Her 2004 article about Greensboro was/is talismanic for me…
On November 3, 1979, in Greensboro North Carolina, members of the Ku Klux Klan, joined by several members of the American Nazi party in what the media later called the United Racist Front, gunned down a group of unarmed anti-Klan demonstrators in what the survivors have memorialized as the “Greensboro Massacre.” Five demonstrators – four of whom were white and one black — died in the incident, while nine others were injured. (…)
The Greensboro massacre was in fact foreshadowed and prepared by an incident which the Communist Workers Party staged the preceding July when the Klan held a rally in the small town of China Grove, not far from Greensboro. At that rally the Klan showed “Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffth’s epic glorification of the Klan. Members of the Communist Workers Party burst into showing in the middle of the film. Paul Bermanzohn led the group, which was armed with canes and two-by-fours. It was the Communists’ opening salvo in a revolutionary war modeled, in their imagination, on the Communist-led “liberation” insurgencies in the Third World whose dramas they aspired to enter. The Communist Workers Party members brandished guns and set a Confederate flag on fire, yelling “Death to the Klan,” in anticipation of the provocation to come. A gunfight nearly broke out, and the Klansmen loudly vowed revenge. The CWP were tremendously excited by the near-violence, and typically hungered for more, perceiving their ability to foment violence to be a validation of their cause. (…)
And the Communists needed that sledgehammer. They were continually frustrated in their organizing efforts because the workers of Greensboro remained stubbornly anti-union. It was out of the need to find a new strategy to advance the revolution that the decision emerged to raise their public profile by confronting the Klan. They picked the Klan as a symbolic target. Unfortunately for them, the symbol had a reality that was dangerous and armed.
The murderous Klansmen and supporting members of the American Nazi party were not more virtuous than the Communists who confronted them, and indeed not virtuous at all. But in Greensboro the Communists provided a symbol that persuaded them that a real war had been declared and that in this war they were the patriots fighting an anti-American threat that was global in scope. The Cold War had come to Greensboro, and Greensboro responded. Thus did two political melodramas converge in one terrible event. The Bolsheviks of the Communist Workers Party never appreciated that ordinary people, including many blacks, might prefer overt racists who were patriots to traitors who were not. The Klansmen were, ironically, the low end workers–machine operators, loggers, mill laborers–that the well-educated Communists were so eager to recruit in their union drives, the very people the Greensboro Bolsheviks were trying to save as capitalism fell into its death throes and the revolution took place.