Members of the Proud Boys flash a hand gesture associated with white supremacy at a pro-Trump rally in Sacramento on Nov. 28, 2020. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)
Members of the Proud Boys flash a hand gesture associated with white supremacy at a pro-Trump rally in Sacramento on Nov. 28, 2020. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

We need a big-tent antifascist movement

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

For five weeks, members of the Proud Boys, self-proclaimed “Western chauvinists” described as a right-wing extremist group by the ADL, have marched through the streets of Sacramento. Many have been armed with knives.

Whether the Proud Boys are overtly racist or simply “pro-Western” may be a distinction without a difference. A former member helped organize the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, where neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us.” In photos, including in images captured by J., Proud Boys are seen flashing a hand gesture in the shape of the letters WP, for “White Power.”

Whatever “Western chauvinism” means, we know what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean multiculturalism. It doesn’t mean religious egalitarianism. It doesn’t mean respect for immigrants. And it doesn’t mean rights for the LGBTQ community.

Yet, when the Proud Boys and allies marched in Sacramento on Nov. 28, they outnumbered counterprotesters more than 10:1.

Fighting neo-fascism should be a Jewish priority. If anyone should race to the barricades when a group like the Proud Boys descends on Northern California, it should be Jews, allied with African Americans, immigrants, LGBTQ people, those with disabilities and others most endangered by this ideology.

But today, those speaking loudest against extremism in America are not always speaking for us.

On Dec. 5, after calls went out on social media, members of antifa came in numbers to oppose the Proud Boys in Sacramento. But they engaged in random acts of vandalism — like smashing the cars of Trump supporters — and boasted about it online. Some antifa members instigated violence themselves.

Many members of antifa are peaceful. But when they resort to violence, they alienate large segments of the community who would otherwise support their aim of opposing the seeds of neo-fascism wherever they sprout.

They also embolden the Proud Boys, whose stated reason for carrying knives and wearing bulletproof vests is for “protection.”

Fighting neo-fascism is a communal responsibility, not the province of a fringe group.

Like in Boston, in Washington, D.C., and even last year in Modesto, where the local synagogue organized counterprogramming to a “Straight Pride” march, today’s anti-fascist movement must be a big-tent movement — one that proves there is more political power in the universal ideals of human equality, religious tolerance and democratic pluralism than in the currents of theocracy, white supremacy and homophobia that simmer just beneath the surface of the Proud Boys’ ethos, and often bubble over.

Though concerning, elements of neo-fascism in America present an opportunity for alliance-building in support of universal values. Jews should be on the front lines of that political fight.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.