IT IS AN UNHOLY MESS we have to deal with today -- The Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Party of the United States and the Communist Party of the United States. They all came together more than a year ago in Greensboro, N.C., for a brawl and when it was over, five communists were dead and six Klansmen and Nazis arrested. Now the Klan and Nazi members are free. The Communists, of course, are still dead.
In a way, everyone seems to have gotten what they wanted from the incident and the subsequent trial. The Communists, including two widows of the slain men, boycotted the trail, refusing even to testify. They donouced the whole affair as a sham, predicted that the Klansmen and Nazis would be exonerated and had all their predictions fulfilled. They have more than martyrs now. They have proof that the system works the way they say it does -- almost not at all.
As for the other side, they, too, got something out of the trial. They can now claim, as they had all along, that they stood up for the rights of white people, that they did battle with the most evil of all institutions, the Communist Party, and emerged triumphant. Feeling that good must take the edge off hating.
I could not blame you if you took a pox-on-both-their-houses attitude and turned directely to the the funnies. There is very little here that is uplifting or has much to do with the way most Americans lead their lives. The people involved are strange or haard to undstand -- perched way out there on the lunatic right or the lunatic left or American politics.What the three groups had in common was almost total irrelevance to the political process and a willingness to settle their differences violently. In that sense, what happened in Greensboro is a total victory for all three, and a complete wipeout for the rest of us.
But what really happened in Greensboro is something we may never know. There is a witness who said that the Klan-Nazis started things off by shooting. There is yet another witness who said the Communists started things when one of their number pounded on the hood of a Klan car -- clearly a capital offense. The jury, meeting for seven weeks and deliberating for seven days, agreed with the Klan and the Nazis -- they had fired back in self-defense.
All we really know for sure is that five people were killed and that two opposing groups decided to fight it out in the streets. They came to Greensboro to rumble. They came with clubs and fists and with guns. People were killed and yet it turns out somehow that no law was broken. No one is guilty. No one goes to jail. No one pays a fine. Five people lie dead and it is neither murder nor manslaughter nor assualt nor, up to this moment, a violation of anyone's civil rights.
It's preposterous. In this country, political disputes are not settled in the streets with guns. It is not done. It is not allowed. It is forbidden. That's the sort of thing that happened in Germany before Hitler and in other countries where people gave up on the ballot and took their grievdances into the streets.
It would be meolodramatic at best to compare Weimar Germany with what happened in Greensboro, but it would be just plan wrong, not to mention foolish, to ignor the incident just because those involved occupy the nut house of American politics. At the very least, the Justice Department ought to seek indictments for violations of civil rights. At the very least, the state of North Carolina ought to consider how it is that two groups used in Greensboro the way cats use an alley and no one gets so much as a ticket. And we all ought bite our tongues before dimissing the fears of blacks that America is rethinking its commitment to civil rights. Events lately have not been reassuring.
The issue, after all, is not that mess we started with -- Klansmen, Nazis and Communists. The issue is not even some sort of preconceived notion that the dead have to be innocent and the living guilty. The issue, plain and simple, is that if two groups brawl in the streets and five people are killed and absolutely no one is convicted of anything, then that unholy mess of Klansmen, Communists and Nazis are not lunatics at all. Instead, they share a chillingly accurate view of American society -- justice is what you get with a gun.