Inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s high-profile protests, athletes across the United States, including soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and scores of collegiate/high school-level athletes, have been refusing to stand during the national anthem to protest racial injustice against members of the African-American community. Although their actions have been met with praise from many Americans, they have also received harsh criticism from one especially powerful group: police unions. The Miami police union, for example, has urged the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to cease escorting the Miami Dolphins to their stadium on game days after three of their players knelt during the anthem. Beyond its implication that law enforcement is opposed to calls for justice, the request is also deeply troubling due to its fascist elements.
Fascism is notable for its refusal to tolerate any criticism of the state. As a political philosophy that prizes social order above all else, fascism leaves no room for dissent. If you want to enjoy the privileges of citizenship, then you must never speak out against the state. Thus, protection against violence — a fundamental component of every government — is rendered conditional. Honor the state, or face violence. The Miami police union’s response invokes this exact sentiment, ignoring the fact that kneeling during the anthem is peaceful, valid criticism against an institution that disproportionately harasses and kills black people. In the eyes of the police union, such an action demands the withdrawal of state protection. This view isn’t approaching fascism, or fascism-lite. It is straight fascism, no chaser.
Even more distressing is the sheer extent of this attitude. Read the Facebook comments and Twitter replies to any story about the national anthem protests, and you will see fascism bandied about with alarming nonchalance. Conservatives have not been shy about calling for punishment for those who dare to kneel — one even went so far as to publicly suggest that high school kids who didn’t stand for the anthem should be shot.
The idea that anyone who protests the national anthem is unpatriotic and disqualified from citizenship carries unique irony in the United States. Our inception was the result of decades of political unrest, culminating in the ultimate protest: the Revolutionary War. Nearly every instance of social progress in this country has resulted from protest or riot: Selma and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, labor strikes and the formal recognition of unions, the Stonewall riots and LGBT progress. There is a pattern here where citizens who disagree with a protest’s message choose to instead attack their right to assemble. Protest is the brick and mortar of the United States and when athletes kneel, they are maintaining this foundation. Crying foul in response is the real un-American action.
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