I apologize if my blog causes you some emotional whiplash today, dear reader. In my last post I wrote about Mr. Rogers and the importance of liking people just the way they are. Today I’m going to the opposite extreme, because I’m disgusted.
I just read an NPR article entitled, “In Florida, far-right groups look to seize the moment”. The hateful imagery drew me in. It was of a swastika intertwined with a cross, and it was projected on the side of a building that I know all too well. It is one of the skyscrapers in Jacksonville, Florida, a city I lived in and struggled to free myself from for 28 years. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more grateful for leaving that place, something like this crops up.
It seems that a white nationalist hate group has taken to projecting its disgusting messages on buildings with a laser projector so they can be seen from miles around. This story would have me outraged no matter where it was taking place, but it really hit home for me because one of the photographs in this article shows one of the drawbridges I used to work on in the background. If I were still there, I’d have had a front row seat for these odious messages, whether I liked it or not.
I absolutely refuse to use those images in this blog post. If you want to see them, you can go to the source article. I also refuse to utter this group’s name, because that’s what they want, isn’t it? They want to normalize hate imagery, and recruit more gullible, stupid young white males to their cause. Not today. Not on this blog.
By investing in a laser projector, these pathetic individuals can pretend that their message is more mainstream than it actually is. The truth is that this 40-foot-tall abomination was being projected by 3 or 4 pathetically misinformed young men in masks. They were huddled in some back alley while they played with their expensive little toy. They posted a lookout and were prepared to run away like the mangy curs that they are if they saw any sign of law enforcement approaching. That’s proof positive that they know that what they’re doing is wrong.
Advertisers of more benign products would kill for this type of exposure. No doubt thousands of people saw this crap on the night in question. I bet those boys were dancing with glee.
It seems that they like to project a variety of messages. They are flagrant antisemites, and they seem to be suffering from some sort of homosexual panic, given their targeting of LGBTQ+ people, and especially, at the moment, drag queens. Their white supremacist, pro-nazi agenda is sickening to witness, and it appalls me that so many young men, who could otherwise be a much-needed force for good, will instead get sucked in to this warped agenda.
I was surprised to learn that the City of Jacksonville has an ordinance the makes it illegal to project images onto a building without the owner’s consent. Unless that city has changed drastically from when I was fortunate enough to leave it in 2014, its city council, along with its law enforcement agencies, demonstrate by their behavior that they have that same racist agenda. I suspect these back alley slime balls won’t get caught because no one employed by the city really wants them to get caught. I also suspect that the only reason the ordinance passed was that the big corporations who own these buildings and work hard to maintain their brands were screaming bloody murder. (It’s a sad day when I side with corporations.)
Unfortunately, even if Jacksonville decided to enforce this ordinance, it probably wouldn’t stand up in court. As this article explains, hate speech only stops being free speech when it causes specific, imminent, and serious harm, like a genuine threat that causes fear in a specific group and it makes this group believe it will be subject to violence.
Sadly, in this country, it seems that hate speech is okay if there’s not an immediate call to action involved. If this group were stupid enough to project, “Let’s kill all the (fill in the blank) TODAY!” they might be in trouble. But statements like, “Drag Queens want to indoctrinate your children!”? No problem. With such a dramatic platform, this tiny little group with its tiny little minds will find ways to carry on and gain new members who actually believe in conspiracy theories and race wars and stupidity in general.
Frankly, I couldn’t care less whether hate speech is free speech or not. ANY speech which causes a targeted group to not feel safe enough to peacefully walk through the world is not okay. The yardstick should be, “Does this speech or imagery cause legitimate fear in an individual or group?” Swastikas do that. The sign below does not. It’s that simple.
I’m quite sure that Florida is a relatively safe place for hate groups to do their recruiting, since Governor DeSantis has been known to espouse this type of rhetoric himself. He has managed to get books pulled out of elementary schools if there’s even a hint of perceived scandal or the tiniest shred of diversity in them. He promotes the conspiracy theory that critical race theory is taught to minors (it isn’t and never has been.) Like these groups, he’s all about manufactured hysteria because the actual truth, that people who encourage fear and hatred and incite violence make up the vilest portion of the lunatic fringe, would never gain them any followers.
Hate is kind of like leprosy. It causes portions of society to wither and fall away. Hate groups may think they’re getting what they want when this happens, but in the end, the system as a whole is diminished because of it. It becomes deformed and ineffective. It’s not healthy.
Upon hearing this story, I immediately thought of Club Metro, a gay club that was located just a few short blocks from the home I used to own in Jacksonville. I went to a few drag shows there, and imagine this: I did not see any young minds being warped during these events! Metro had a welcoming, all-inclusive adult atmosphere, and I enjoyed my visits. It was one of the few LGBTQ+ venues in a city full of people who are forced to remain closeted most of the time for their own safety.
I wondered how Metro was faring under the increased atmosphere of hate since 2016. I was not surprised to find that it has closed its doors. An article from 2021 said that they weren’t able to survive the pandemic. Instead, drive in movies were being shown in the parking lot, and they hoped to move the club to a smaller venue.
We may be acting like the pandemic has slacked off, but the hate certainly hasn’t, and I’m sure that played an unspoken part in Metro’s demise as well. An article from early 2022 said that the original location is now a self-storage facility, and the club’s website no longer exists.
That news made me want to cry. There are enough soulless self-storage facilities in this country. What we really need are more hate-free zones. I was thrilled to see that the nearby Boot Rack Saloon is still going strong, but the place was so tiny that I doubt it was able to pick up the Metro slack. According to an out of date LGBTQ+ travel guide for Jacksonville that I found during my lazy hetero internet search, it is one of the few gay bars left in a city with nearly 1 million people.
Pathetic. I’m glad I no longer have to immerse myself in the fetid pool that is Jacksonville, Florida. I might have caught something incurable.
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