On “Free Speech”, Speaking Up, and Getting What You Want

Something interesting popped up in my social media feeds recently. A friend of an acquaintance posted a video that shows him being asked to leave a bar that I have often patronized in Dallas, called Double Wide.

The accompanying caption and other posts presented the issue thusly: Guy A was drinking at bar when he saw Guy B, who was sporting a leather vest that had many different patches affixed. From the video, it’s clear that at least two of the symbols have associations with the Nazi military: an SS double lightning patch and a German Iron Cross.

Now, it’s hard to say exactly what happened from the video, but it would appear (and nothing from Guy A’s testimony seems to challenge this) that Guy B wasn’t being a shit or saying terrible things or trying to fight anybody. It would also appear that Guy A got into it with Guy B over the patches, and presumably the resulting scene was enough of an ordeal that Guy A was asked to leave the bar. It’s unclear whether or not Guy B was ejected as well.

SO. The social media shitstorm that followed proposed the narrative that Double Wide was “harboring Neo-Nazis,” which seems to me an outsized reaction.

Before I press on, I want to address what some uncharitable readers might already be¬†interpreting as my refusal to condemn blind racism/bigotry and the excusing of such. I’ve tried to be more pro-active about condemning shitty behavior from my fellow white people, especially in the wake of all this All Lives Matter anti-Kaepernick bullshit.

That said, I think context is everything, and that the full-court black-and-white press that so many of my more lefty progressive brethren seem to be supporting lately is becoming counterproductive.

Consider this business at Double Wide. I do not know any of the people involved in this incident personally. However, I’m let with a few distinct impressions after watching the video.

1. Yes, Guy B is a Douchebag

Wearing Nazi gear, like wearing Rebel Flag bullshit, may be constitutionally protected, but it’s still a dick move. Even if you don’t know what the symbols mean, you should probably be a little more aware about what you are pinning to your clothes. Which leads me into point two:

2. Guy B also Doesn’t Seem to Know What The Symbols He’s Wearing Mean

In this age of Trump-tardation, racists are more emboldened than ever before. So it’s a little surprising to me that Guy B, when confronted by Guy A on camera, adamantly denies that he’s a white supremacist. He doesn’t have any intelligible explanation for why he’s wearing an SS patch and an Iron Cross, but he seems pretty intent on not being perceived as a white supremacist or a Neo-Nazi (“I’m not wearing a fuckin’ swastika!” he shouts at one point). Wearing the symbols of the German Nazi Military is certainly a weird way to go about that, but like the old saying goes, never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity.

3. The Way Guy A Tried to Get What he Wanted Totally Didn’t Work

Again, I didn’t see what prompted the ejection, but I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts it involved Guy A screaming at Guy B, the confrontation escalating, and staff being alerted, who then told the guy screaming at another guy to leave. Now, it’s totally possible that he approached management, was told that there was nothing he could do, and then went back to confront Guy B. In either case, it seems like nothing was accomplished other than Guy A (and possibly Guy B) being ejected.

So my question is, why? Why lose your shit over somebody who seems to be so stupid that they don’t even understand what an “SS” Patch means? I would definitely feel differently if Guy B was screaming racist stuff or trying to start fights, but honestly, if he’s just chilling in the corner drinking beers, I find it hard to criticize the bar’s choice to leave him alone, assuming they even knew he was wearing that shit in the first place. It’s entirely possible and maybe even likely that nobody else in the bar noticed besides Guy A.

Which brings us to the larger problem this whole thing casts in sharp relief: why do we keep falling back on these kinds of tactics to try and effect change? It seems clear that none of it is working, ever. Guy B probably came away from that encounter with no thoughts other than “Why is this dude yelling at me, what a prick” and Guy A is now angry that a bartender working for tips wanted a potential fight out of the bar he was responsible for.

If it were my place, I’d like to say that I would probably ask somebody wearing that kind of stuff to not come back with it next time, and make sure they knew why I was telling them that. The thing is, if I owned a bar and somebody started screaming in another patron’s face (especially if I owned a bar in a state where lots of people carry guns), I would definitely move them outside as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, if I owned the place or if I was the bartender, I’m sure I would be much more genuinely concerned about Guy A’s issue if he, I dunno, approached the staff calmly and coherently and explained the situation and why he had a problem with it so I had a chance to decide what to do while not also trying to stop a potentially violent altercation.

Think about it, are you more likely to listen to somebody who comes up to you at the bar or writes an e-mail the next morning and says “Hey, so there is/was a guy in your bar wearing some pretty offensive Nazi stuff and I wanted you to be aware and encourage you to not allow that kind of stuff in here”, versus a guy who just screams “why are you protecting Nazis” over and over again while shitfaced?

The entire thing seems like an outsized reaction to what really should’ve ended with “Ugh, look at that stupid asshole wearing Nazi shit,” or “Dude, you realize you’re wearing Nazi shit, right?”