A couple of weeks ago, a brave man named T. J. Helmstetter bravely confronted a Nazi who was eating a meal in a restaurant and found himself thrown by the pro-Nazi owners of the restaurant. The brave man then bravely took to Twitter to complain, before making his account private because apparently there is a large population of Nazis and Fascists infesting social media who believe in the Fascist idea that you shouldn’t harass strangers in restaurants just because they are wearing a hat you don’t like.
Okay, here is what really happened according to the Washington Post.
A public relations contractor who previously worked for the Democratic National Committee said that he was kicked out of Hill Country Barbecue Market after he confronted a diner wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat on the Fourth of July.
Around 8:30 p.m. — after President Trump had given his speech at the Lincoln Memorial as part of his “Salute to America” program but before the nighttime fireworks display — T.J. Helmstetter headed to Hill Country, a Penn Quarter restaurant that has been one of his favorite stops. In a text-message interview Friday, Helmstetter said that he, his partner and three other people found the place packed when they arrived.
“We had just walked in when I saw the guy sitting by the bar with the MAGA hat,” Helmstetter wrote. “I said, ‘Hey, are you from D. C.?’ ”
The man said no, and Helmstetter said he responded, “We don’t tolerate racism in this city.” The comment, according to Helmstetter, prompted the MAGA cap wearer’s companion to get up and jab her fingers into his chest. “I’m sure I said more things then, don’t remember what,” Helmstetter texted.
Did he curse at the woman?
“I’m from New Jersey, I’m sure I did. I might have said get your f—ing hands off of me or something like that,” he texted.
That’s when a Hill Country manager told Helmstetter, but not the target of his ire, to leave. On Twitter, Helmstetter said that Hill Country “chose to protect the Nazi’s right but not mine” to dine at the restaurant. Helmstetter then walked outside and called a Hill Country manager, who supported his staff’s decision to boot him.
In the cold accounting of Twitter, Helmstetter’s comment was getting “ratioed,” meaning his tweet had received more negative replies than likes. By Friday afternoon, before Helmstetter made his account private, his tweet had garnered nearly 2,300 likes compared with nearly 5,000 comments, many of them negative. Critics said Hill Country made the right call; they considered Helmstetter the aggressor and the intolerant one.
So no, Mr. Helmstetter wasn’t confronting a Nazi. He was bothering people who were minding their own business and trying to enjoy a meal. Wearing a MAGA hat does not make a person a racist who wants to bring back Jim Crow. Maybe they think America was great when you could have a meal in a restaurant without having some jerk decide that you should be made a pariah because he does not like what he assumes are your political opinions. Maybe they think America was greater when we did not call people we disagree with Nazis or Fascists, or when prominent people in the media did not tacitly endorse violence against supposed Fascists. Maybe America was better when you didn’t have to watch every word, for fear of losing your job or business for using the politically incorrect word for describing someone, and you could practice your religion without being called a bigot or having late-night comedians make fun of your beliefs. Making America Great Again could have all kinds of meanings, and I would venture to say that almost everyone wearing one of those hats does not want to bring back the bad things about our past, but restore the good things, like not calling people Nazis at the drop of a hat.
But if there is any confusion about just who the Nazis are out there, I will try to help make things clearer. If you believe it is your public duty to harass people who are minding their own business, you might be the Nazi. If you believe you should confront people at every opportunity, you might be a Nazi. If you believe violence against public figures, especially the president is ever appropriate, you might be a Nazi. If you denounce President Trump as a racist and anti-Semite, even though he is the most pro-Israel president we have ever had and is always bragging about the record low unemployment figures of Blacks and Hispanics during his administration, you might be a Nazi. If you even think of sending death threats to an eight-year-old girl because of her hilarious imitation of Alexandria Occasional-Cortex, you are definitely a Nazi. If you believe that smashing store windows and beating up people is a good way to promote your political viewpoint, you are a Nazi.
You may not share the precise political ideology of the Nazis and Fascists who took over Germany and Italy, but if you find yourself doing any of the above, then you are copying their methods and it is their methods that made them odious. You can have all sorts of ideas and opinions that others may dislike. but that is your business. It is when the ideas become actions that it becomes other peoples’ problem. A man wearing a MAGA hat in a restaurant is not a problem. A jerk trying to make him take it off is a problem. You can hate people all you want and that is your problem. When you act on that hate and performs acts of violence, even against people who really are Nazis and Fascists, then it becomes everyone’s problem, and you are the cause of the problem.
Maybe we should try confronting each other a little less and try talking to each other instead. Maybe if Mr. Helmstetter had simply talked to the man he would have learned that he was not a Nazi, but a decent human being. Maybe it’s worth trying.