Stand your ground set the stage: How we let fascism creep in

“Who Killed Jordan Neely?” 

Of course, everyone knows he was killed by the chokehold applied by an ex-marine who throttled him on a New York subway train; it’s on video. The real question is what killed Neely, and I can answer that.

Stand your ground killed Jordan Neely.

The stand your ground principle, as written into law, means if you’re doing something I don’t like I get to kill you.

If you’re trying to understand why the man in Texas killed his neighbors when they asked him to stop shooting his gun in his yard near midnight so their baby could sleep, the answer is stand your ground. If you want to understand why the man shot the Black child who came to the wrong house to pick up his young siblings, the answer is stand your ground. The girl who pulled into a driveway to turn around, the girls who approached the wrong car, the child whose basketball rolled into the wrong yard

The Florida school district that banned the book on segregation? Stand your ground. “I don’t like it so I get to kill it.” 

This is stand your ground culture. And stand your ground is stupid on its best days; most days it’s wicked. “Get off my lawn” is infantile, but at least it’s based in reality: it is after all your lawn and you get to say who gets to stand on it, even if you’re kind of a boob. And once the offending party gets off your lawn, tempers cool.  But what if you decide the whole world is your lawn? Like Hitler did, like Stalin did, like Mussolini did, like George Zimmerman did? 

The Reichstag Fire was a stand your ground event: a good excuse for the Nazis to feel threatened and do whatever they wanted to defend themselves.

So let’s go back to the outset: Kid with a hoodie walking through your neighborhood? The 911 operator tells you to leave him alone? You can chase him down and start a fight, and the minute he fights back you get to kill him because you feel threatened. That of course was Trayvon Martin, but if you think just ignoring the police and chasing someone down to kill him is as far as stand your ground goes, think back to Kyle Rittenhouse, who stood his ground by bringing a gun to a chaotic protest and killing two unarmed people when — naturally — Rittenhouse felt threatened. That’s a lot of ground to stand, but Rittenhouse was willing to drive across state lines to stand it.

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For a long time it was fun to note that the motto of conservatives and gun nuts was “Death before discomfort,” because they’re willing to engage in total political war over anything in any way less than exactly what they want. School library has a book you don’t like? Don’t tell your kid not to read it: demand that the entire school system remove the book from the library. Don’t like birth control? It’s not enough not to use it; you need to make sure nobody else can. Don’t like gay marriage? It’s not enough to not marry someone gay; you need to make sure nobody you don’t approve of can get married.

Stand your ground has been the principle of people who want to control other people forever. The Reichstag Fire was a stand your ground event: a good excuse for the Nazis to feel threatened and do whatever they wanted to defend themselves. Whether they were ever actually threatened, of course, is beside the point. They decided they felt threatened, and they took action they felt their nervousness justified. Stand your ground has been around even longer. The Nazis came to the American South to learn how to dehumanize a group they wanted to oppress, because the American South is the champion of stand your ground. It started, and for closing in on two centuries has defended, a stand your ground war. The southern states decided they were no longer going to play by the rules of the Constitution they had ratified, so they started firing cannonballs at Fort Sumter, a military installation of the United States. When the United States military had the temerity to fire back — to stand its ground — the southern states, of course, felt threatened, and to this day you hear Southerners of a certain cast describe “the war of northern aggression.”

We used to say that my right to swing my fist ended at your nose. Under stand your ground, noses have lost their standing, and if your nose makes my fist feel threatened, your nose should have known better than to start up with my fist. Or at least if your nose planned to be standing where I might conceivably swing my fist, well then it got what was coming to it. What was Charlottesville in 2017, after all, other than a stand-your-ground rally: we’ll choose a place, stage an offensive protest that guarantees a counterprotest, and then we’ll kill one of the counterprotesters because we feel threatened.

And here’s where I’m supposed to suggest a course of action. Regrettably I cannot. 

Stand your ground makes the standard fascist claim: everyone agrees except you, and we’re all defending ourselves against you. Once a group starts making that claim, it’s not going to end well for whoever their current “you” turns out to be. They’ve decided all the ground is theirs, and the rest of us standing anywhere makes them feel threatened. Since all the ground is theirs, we have no way to get off it. And since they feel threatened, we know what’s coming.

I suggest we prepare to stand our ground.


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