By Ashli Duncan ‘11Op/Ed Editor
On March 19, members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), clad in black militaristic uniforms, waving swastika-emblazoned flags and holding small video cameras, were on the corner of Indian Hill and Foothill Boulevard. This is the fourth rally that the NSM has held in the Inland Empire in the past two years. Their website said that the NSM rally came to Claremont “at the request of local residents who are members and supporters and have grown tired of the outspoken local college kids and campus staff that support the lawlessness of open borders and the violence from the Mexican drug cartels.”
From noon to 2:00 p.m. SWAT mobiles took over the usually quiet streets of Claremont. Police from Claremont, La Verne and Pomona surrounded the 40 NSM members.
Interim Dean of Students Rebecca Lee sent out an email reminding the community that the neo-Nazi rallies are used to provoke counter-protests so that NSM members can portray themselves as victims. The video-camera-toting group tried to catch counter-protesters shouting obscenities or physically assaulting them in order to gain attention and support for their movement. “With our banner and flags in hand,” said the NSM website, “we used a bullhorn to logically explain the dangers of open borders."
In response to this unfriendly attitude of exclusion, Claremont citizens had their own rally: the Rally Against Hate. It took place in Memorial Park on the same day as NSM’s rally. The counter-rally was sponsored by the Claremont United Church of Christ. Though members of the 5C community supported the Rally Against Hate, there was no 5C-sponsored event. Both the rally and the counter-rally took place on public property, outside of the private property of the 5Cs.
According to the event’s creators, The Rally Against Hate’s goal was “to provide a counter-narrative that promotes peace, love and social justice.” Lee’s e-mail the day before the event encouraged Scripps students to avoid the NSM rally because of its taking place on public property, beyond the College’s jurisdiction. Lee wrote that “the potential for a very volatile situation” existed, and encouraged students to “make safety [their] top priority.”
Concerns that NSM members would succeed in inciting violence were ultimately put to rest when the rally and counter-rally passed without serious incident. Ultimately, the only violence sparked was verbal. Fighting came in the form of passionate debate about the best way to respond to intolerant displays like the NSM’s rally.
The Pomona Student Union hosted a faculty-led discussion to address the tension underlying the rally and counter-rally. Pomona Professor of Politics Michael Teter and Pomona Professor of History Tomás Summers Sandoval Jr. guided students to consider the NSM rally and its anti-immigrant stance in the context of larger issues of free speech. They used the recent Supreme Court decision—which upheld Westboro Baptist Church members’ rights to protest at military funeral—to address “the line between free speech and hate speech” which attendees of the Rally Against Hate felt that NSM members had crossed. As the Facebook event for the Rally Against Hate reminded attendees, “We recognize the fact that as much as we dislike the NSM’s ideas, it would be un-American to deny them their right to free speech.”