white examples anywhere, everything is sifted in varying degrees of gray. People that I'm convinced are absolute bastards often end up doing something unexpectedly heroic, and many times the good, salt-of-the-earth folks have some twisted shadow haunting their seemingly sunny existence. A wiser man that I am can probably pick up on these signs, but I continue to misread people, tripping up over what should be obvious to all.
I've often thought that it's going to be a sad day when the last Nazi from World War II eventually dies off. Who's going to be our pure representation of evil now? For over 70 years we've had the luxury of having the Nazis as the one constant, universally despised malevolent force in the world, the one thing that we can all agree on. We can look at the grainy footage of the swastikas and the columns of soldiers and those raised-arm salutes and say, See? See, those bad guys, right there? It's a good thing we took care of that lot.
It's amazing how the Nazis of World War II still exude such a power over the world; in spite of the seven decades of subsequent evil-doers who followed them, we will never agree about anything like we did about the Nazis; they remain the purest example of how evil men can be. It's almost reassuring, in a perverse way, to have such a righteous target still in sight, to unite against.
Of course, I'm sure that militants in the modern world would have no trouble identifying the incorrigibly profane who walk among us. Perhaps, to them, that restaurant in Tinley Park is just like Berlin, 1936. What I wouldn't give to have that sureness, that certainty. But I remain tentative; I can't get beyond the notion that the person I fear could be the most destructive guy in the world is actually the same guy I see in the mirror every morning. Maybe, in the future, I can adjust my gaze and find other likely suspects, but for right now, I need to keep an eye on that guy.