NPR is getting roasted for giving white nationalist Jason Kessler a platform to spout his hateful views for several minutes as part of a taped interview. Kessler and a handful of other dead-enders got shut down hard in DC yesterday thanks to smart organizing and they had to leave our city under police escort. That means they weren’t able to tool around town after their march harassing, beating or killing any of our neighbors. Good.
Now that the counter-mobilization is over, I wanted to take a minute to underscore something that really shouldn’t need underscoring: there is no good reason to give a white nationalist a media platform. Ever.
You can cover white nationalists without giving them free airtime
Should news outlets interview white nationalists? Sure, but not like NPR did. White nationalist views can be interrogated without giving them several minutes of free air time. It’s easy to imagine a reported segment about Kessler’s deadly policy agenda and bullshit rhetoric instead of producing an interview with him that let him spout his views on air, even as they are challenged.
Further, white nationalists aren’t interested in civil conversation. They use mainstream media attention to fundraise, attack liberal institutions and cry about how unfair everyone is to them. They are bad-faith actors and will always abuse any platform they’re given. Choosing to air an interview with Kessler, even an edited one, unnecessarily elevates his views. To put it another way, civil discourse is for people who are capable of being civil, not the hatemongers who are responsible for Heather Heyer’s death.
Look at it this way: if someone is out there selling quack medicine that kills people who take it, there’s no need to give them airtime to make their sales pitch. Just report on why their product is bullshit and actively harms people.
Never let white nationalists off the hook for their policy goals
Kessler’s march was framed around the idea of “white civil rights” a fake, made up concept, and his free speech rights, the last argumentative refuge of people with atrocious views. What did he not frame it around? What white nationalists actually want. Because what they want is violent ethnic cleansing. Some of them are even stupid enough to walk up to the line of saying it out loud:
What is “peaceful cleansing” It’s a bullshit concept that obscures what white nationalists really want: they want government agencies and the military to forcibly expel millions of black and brown people from their homes. And what happens when people say no, I don’t want to be forced from my home? Violence.
That’s it. They want state-sponsored violence against millions of people. Period. They will say all sorts of things to obscure that. They’ll talk about free speech, about supposed leftist hypocrisy, about their economic anxiety. Hell, they’ll even try to drag Papa John’s and Taylor Swift into their bullshit.
In private, white nationalists are explicit about their rhetorical strategy. Ashley Feinberg at the Huffington Post got a hold of a white nationalist communications playbook and it’s worth reading. Their entire mode of operation right now is to troll liberals into engaging with their bullshit ideas so they can smuggle the actual white nationalism in and turn dudes like Dan from Long Island into white nationalist foot soldiers.
Never buy it. Not for a second.
Listen to the lessons of history. Here is philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte laying it out in the book Anti-Semite and Jew in 1944:
Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play.
They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.
What we see today is just the modern, online, hyperconnected version of what Sarte saw then.
No platform for white nationalists.
That includes public media.