White supremacists carry a shield and Confederate flag as they arrive at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on August 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

How to counter white supremacists energized by Trump

The smartest graffito I ever saw proclaimed “If I didn’t believe it with my own mind, I never would have seen it.” The converse works too: deep beliefs blind people to the obvious.

Maybe that observation explains president Donald Trump’s insistence that last weekend’s Charlottesville debacle was really about a Robert E. Lee statue, despite the ubiquitous Nazi flags, and the chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

Trump is not entirely wrong that there was violence on both sides. Many Nazis were eager for a fight, and some of the anti-fascists (who have disrupted conservative speakers on campuses in recent months) were too. But for him to equate the groups with the presidential stamp of moral equivalence does more to promote white supremacy than any other presidential act in memory.

The Nazi-like torch-lit march to the Lee statue, and the Nazi flags (let alone the Confederate ones) should have been enough to tell the president that this event wasn’t about anything other than white supremacists feeling empowered to express their belief that the only true Americans are white Americans.

Trump said he needed a couple of days to figure out what happened, but didn’t he hear the “Jews will not replace us” chant? Does he have any clue what that means?

White supremacists see themselves as biologically superior to non-whites. Yet they see America becoming a nation that will, in just a few decades, be majority non-white. They fear they are being “replaced,” but how can they be losing this battle to people they define as inferior? The explanation is that there is a hand on the scale, making them lose. It’s the Jews, and their support for immigration and civil rights for all, that are the culprits.

Jews are “replacing” whites in two ways, in their view. One is the perceived power of the Jewish community, which while small has had great success in many spheres. They also believe Jews actively seek to destroy whites by injecting “inferior races” into society. This is not a new libel. The charge that Jews secretly conspire to harm non-Jews is at the core of Nazism. It was also popular among many of the “America Firsters” of the 1930s.

The chants about Jews, the flags, the torches, were clear evidence – in their own words and actions – what the alt-right was organizing for. So how was Trump so blind and deaf?

Perhaps because he knows that to many of his supporters the slogan “Make America Great Again” means “Make America White Again.”

Perhaps because he gained the presidency by stoking fears of the “other,” the other being non-white immigrants and Muslims, while retweeting antisemitic memes.

White supremacists not only revel in Trump’s stereotyping of people they loath, they easily see the Trump double standard.

Yes, there are immigrants who commit acts of violence, and Trump holds immigrants responsible as a group. Yes there are Muslims who commit acts of terror, and Trump effectively blames all Muslims.

When white supremacists and neo-Nazis spew hatred, he says wait, there are some good people among them, you can’t tar a whole group; and as a matter of fact those who oppose the white supremacists are no better.

The double standard goes further. Imagine a Muslim man plowing a car into demonstrators. Within nanoseconds the presidential Twitter finger would have blamed “radical Islamic terrorists.” Same act by a white supremacist – where’s the tweet?

The Nazis have good reason to feel empowered. They see a president targeting non-white groups, and twisting logic like a pretzel to defend white racists. They know that others whom they seek to recruit, who might otherwise fear being associated with overt hate, see the president essentially saying it’s ok.

Symbols are powerful, and people have died for them. The rallying point for the alt-right was not Robert E. Lee as a person, but Robert E. Lee as a symbol of white supremacy. But again, Trump missed the obvious. He’s not entirely wrong that some on the left would want to remove symbols of slavery, and that by that logic Washington and Jefferson are troubling figures. I agree with him that these statues (unlike the Confederate flags over statehouses) should stay. We erase the troubling parts of our history at our peril; much better to leave them – Lee included – and surround them with explanations why they were venerated as part of an effort – that still continues – to promote the oppression of black Americans.

But Trump made no such distinction, and his statements over the last days have ensured there will be other Charlottesvilles, the white supremacists believing the president is behind them.

When this happens, policing must be better (keeping groups apart), and other political figures – as many did this past week — must condemn white supremacy in strong terms.

Local groups, including religious and human rights groups, have a key role here too.

Earlier this year, faced with a threatened, armed, neo-Nazi march in western Montana, the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation partnered with the Montana Human Rights Network to launch a “project lemonade” response. People made financial pledges, so if the Nazis marched, they would donate money (up to a specified limit) tied to how long the march lasted. The money would go to things the Nazis detested, such as security for Jewish institutions, hate crime training for the police, and educational efforts against bigotry. In effect, the Nazis’ speech wasn’t free – they were helping raise money for things to defeat them and their message.

The Nazis didn’t show up in Montana, after people from around the country made Lemonade pledges.

I encourage other local groups to adopt this same strategy. It’s a way for all of us to stand together against hate, even when the president does not.

Kenneth S. Stern is the Executive Director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation.

Leaders: Pope likely to postpone Pius sainthood

After a meeting with the pope, Jewish leaders said the beatification of Nazi-era Pope Pius XII likely would be postponed.

Pope Benedict’s move to make the controversial Pius XII a saint has outraged many Jews, who blame the late pope for staying silent in the face of Nazi atrocities and not doing more to help save Jews.

After their Oct. 30 meeting with the pontiff, Jewish officials said they were left with the impression that the beatification of Pius would be postponed until the Vatican opened up its World War II-era archives.

But the pope did not say as much explicitly.

Richard Prasquier, who heads the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, said he left with that impression from sideline discussions with Benedict’s entourage on Thursday, plus private conversations with the pope.

“It wasn’t said in an absolutely clear way. It was an impression that we had,” Prasquier said. He said the pope is interested in maintaining a good relationship with world Jewry.

“The pope has no desire to be in a position of conflict,” Prasquier said. “I think that the pope realized the beautification process created a conflict with the Jewish community. So I have a hard time imagining he’d start it up again in 15 days.”

The leader of the Jewish delegation, Rabbi David Rosen, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, was quoted in news reports as saying Benedict said in a conversation that he was “seriously considering” halting the sainthood process while Nazi-era archives on Pius remained closed.

Prasquier could not confirm that the Pope made such a statement.

Prasquier said most of the Vatican visit was devoted to explaining why technical difficulties stalled the opening of the 1939 to 1958 archives, which has been requested by Jewish officials.

“I told him I hoped the archives would help clarify things,” Prasquier said. “If the archives show exemplary things about his personality, then we’ll change our opinion,” Prasquier said of Pius.

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman welcomed news that the Vatican’s World War II archive may be opened.

“This is an important step toward seeking the historical truth about the pontificate of Pope Pius XII and his activities regarding the Jews during World War II. We stand ready to assist in this important project for both of our faiths,” Foxman said in a statement.

Letter from London: ‘An English Tragedy’ is timely on stage

The curtain parts to reveal a stage in the shape of a huge swastika. There is a perceptible gasp from the mostly older matinee audience in the London suburb of Watford.

World War II is still the most vivid memory in most of their lives, and the Nazi symbol to them represents, at the very least, nights spent under German bombardment from the skies — or worse. Watford has a significant number of Jewish residents and there are several synagogues in the area.

In an atmosphere of increasing British anti-Semitism and vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric in the left-wing press here, the play we’re about to see, “An English Tragedy,” couldn’t be more timely. Written by South African Jewish playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), it is the story of John Amery, son of a Cabinet minister, who along with the infamous Lord Haw Haw made propaganda radio broadcasts for the Nazis that were beamed to England.

Amery’s father, Leo, was educated, along with his friend Winston Churchill, at Harrow, one of the top English public schools, and at Balliol College Oxford. He married Florence “Bryddie” Greenwood, whose brother, Viscount Greenwood, sent the infamous Black and Tans to Ireland. The Amerys were connected to anyone who was anyone in the British establishment.

Following a predictable rise through the ranks of the English Conservative Party, the diminutive Leo, of whom it was said, “If he’d been a foot taller and his speeches a half hour shorter, he could have been prime minister,” became secretary of state for India in Churchill’s wartime Cabinet.

The Amery’s first-born, John, was bright, handsome and charming but a problem from the moment he was born. He followed his father to Harrow but was expelled twice, his housemaster declaring him the most abnormal boy he had ever encountered. He developed a penchant for champagne, grand hotels, fast cars and even faster women, as well as men.

Later, at a school in Switzerland, he told his tutor he financed his lifestyle by prostituting himself to older men. He took his childhood teddy bear with him to nightclubs and cafes, ordering drinks and food for the stuffed toy.

Evelyn Waugh may have used Amery as a model for the character Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited,” published a decade later. Amery’s contemporaries described him as having no sense of right or wrong or the consequences of his actions.

He married three times, each time to prostitutes. To this point, the story of Amery is not much different from that of a number of aristocratic young British wastrels, who inevitably drink and drug themselves to an early death. What makes Amery different is that in the mid-’30s, he developed an interest in extreme right-wing politics and an obsession with communists and Jews. He believed communism was an international plague carried by the Jews with the aim of bringing down the British Empire and taking over the world.

He fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War and eventually came under the influence of the French fascist Jacques Doriot. After he wrote violently pro-Nazi letters to the French press, the Germans realized that if they could parade the pro-Nazi son of the British aristocracy, it would be a considerable feather in the Fuhrer’s cap. Soon his parents had the dubious pleasure of listening to their son’s voice beamed from Berlin into their stately British home.

And that’s where the play opens, as the swastika-shaped stage — designed by Ralph Koltai, himself a Kindertransport refugee from Berlin to England — divides to suggest the different locales where the story plays out.

On Nov. 19, 1942, the Amerys listen to their son’s rantings. Under the infamous program opening, “Germany calling, Germany calling,” Amery proclaims, “Your patriotism is being exploited by people who for the most part hardly have any right to be English. Between you and peace lies only the Jew and his puppets.”

His broadcasts were never as popular as those of Lord Haw Haw (the Irish traitor William Joyce) and eventually the Germans dropped them. Amery then visited British prison camps in Germany, where he tried to recruit the prisoners to join his self-styled Legion of St. George to fight with the SS against the Soviets. He managed to recruit a grand total of 57 men.

In the play, which could eventually come to Broadway and the West Coast, the senior Amery is terrified that his son’s treason will ruin his career, but both Churchill and King George VI reassure him.

In 1945 on a visit to his hero Benito Mussolini, John Amery was captured by Italian partisans and sent to England for trial. He remained sanguine throughout: “I don’t suppose for a moment they’ll bring a charge against me,” he boasted to his captors, “but if they did, of course, my father would see to it.”

And indeed, his family tried everything in their power to save him. His mother even petitioned the king. But after the war ended in September 1945, Churchill’s government fell and Leo Amery lost his seat in Parliament.

Nevertheless, the Amery’s second son, Julian, then an officer in British Special Operations and later a member of Parliament, went to Spain and returned with documents purporting to prove that his brother had become a Spanish citizen and therefore immune to prosecution for treason against Britain. At the same time, a psychiatrist hired by the family pronounced him mentally incapable of knowing right from wrong.

Either defense might have worked, but when Amery entered the courtroom on Nov. 28, 1945, he stunned his family and the court by pleading guilty and was sentenced to death. The entire proceeding lasted eight minutes.

It was this part of the story that intrigued playwright Harwood. Why would Amery, who considered himself not only not guilty but a patriot, suddenly plead guilty?

Harwood had originally heard the Amery story from his friend, Dame Rebecca West, whose book, “The Meaning of Treason,” dealt with both Joyce and Amery. But when he asked West for an explanation of the guilty plea, she said Amery had done it to save his parents from embarrassment.