Not long before Shabbat, my wife checked her smartphone and saw an email from our neighborhood’s Next Door website: an impromptu counter neo-Nazi protest was being held at the Dominion Hills Shopping Center in Arlington, Va.
In shock, she read about how six neo-Nazis had showed up earlier that morning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell. He had been shot and killed by a former member on Aug. 25, 1967. In fact, he had been shot and killed in a strip mall five minutes from our home, where my wife did yoga, where I get haircuts from a Vietnamese immigrant and where I go to a chiropractor.
I had known about Arlington being a hotbed of pro-Nazi support in the 1930s but I didn’t realize how close to home it was. In fact, the Upton Hill Regional Park where I swim is located on what used to be called “Hatemonger Hill.” Here, Rockwell turned a house, which he reportedly rented for $1 per year from a sympathizer, into a “storm trooper barracks,” stringing up Nazi banners and using it as one of his headquarters.
After lighting candles, saying the blessings and an abbreviated Shabbat dinner, we drove five minutes up the hill to see what was going on. About 150 people had turned out, bearing signs proclaiming, “Love, Not Hate” and “United Against Hate.”
A man waved a large American flag; cars slowed and honked as they went by. A couple of policemen stood to one side and an NBC television news truck was doing a story. We were looking for friends and neighbors when I spotted my daughter’s friend’s mother.
“I wanted to do something after Charlottesville,” she told us, “but I didn’t know what to do — and then this happened in my own neighborhood.”
My own neighborhood. That’s the phrase that struck me. If you think that you are immune or that this can’t happen by you, you’re wrong. If you think that you don’t have to be vigilant, you’re mistaken. If you think that you can just watch TV or read the paper and things will improve, you’re deluding yourself.
I lived and worked as a reporter in Israel for six years, covering terrorist attacks, the first intifada and the first Persian Gulf War. I walked around Jerusalem carrying a gas mask like a kid’s lunch box.
Now it’s America’s turn to deal with terrorism — and with its homegrown neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements. Our fate as a nation is at stake. Don’t wait. Don’t just stay at home. You are not immune. It can happen by and to you. Be vigilant. Be proactive. One day, God forbid, the numbers might be reversed.
So, act now. Stand up and be counted among those against hatred and ignorance. Before it’s too late. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Talk to neighbors. Stage a pro-peace protest — whatever you do, do it before the neo-Nazis come to your neighborhood. PJC
Rick Black was a reporter in the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times from 1989 to 1991 and subsequently worked as the press liaison for the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia from 1994 to 1998. He now lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife and daughter.