SYNDICATED COLUMN: After Charlottesville: If You Fire a Fascist, You Are a Fascist

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No one should get fired for his political beliefs.

Not even a Nazi.

I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent “Unite the Right” hatefest in Charlottesville last weekend are being outted on social media. Attendees have been on the receiving end of threats and doxxing. It was reported that a restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter.

Needless to say — it ought to be, anyway — I hate Nazis, Klansmen and the like. Their politics and values are exactly the opposite of mine. Still, no one should get fired for parading around with torches like it’s Germany in 1933.

This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Nothing in our outdated constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004 an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for President bumpersticker on her car.

It is a free speech issue.

A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter wearing a swastika tattoo or spouting racist views. But if Top Dog restaurant can fire a racist dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or you for whatever you happen to believe.

Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal.

As usual during episodes like this, many of my comrades on the left are gloating over what they see as righteous payback against violent, racist, anti-Semitic thugs. This makes me very uncomfortable, and not just because it feels more like the “human flesh search engine” online vigilantism that occurs in China than the United States, where the MYOB ethos ruled pre-Internet.

I don’t deny that this is personal. My political views have gotten me targeted by a cyberstalker/identity thief, fired by a publication over a cartoon that appeared elsewhere in another venue, and defamed by a newspaper as a favor to the local police chief who’d cozied up to the paper’s publisher. I’ve been working long enough to observe that what’s popular today gets censored tomorrow, and vice versa. Top Dog gets plaudits for firing a fascist; next time the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat.

“Historically it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP, than it was to be affiliated with the KKK,” notes Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University.

A sign posted by Top Dog management reflects a common view: “We do respect our employees’ right to their opinions,” the sign read. “They are free to make their own choices, but must accept the responsibilities of those choices.” The question is, should those “responsibilities” include being deprived of a livelihood?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve read some variation of “You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.” Or, as Oli­ver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1891: “A employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

True, that’s the law. What I’m arguing is that free speech will always be meaningless until the constitution is amended. Workers should be protected from retribution for what they think and say.

We live in a capitalist society. Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will employment. And jobs are hard to find. Under these conditions, without workplace free-speech protections, employees must think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a party or slap a bumpersticker on their vehicle. Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.

For many others, though, the answer is “no, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. A 2016 Harris poll found that 33% of U.S. employees are afraid to talk about politics at work. Increasingly workers have to worry about losing their jobs as the result of talking about politics outside of work too.

The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think the fact that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.

Just don’t talk about this around anyone who knows where you work.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


  • > No one should get fired for his political beliefs.
    > Not even a Nazi.

    I dunno, there is a legitimate line there somewhere – although it should somewhere to the left of where it is now.

    Would you want a Nazi in a management position in your company? What if he’s got gays, blacks, Muslims, and Jews working for him? Even if you don’t care about your employees, the guy is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I’ve seen several corporate mission statements recently to the effect that their values involve diversity and inclusion – here you’ve got a guy on TV saying that he doesn’t believe in those things.

    Or maybe you see someone arguing that kiddie porn should be legalized – and you recognize him as someone who works at your kids’ daycare.

    We’ve already got cops running around who believe blacks are inferior. I’m going out an a limb here and stating that racist cops are more likely to shoot brown people. I’m not too sure they should be allowed to carry a gun, let alone a badge.

    Political beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum, they are a reflection of the people who hold them. @Ted – should people who believe that cops deserve better treatment in the press be allowed to manage editorialists?

    • Idk. I could have sworn some of my former supervisors WERE Nazis.

      • “Arbeit macht frei.”

      • @andreas5

        “Death to all extremists!” 😀

        Thanks for the well-thought-out reply. Those are, indeed, the problems with trying to enforce diversity-vs-safety in the workforce. (And precisely why I do not want the government in charge of such assessments.) It’s a gray area that challenges my preconceived notions – Ted always makes me think when he writes about Free Speech.

        I assert, however, that there is a difference between trying to screen out ‘harmful’ people vs. ‘people you disagree with.’ As a proud, freak-flag waving loony lefty, I of course know the difference better than those damned extremists.

        > but how exactly do you propose to screen them out?

        You read someone on social media writing about how kiddie porn should be legalized, you notice that the advocate works at your kids’ day care.

        You see someone on TV at a neo-Nazi rally, talking about how everyone except straight white males are inherently inferior. This person is a manager at a business you own, they manage women, blacks, gays, Muslims and Jews.

        They’ve now identified themselves while exercising their right to free speech and without a screening process.

        What do you do? (if anything)

        While the talkers in my examples absolutely have the right to speak about their beliefs, I have an obligation to my employees and children to keep them safe from harm.

      • @ CH

        Well, thank you for taking my reply in stride 😉

        I understand that the (hypothetical?) situation of finding oneself confronted with the monster-of-the-week living next door. I’m reminded of the scene in the docudrama Spotlight when one reporter suddenly realizes there are Catholic child services throughout the city, (into which they just learned repeat sexual offenders get recycled) including one right next door, and then tries to ensure his family stays clear of them.

        Still, the example with the Nazi and the not even pedophile but pedophile-material-liberalization advocate remain somewhat unconvincing, I feel.

        Pedophiles are the supreme scapegoats and bogeymen in our society and it is quite hard to come to their “defense” without getting tainted with the same brush. Let’s just note that the vast majority of child sexual abuse occurs within families and friends, not strangers, and that the majority of convicted pedophiles have apparently themselves been abused when they were children, just to blur these (a bit too self-righteous) black-and-white certainties.

        Needless to say, I’m not advocating pacifism/passivism in the face of such a situation, still, where is the difference to a pot-legalization advocate being categorized as being beyond the pale as they are pushing dangerous drugs onto or innocent children [clearly not true, but then again, did you provide a proper rationale of why those characters are dangerous?].

        Thus riding to the attack as the knight-in-shining-armor may have some beneficial effects but will also only reinforce the self-image of the other as unfairly oppressed minority.

        Marshall Rosenberg (a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust) told a story about being inundated by anti-semitic drivel by a cab-driver, one of the harder tests putting into practice his ideas of non-violent communication. In the end he did manage to keep calm and connect to the cab driver and got a remark in that he was saddened the driver had such bad experiences with Jews since he had such wonderful experiences. This may not sound like much but I really can’t think of another angle how one could conceivably actually begin to change minds.

        [Of course, the driver probably didn’t even have any such direct experiences with Jews (but pointing that out would just lead to defensiveness…). After all, one standard left reading of anti-semitism is as a projection of the evils of the capitalist system into a concrete “other”, i.e. an outgroup. Islamophobia has inherited a lot of anti-semitism, albeit without the banker aspects.

        So perhaps even such outpouring of blind hate could lead to a “teachable moment”, if the visceral emotions underlying them can be expanded into a systemic critique of the class system, channeled into more subtle forms, and redirected to more proper targets ;-)]

      • @A5 –

        > did you provide a proper rationale of why those characters are dangerous?

        Fair enough.

        The admittedly fuzzy line is about the probability of causing harm to my company or my employees. (which is pretty much the definition of ‘dangerous’ but there you go ;-)). I’ll illustrate by answering my own questions. (I invite you to answer them as well.)

        The “Pot Advocate” (ooo! Good one! BTW) Pot is not all that dangerous & legalization helps keep it out of the hands of children. Discriminating against an advocate is wrong because he isn’t hurting anyone. He might show up stoned, and if he does I’ll deal with it then.

        The “Pedo” – I would yank my kid out of there and let the management know. While I do lean towards sanity on the issue, I don’t want my kid subjected to the risk. I don’t *know* that this person might offend, I don’t even know that he’s actually a pedo himself. But the risk/benefit goes the wrong way when children are involved.

        The “Nazi” – I’m going to break this into four cases:

        1) I find a manager reading neo-Nazi literature. I’d remind him that as a manager he was expected to treat all employees equally. I’d send him off to diversity training. The first time I so much as *suspect* him of discrimination he’d get a stern warning that the next suspicion would be a firing offense. This *IS* being a little unfair to him, in that a non-known-Nazi would be given a bigger benefit of the doubt.

        2) I find a worker bee reading. I’d tell him he’s expected to treat all his co-workers equally. Diversity training. As he’s not a manager, his beliefs don’t have as much impact on those around him. But he’s never going to be a manager because I now *know* his beliefs directly contradict company policy.

        3) I see a manger on TV ranting about how X is inferior and should be thrown out of the country. He’s waving a swastika flag and wearing a CrazyCo T-Shirt. His keycard would no longer work in the morning; not because he actually harmed an employee but because he besmirched the CrazyCo name. I DO NOT want people associating CrazyCo with Nazis, and I DO NOT want employees worried that they may be discriminated against by their manager.

        4) I see a worker bee on TV, waving a flag but without the T-Shirt. He’s still got his job, and he gets the same warning as above. If at some point he becomes publicly associated with the company, I issue a statement about how we welcome all views even if we disagree with the lowlife scumbags who hold them.

        The “Editor” – Same as the Nazi, I keep an eye on him and if he fires someone he disagrees with I will need solid proof that that person screwed up. So long as he does his job right, I have no cause to fire him. But then, on my paper a pro-police-state type would probably never rise that far anyway. As an editorialist, sure fine – we get diverse views on the opinion page which is what we wanted.


        I fully agree that actually interacting with “other” is the best way to housebreak bigots. That’s one reason city-dwellers tend to be more accepting than rural types – they interact with “other” on a regular basis. They have found through direct experience that “other” isn’t so scary after all. However, I do not believe that I (the company owner) have any obligation to pay them during their education.

    • @ CH

      If you want a diverse workforce, shouldn’t that include some right-wing, even Neo-Nazi types (how else would they ever learn – and if you give up on them you’re giving up on a sizable chunk of the 99%…)?

      This is a version of the problem: “Son, there are two types of people, enlightened pluralists and dangerous extremists of various stripes.”
      “How do you know which ones are dangerous extremists?”
      “That would be them that separate people into 2 categories: us vs. them.”

      Certainly I would like to see fewer Nazi types wearing cop badges – but how exactly do you propose to screen them out? Once you have established a screening system that could then go on to cause all kinds of havoc later on. Of course, in the real world, there already are all kinds of police academies and you might well find that right-wing attitudes will get re-enforced in training as well as on the job which often boils down to quickly distinguishing between “inherently” good and bad citizens which their job is to serve and to control, respectively.

      The upshot is we would need to humanize the selection and education system of police, really all positions of power. While we’re at it, why not dissolve some of those positions and distribute power and control more widely or even eventually abolish them altogether? All this at least sounds more complicated than the deceptively simple “let’s blacklist Nazi types” (which itself makes you sound like a proto-fascist in a way so perhaps you may want to blacklist yourself?) 😉

      In my experience, if you scratch even the surface our capitalist system of owners, controllers, and “employees”, you’ll get into such queer contradictions. That system pretty much explicitly normalizes treating people using the logic of the spreadsheet.

  • You lost me, Ted.

    “This isn’t a First Amendment issue.”
    “It is a free speech issue.”

    Isn’t the First Amendment inclusive of free speech?

    • They’re not the same. The First Amendment protects us from government censorship. Free speech necessitates protection from non-government censors like businesses.

      • A nice distinction — I wondered the same thing. Thanks for clarifying!

      • Ted, I re-read your article in light of your clarification and also clicked on many of the links to come to a better understanding of the distinction between the two.

        Having done so, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that your current legal battle against the entities in Los Angeles have little to no chance for success because of the way the laws are written. 🙁

  • Well, technically, the Top Dog guy “resigned”(but you know what it’s like when your boss says resign or be fired)

    yes, outing has a whiff of McCarthyism.

  • Great column Ted.

    Glenn Greenwald did a great column on this too.

    Every situation is different and a strict rule of thumb will never fit all of them. The situation has to be weighed. And one’s own situation coming into the new situation is also a factor.

    Dresden suffered severe bombing (partially) as a consequence of Germany’s toleration of racial intolerance.

    Germany was not punished by war for what Hitler said but for what he organized.

    The following story, however, made me smile:

    “An American tourist suffered minor injuries in the German city of Dresden on Saturday morning after he was punched and beaten for repeatedly giving Nazi salutes.

    “Germany has strict privacy laws around releasing the identities of individuals involved in criminal cases, and police on Sunday gave no information on his background.

    “Authorities are also looking for the assailant, who apparently was passing by a cafe in the eastern Neustadt district of Dresden when he witnessed the American man’s gestures and attacked him.”

    • Maybe the State really isn’t the best organization to entrust with making judgments on whose ideas should be allowed to exist or should be suppressed. The State always excuses its murders, apologizing through its successors only decades after the fact, if at all (while these successors rack up their own crimes, to be apologized for by their successors).

      I agree with the First Amendment in that the State should voluntarily—voluntarily only because it possesses an overwhelming capacity for violence and is unlikely to be coerced without paying an overly severe price—restrain itself from participating in the speech-approving-business and stick to maintaining its order and interests over the people by applying its violence judiciously (Ha Ha, as if) over the people in order to moderate violence between the people.

      I don’t think that hate groups should be given room by the hate-targeted to organize, particularly those targeted based on individual traits such as skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. An organization of pedophiles, for example, can be construed as a hate group for its particular form of violence against children, and its organization should be disorganized (Be good or good bye organized religion).

      I don’t think people who belong to a category of possible targets of organized hate should refrain from using disorganizing tactics against others who are determined to disorganize them.

  • Work place political discrimination:

    Lewis advised Kaepernick to keep his activism “private.” The most publicized example of employment discrimination appears to have no end in sight. Kaepernick’s example shines light on why Black lives will never matter as long as the social relations that sustain the US imperialism remain intact.

  • The ACLU is taking heat for defending the alt-rightards’ right to free speech. I do have to admire Ted and the ACLU both for standing up for the rights of the wrong side.

  • «Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal.» Economic reprisals – black listing – has always been among the tools used to keep people in line and long antedates Tail Gunner Joe 1.0 ; how many people have not lost their jobs and been deprived of their livelihoods for, e g, attempting to organise a labour union at their place of work, or publicly espousing the odd notion that US wars on people in Asia and elsewhere were possibly not divinely ordained ? Reducing people to penury without having to use the courts or the military is a wonderful tool, which the ruling class well knows how to use – the interesting thing is that it becomes an issue in the corporate media not when it is used against the Left (as it definitely is still today, consider the case of Norman Gary Finkelstein and books like David Joel Horowitz’s The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America), but when it is used against racists and fascists….

    Here in Europe we have laws, variously enforced, against what is termed «hate-speech», which, of course, constitute a direct intervention into what may publicly be asserted. On the other hand, we also have laws that prevent people from being fired without good cause ; here in Sweden what happens is that when a company wants to get rid of an uncomfortable person, for example, an all too active union safety officer, he or she is fired, the case goes to the special court which takes charge of such matters, and the company in question is sentenced to pay a fine and compensation to the victim – but he or she doesn’t get his or her job back. But in a country where «fire at will» clauses seem, as Ted has adumbrated above, almost to be enshrined in the (real) Constitution (I understand Montana to be the only exception), there is no balance at all between the interests of employers and those of employees. The United States needs a federal law which protects employees from being fired without due cause, but it strikes me as rather unlikely that such a law will be enacted in a country where union representation in the so-called «private sector» is now less than 7 % (i e, on a level with what it was in 1932)….


  • Well I see the merit of your argument that people should not be fired for the private political activities conducted thousands of miles away but are not product to the workplace. In addition people should have the right to organize relevant to the job within the workplace. Here’s where I see this particular case somewhat differently.

    1. the guy has Nazi hand tattoos. Top dog uses transparent government mandated food service gloves.
    This is a very small independent storefront. This is not a large workplace with multiple employees some of whom deal with the public more than others. It is essentially a one person operation in which there is not physical space for more than one for at most two people behind the counter and the entire place is no bigger then the counter times three. Customers hand money to employees and employees hand hot dogs directly across a small counter. This is an open kitchen environment where even passerby on the street could clearly see a Nazi hand tattoo on an employee. What do you think of the rights of workers and the public to enter a public accommodation for food service without being subject to racist death threats whether direct or indirect in the form of an openly displayed endorsement of racial genocide in the workplace? Do women have the right to be free of sexual harassment in the workplace? What about the free-speech rights of misogynists, should they be allowed to display anti-female hate & pro-rape threatening messages in the workplace? What if they only express genocidal misogyny outside the workplace but I Wiley covered in the press so that their coworkers and the public cannot rationally feel safe in that environment? Does this mean you are opposed to laws and rules requiring a work environment to not be hostile and unsafe in terms of bigoted or harassing speech based on gender, race, religion, orientation etc, in the actual workplace?

    2. does the public have a right to boycott businesses who’s political activities they disagree with?
    Is it Fascistic for people to boycott Chick-fil-A and hobby lobby for their bigoted political activities?
    If an individual franchisee does not agree with the politics of the founders will it be fascism in your view for them to make a statement against that? Would it be fascism for them to leave the franchise because of public bigoted political activities on the part of fellow employees, franchisees or corporate owners? If these activities are not fascistic how can it be fascistic for an employer to not allow open displays of genocidal bigotry towards employees and customers in the workplace?

    3. If the controversial speech in question is not directly expressed in the work place like it was in the top dog Nazi case but does receive widespread media attention (as in top dog and other cases)’ so that the public and fellow employees are made aware of a workers publicly demonstrating to advocate racial genocide against many of their fellow employees and customers as well as others who share those particular ethnic or other characteristics that are disliked by Nazis, is it fascism to disallow the person making these public racial death threats at the top of their lungs screaming directly into scores of TV cameras in public from having inside access to the fellow employees and customers not to mention handling money after they have gone out of their way to publicly demonstrate on television that they hold the views that are not merely offensive or controversial but explicitly publicly advocating mass murder based on race gender orientation and so forth?

    5. What if the employee in question was publicly marching and shouting at TV cameras advocating not just for genocide against unspecified Jews and African-Americans and gay and trans people but rather publicly advocating ( screaming at TV cameras) for directly murdering your other employees and customers on some other basis besides their race or gender orientation, would you then still be fascist take if you fire them for that?

    6. Do you believe employees and customers of all races gender orientations and ethnic or religious backgrounds should be allowed to enter public businesses like hot dog stands and other lunch counters without facing death threats for the color of their skin or the spelling of their last name or who they sleep with?

    7. Do you see any validity to my perspective that while private political opinions and public political activities that are not done in the workplace or in front of television cameras especially if conducted by employees who do not deal directly with the public and which not include actual racial death threats are peoples private personal prerogative, and workers should not be fired for that, but political opinions that are expressed in the form of public racial genocidal death threats especially when shouted directly into TV cameras or displayed in the workplace in the form of T-shirts or tattoos require at least balancing the free speech rights of that worker against the rights of other workers and customers to be free of discrimination and death threats in a public accommodation as per the civil rights act?

  • Two final questions,

    1. should a Holocaust survivor who owns a small business not be allowed to fire someone for publicly advocating for a new Nazi Holocaust on TV?

    2. When the political views be expressed our genocidal do you see any difference between private political views and organizing versus publicly marching and shouting genocidal slogans into TV cameras?

    3. Does this also mean that you would view laws against libel, slander and threats of murder or grave bodily harm to be violations of free speech? Should extortion blackmail death threats libel and slander all be allowed under free speech? If the death threats are on the basis of a political ideology does that make it free speech? What about libel and slander, if the LA Times had a political agenda in libeling you should that then be allowed because it’s a form of political expression, i.e. Free speech?

    4. If someone voluntarily goes into public with a sign, appears without a mask in a public group marching and shouting slogans into phalanxes of television cameras and others point this public activity out publicly, can they truly be said to have been doxxed or exposed? Does this mean documentary filmmakers and independent photojournalists should not be allowed to publish anything without signed releases from every person they film in public demonstrations?

    • Sorry for typos but I can’t seem to find an edit function here 🙂

      • There is no “Edit” function and no chance to “Delete” a comment. Ted has his reasons.

        What I have found to be of benefit (especially if intending to write a long post such as yours) is to write it in WordPad, where one can easily make corrections, and after proof-reading, copy & paste it to this thread. Admittedly, sometimes I neglect to follow my own advise and live to regret it.

      • “advise” s/b “advice”

        See what I mean?

  • PunditusMaximus
    September 7, 2017 2:26 PM

    My challenge with this is that it is absolutely job related.

    If I’m anything resembling a functioning workplace, I intend to follow ordinary civil rights procedures and avoid lawsuits for hostile work environments. These are legal requirements that are explicit parts of any job.

    These guys went to violent racist con 2017 and participated in mass felonies while being filmed. There is just no way as their bosses that I would possibly be able to trust them to follow company procedures on diversity or customer interaction.

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