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Communists and Fascists are once again fighting in the streets. Young men and women are latching on to a cause greater than themselves and using it as a excuse to get out there and fight for a cause. The country is gripped with the question is it better to punch a Nazi in the face or beat a Communist with a base stick?
The answer is not to beat anyone with a stick or otherwise. As always, Fascists and Communists are motivated as much by hopelessness and aimlessness as they are by any ideology. They need a breakdown in civil society to succeed, with that breakdown, the closely related weeds of Fascism and Communism can take root. To get some answers, let me relate to you a story of the night I found myself surrounded by a group of Fascist, criminal thugs in Romania in the year 2002 and how I dealt with them.
I was a on a mission trip to Romania in July of 2003 and I was there to be a group leader for an Evangelistic English Camp in the mountains near Brasov. We were working with some Baptist churches in the Romanian city of Arad, though we had some Romanians from Cluj there as well. I was paired up with a young school teacher, Jenny, from America, and in our small group we had some troubled kids. The leader of the three troublesome boys was named Michael and the Romanians all warned me about him. He was a criminal and thug and we needed to be careful around him, because he didn’t like Americans. He was only invited to the camps because he had a respected relative in the Baptist church and she kept hoping Michael would change somehow.
By the second day I saw that Michael had no respect for the camp and no respect for the Baptists in the camp and was indifferent, at best, to me or Jenny. I decided that I needed to do something about it and on that second day in the middle of the lesson that Jenny was teaching Michael got up with his two friends to smoke. Smoking was against the rules, leaving the group while Jenny was teaching was against the rules but Michael cared little for the rules. I decided that enough was enough and I quietly walked up behind the smoking trio and grabbed Michael in a bear hug picking him off his feet and carried him back to his chair, set him down in it, and said, “This is where you are supposed to be, don’t get up again.” Deprived of their leader, Michael’s two cronies were in shock and I told them to put out their cigarettes and sit down and they did.
Picking Michael up in a bear hug was against the rules too but sometimes to reach across the cultural divides you have to find a common language and for Michael and me it was rule breaking. For the rest of the camp time Michael became my friend and told everyone, that would listen, the story of my bear hug. Michael and most the Romanians at the camp already spoke good English and they were just trying to improve their English by picking up idioms, slang, and modern terms from the Americans there. Michael did not repent at the camp but he prayed with me often and we talked a lot and learned that not only was Michael really a thug and a criminal but that he was very proud of it. We bonded a lot during the camp breaking certain rules and becoming friends in a way but things really got interesting when we returned to Arad. We were there for a week and I went to the Strand (a strip of bars, cafés, strip clubs, concert venues, and carnival style games set up in the city) to meet Michael and some of his friends.
I was with a teen from my group, we will call him Jack, and I had a Romanian teen who was to be a translator, we will call him Christian, for me and he was a Baptist from the family I was staying with. After meeting some of the kids from the camp and hanging out for a while I found myself suddenly surrounded by thugs, tough looking young men with buzz cuts, in some cases tattoos and with a scattering of weapons. Christian freaked out and Jack was ready to run but I had already spotted Michael and we greeted each other with joy.
Michael then preceded to show me around his town. I steered him clear of strip clubs and the like, only allowed us one beer in a beer park and Michael indulged me in my desire to avoid the more obvious vices and sins the Strand offered us. After checking out the concert of some British pop group, where Michael’s friends started an unwanted mosh pit, we went to sit down in a café and talk.
When we had got to the Café the “gang” started to push people away from their tables to take their seats and I intervened again. “We are not pushing anyone out of here.” I said. Michael had told them all the story of the bear hug and so they had enough and the biggest guy in the gang decided to test me. This big guy called me out and I found that the gang had formed a ring around us very quickly and were cheering and the big guy offered his arms for me to grip. The moment nearly unmanned me. I had no idea where this was going or what would happen and it hit me that I had teen with me. Jack for his part just moaned, “They are going to kill us” which made Michael laugh. But I was freaking out about that that very possibility right then.
However, a quite but firm feeling came over me and the thought popped into my head, “Stand firm. Stand.” That was exactly what I needed and I took the grip we tried to throw each other for several seconds and I broke through and nearly threw the big guy who scrambled to keep his balance. Right after that near throw, the big guy broke the grip and shouted, “He is a good one! An American bear.” Michel was very, very pleased and slapped me on the back and said, “Sit, sit my friend.”
So there we were sitting with some Fanta all in circle and with Michael’s gang, Michael said to me, “I am going to explain Serbia to you and tell you why America is wrong.” Now Jack was really sure they would kill us and said so. Jack knew me well to know I was too stupid to keep my political opinion to myself.
It was in that conversation that I found out for sure that Michael and his friends were not just a gang of thugs but they were full-blown fascists. They were the Pan-Slavic form of fascists. They supported the Serbians in the Balkans war and were quite cross with the West for siding with the Albanians against Milosevic. They also deeply hated Gypsies and thought all the Roma were scum that deserved to be beaten at the least and killed in the extreme. They hoped that Russia would crush the Muslims in Chechnya and restore Slavic glory in Europe. While this was still the era when Bush was looking into Putin’s soulful eyes, these Pan-Slavic Fascists had looked at that cut of Mr. Putin’s jib and liked it very much indeed.
Having been kind of a fan of Serbia since reading about their heroics in World War I, I knew more than the average American about Serbia, history, Albania, and the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. Which is not saying much, I grant. When Michael and his friends found out that I also was well schooled in the perfidy of the Croats I won them over to my side quite quickly. I explained how Milosevic was more of a Communist thug than Nationalist hero and that he had made it impossible for the West to support him even though Kosovo was absolutely and in every way Serbian territory. They were very open to the idea that the old Serbian Communists could not work the media and that their casual slaughter and genocide of innocent men, women, and children would make it impossible for the West to support Serbia.
Having won a sympathetic ear from them I then launched into the gospel of Jesus Christ and how that Gospel brought hope to all of mankind (probably one of the only times in Evangelical history that extensive knowledge of Serbia’s war with the Ottoman Empire was vital to evangelism). Some of the gang took off then but most listened and Michael was thrilled and invited me home. Christian, who had been the butt of many a joke and of some physical abuse from the gang told me that Michael lived in a bad part of town and things could get rough. He was clearly scared, as was Jack but I decided that we would go anyway.
This part of town was as rough as advertised and I had to intervene to stop a confrontation with two Gypsy men from become violent. I won that one only because Michael backed me up strongly. As we walked though this rundown neighborhood of Communist-built block apartment buildings, gang members started peeling away until we got down to just six gang members plus Michael and my little group of three.
After the boys cleaned up some, Michael’s mother was home, we went up to the apartment and we talked about Christ and his Gospel for a couple of hours with the Michael and his friends deeply interested in what I had to say. All of them were vaguely Orthodox Christians but they had never heard the gospel the way I had put it and it intrigued them. We ended by praying together and I prayed for Michael’s salvation and Michael for his part swore to go to church and follow Jesus always. Jack was falling asleep, the constant fear and mild danger he had been in exhausted him so while I wanted to stay with Michael longer, I decided Jack needed a bed and we went home. Christian, my translator, in contrast was on fire and full of energy.
It was two in the morning as we picked our way through the broken concrete and back alleys of Arad to find our way but home. The whole time Christian was amazed by what had happened that night and how I had stayed in control of the situation despite being surrounded by Michael’s gang of Fascists. Christian let Jack take his bed and Christian stayed in my room and we talked until dawn about what had happened and how it had changed his entire view of Christianity.
Some things became clear to me. Romania, especially in 2002, was not a properly functioning State. This led a lot of young people to despair. Some of the ones I met had fantasies of a king returning to rule the Romanian people, some thought that Pan-Slavic fascism was something to believe, something that could be achieved. The rules in society were not enforced, thugs could assume that if they pushed people around in public the police would not show up or if they did they would not be a problem. At the same time they liked it when I first stood up them and then later when I strove to understand them and Michael and many of his friends were open to alternatives. They did not despise the Gospel but no one had really bothered to deliver to them. Jesus Christ is a cause that can still inspire and offers a message that can defeat Communism or Fascism and all the evil and violence those beliefs bring.
Especially in America and at this time know that when those young men and women go out on the streets and fight for Antifa or the Alt-Right, they are most likely not true believers, they are simply people who want to do something that matters. It has to be intense, have a wider meaning, and it has to make them test themselves. People have always wanted these things.
For some, in America, our wars are far away and not for any particularly good reason, political leaders constantly disappoint and seem to only care about beating one another politically. Our economy is highly specialized and unstable, causing many to not understand how to approach their problems in life or even now how to start something difficult with a chance of success. When people feel this way, they can latch on to any message that calls them to action, that gives them something to do that is visceral, intense and requires courage.
Do I want to just stock some shelves at Walmart doing the “right” thing or do I want to be out on streets punching and taking a punch for the Cause — a big deal that gets me on TV, that matters, that is real? For some the answer to the question is the go to the street and fight.
If we let them, these cancers can grow and carry meaning for people that they do not merit. We have the ability to share a different message and give a better cause to out young people that is worth being pursued, one that requires courage and strength. But we only get that message out if we bother to engage with the Antifa and Alt-Right and met their needs and show them a better way.
The problem of the Antifa and the Alt-Right is small today but if it is not countered with a better message, it can grow and one day many will have to sacrifice much to set things right again. Make sure that those you know in the Radical Left or the Radical Right now there is a better way and a better cause worth fighting for, superior to the twisted-mind disease of the totalitarian 20th century.