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Shawn Vestal: Bigot bros put on a melodrama at WSU

Washington State University College Republicans President Amir Rezamand, right, and his predecessor, James Allsup, second from right, who resigned after attending the Confederate monuments protest in Charlottesville, Va., talk with unidentified students during a small rally for Free Speech organized by the Washington State University chapter of Young Americans For Liberty on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017 in Pullman, Wash. (Geoff Crimmins / AP)

They called it a “free speech rally.”

A better description of the gathering at WSU’s Glenn Terrell Mall might have been “Alt-Right Melodrama,” starring Washington’s most famous bigot bro: James Allsup.

“Get the crowd reaction,” Allsup eagerly told a fellow bro filming the event just as Allsup was getting ready to speak to the small crowd Wednesday, and that says as much as anything about the intentions of Allsup and the sphere of college-age white nationalists in which he has gained a measure of minor celebrity – they’re trying primarily to anger people, and they particularly relish angering people of color.

Why would that be, I wonder? Because they’re totally not racists.

Thus Allsup, in the guise of open discussion, taunted and provoked a couple of African-American women until one of them lost her temper. I find this understandable; I wasn’t there, but since Allsup provided video to the event, it’s clear what an arrogant, supercilious goon he is, so eager to tweak and annoy, that when he says to the women, “You think violence is funny, don’tcha?” and one responds, “I WILL KNOCK YOU THE (BLEEP) OUT,” you kind of hope she does.

She didn’t, but Allsup got what he wanted. He was quickly on Twitter with his prize: “BLM threatens me at free speech rally.” He followed up with several tweets, challenging the university to investigate the “girl who threatened to knock me out.”

Leftist violence! BLM thugs! Opponents of Free Speech! Antifa!

Like a gecko gobbling up a cricket, Racist Twitter eats for another day.

Allsup has become a leader in the new crop of racist young white nationalists, who gather like a school of well-to-do bullies online to chortle and mouth-breathe and act smart about dumb beliefs. He was president of the WSU young Republicans organization until recently, and he posts videos in which he “explains” why America was and should again be a place set aside for white people, among other subjects.

He attended the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally – traveled all the way across the country to march, spoke as an honored guest or something, and has become among the most visible faces of the “Jews Will Not Replace Us” brigade.

He insists he’s totally not a racist, of course.

The bigot bros are a new iteration of a sad old phenomenon. Recall, if you will, the video of White House adviser Stephen Miller, back when he was running for presidency of his high school, trollingly declaring that he was sick of picking up his own trash “when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us.”

In that speech, you see the defining spirit of the new goons: the arrogance, the casual but knowing embrace of prejudice as a way to provoke, an eagerness to enrage so palpable it feels like a mask for a deep lack of character, and a sense that whatever is being said is strategic and mockingly insincere – a performance meant primarily to elicit a certain response to be enjoyed later, back at the cross-fire with your bros.

Take that hateful smarm to the dark corners of the web, and you get Allsup and his cronies. They fly a lot of code, and employ a lot of winking and evasive symbolism and jargon, as though their ugly little hearts are hilarious. There’s Pepe the frog – a cartoon animal co-opted as a racist symbol. There’s the OK symbol – the OK symbol! – which has become a white supremacist sign. There’s the peace sign, used to communicate: Two genders!

On and on, the sneering, inside-joke quality to the bigotry gives it an extra sheen of ugliness – all of it jolted periodically by something even more overtly vile.

Allsup could not exemplify this more. Recall that one of the bigot bros in Charlottesville drove a car into a crowd of civil-rights protesters, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer. The other day, Allsup posted a tweet about the woman, indicating that perhaps she died of a heart attack. This is now a current theme in the bigot-sphere, and it is attached to unflattering pictures and suggestions about the woman’s weight – bigot bros are fitness fanatics! – and the assertion that she died of a heart attack.

Which is perhaps true, Heyer’s mother has said, but worth noting that the attack followed her being struck with a car by a white supremacist on break from the free speech rally at the Robert E. Lee statue.

Meanwhile, he’s upset about the “BLM violence” on the Glen Terrell Mall.

The rally was organized by the WSU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a national group of young right-wingers that likes to dance on the fringe and poke others in the eye. The rally was organized in response to a push for the university to define and limit hate speech – a movement spurred in part by Allsup’s high profile in Charlottesville and thereafter.

Speakers argued that hate-speech regulations are unconstitutional. In general terms, this is true and fundamental: speech is only free when the worst, dumbest, most offensive kinds of speech are protected. There is another legal question surrounding speech that incites violence, however, and that’s very much in play now with Allsup and the bigot bros, who do dearly love to pick fights and not long after one of their number seemingly murdered someone exercising their own First Amendment rights.

Allsup clearly loves the attention. Before the rally began, he tweeted out that he’d created a “meltdown” on campus simply by arriving – an assertion that was not borne out by his video. During the rally, he can often be heard putting in his two cents while filming others speaking. When he debates other students, he glances continually at the camera.

Every now and then, one of the people who stopped to watch uses their own free speech rights and hollers out that the speakers are “(Bleeping) Nazis” or “Nazi (Bleeps).”

Most heartening of all, though, is the response of the vast majority of students on the mall, doing what one suspects is the worst thing one can do to Allsup, his bros, and their circus of provocation.

Completely ignoring it.

Editor’s note: This column was changed on Sept. 8, 2017 to correct the second and third references to Charlottesville.

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