Over the weekend a public shaming of sorts took place across several social-media threads and channels, concerning Greensboro tattoo artist Jason Spainhour, who posted a “Proud Boy” forearm text tattoo to his Instagram.
The Proud Boys — a violent, racist and chauvinistic faction of the movement loosely defined as the alt-right — sent a crew earlier in October into Manhattan, where they engaged in a street brawl outside the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side.
Spainhour has publicly apologized for it, to varying degrees of satisfaction from the outraged. And there’s some fertile ground to be mined here about the power of symbols, particularly in politically charged times, and the responsibility of those who truck in them.
But there’s a larger point here, one that goes beyond a local Proud Boy and a tattoo artist trying to make a buck, having more to do with the social climate, the speed of communication and the power of pushback.
This has happened before, of course. Antifascists have been around since the 1920s to combat elements like European nationalism, the Klan and Nazis. Back then they used picket signs and fliers to spread the word about the fascists among them and those who empowered them.
Now we just put them on blast.
These social consequences — created, developed and enforced ad hoc by the outraged public — become a powerful tactic when willing participants are able to be mobilized so quickly. It’s a modern-day version of tarring and feathering.
It’s not enough to plead ignorance when it comes to fascism, its iconography and philosophy, and those who perpetrate it. The policy is zero tolerance. And it’s time to take a side.
It wouldn’t have worked if people in Greensboro — a blue city with a history of civil-rights action and, not unrelated, race-related violence — didn’t sense an imposing threat in the Proud Boys and their ilk, who clearly have no place here.
The lesson of the Spainhour incident is this: Pushback works. Spainhour expressed regret on social media for his decision. Thousands of Triad residents now realize who the Proud Boys are and have become aware of their despicable presence among us; many are at work ferreting them out.
People are beginning to realize that it’s not enough to plead ignorance when it comes to fascism, its iconography and philosophy, and those who perpetrate it. The policy is zero tolerance. And it’s time to take a side.