Jena, La., has not only become a symbol of the willingness of the state-the police, courts and prisons-to crack down on self defense from racist threats and attack. Of late, it is also the latest city to be besieged by ultraright forces.
When the Nationalist Movement announced that it would march on Jena on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “to protest the holiday and the Jena Six,” many saw the march’s real intentions: to provoke fear in the Black inhabitants of the town, and to attempt to use the scapegoating and criminalizing of the six young Black men who fought back against racism to the racists’ advantage.
Already, the case of the young men had attracted international attention. Officials claim that Jena is a nice town and that people just want to be left alone. When Black students protested a “white students only” tree, however, school officials ignored their dissent and the district attorney threatened the youth.
The six endured taunts, racial slurs, and an attack. Two young Black men had a shotgun pulled on them. Instead of charges against the bearer of the weapon, the young men were charged with theft of a weapon for disarming the person.
Nothing was done to address the rampant racism. The hanging of three nooses under the “white students only” tree led to light punishment and no criminal charges, though the hanging of nooses constitutes a viable threat and act of terror. When the men who came to be known as the Jena Six defended themselves against a white youth who taunted them with racial slurs, they were charged with attempted murder.
The acts of the men and the reaction by city officials sparked a rebellion, as tens of thousands converged on the tiny town of Jena and tens of thousands rallied around the country on Sept. 20, 2007.
Another rally in Washington, D.C., a few months later drew more than 30,000 people, mostly Black. Many recognized the case as a matter of self defense of the oppressed and the subsequent criminal charges a reaction by the state meant to quell inklings of self defense from the oppressed.
The town of Jena had another chance to redeem itself, to prove that it was not a racist town. The Nationalist Movement decided that not only would it march, displaying its vile, fascistic tendencies, but that it would do so armed.
Jena mayor praised ultrarightist
Jena’s Mayor Murphy McMillin had met with Richard Barrett-spokesperson for the ultra-right Nationalist Movement-before the rally Sept. 20 in support of the Jena Six. McMillin has never denied that he told Barrett, “I do appreciate what you are trying to do,” and, “Your moral support means a lot.” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 24, 2007)
The action of McMillin and the district attorney and many of the white residents of Jena is clear enough. Reed Walters, the district attorney, threatened to make the lives of the Black youth who complained about the “white students only” tree disappear with a stroke of his pen.
Justin Barker, the young white man who got beat up, was paraded around as a victim. He also would later try to mobilize white readers of a white supremacist Web site, according to the same Chicago Tribune article.
It is simple to understand the climate of a town like Jena, a town that is 86-percent white and voted overwhelmingly for racist David Duke when he ran for governor and for the Senate. The Barker family even offered a place for Barrett to stay when he came to town before Sept. 20.
The march of the white supremacists turned out to be small, 15-30 people compared with over 150 counterprotesters organized by the Jan. 21st Committee and supported by many other groups including the International Action Center and Fight Imperialism-Stand Together in solidarity with the Black inhabitants of Jena [See other article this issue on Jena].
It is important in any period to drown out ultraright-wing racists and to shut down their message, no matter how small they seem. As Sam Marcy wrote in “The Klan & Government: Foes or Allies,” “The U.S. working class should not fall prey to the deadly illusion that the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the growth of fascist violence in widely separated areas of the country is a fleeting, momentary phenomenon, soon destined to sink into oblivion as conditions rapidly change.”
The above was written during the right-wing Ronald Reagan administration, after the Klan marched on a number of cities, including Washington, D.C.-where they were soundly defeated and driven off by a counterdemonstration.
The analysis is critical, because all too often there are attempts to paint outright fascistic organizations and individuals as on the fringe. These violent, racist, ultrarightists operate out in the open, and even during the most prosperous of times, they are always at least one weapon on the ruling class’s arsenal aimed at smashing any movement for change emanating from workers and oppressed nationalities.
That the U.S. government, local and state governments allow and even appease organizations such as the Nationalist Movement, asserting the First Amendment as their rationale for granting permits and for providing police protection for the racists from the righteous indignation of counter-protesters, shows not only sheer hypocrisy, but is a sign of complicity of the keepers of the status quo.