CLEVELAND, Ohio — U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman looked into the TV cameras Thursday and said something in a tone the law-and-order prosecutor usually reserves for cases involving drugs and violent crime:
White nationalists have stupid beliefs, and law enforcement will not hesitate to go after them if they break the law.
Flanked by police chiefs and law enforcement from Cleveland and beyond, the Republican U.S. attorney said the vast, vast majority of Americans do not agree with their extremist viewpoints. A self-professed history buff, Herdman invoked sacrifices made by soldiers in World War II and civil rights icons of the 1960s to prove his point.
It may be an obvious one, but the U.S. attorney for Northern Ohio felt he had to make it as he announced yet another case his office was taking that involved accusations of an extremist making threats.
James Reardon, a 20-year-old man from the Youngstown area, was charged with posting a threatening video on Instagram targeting a Jewish community center. Other social media posts and media appearance showed Reardon’s radical leanings, as he spoke of wanting a white ethno state and made statements about the “Jewish media.”
Reardon’s case is just one recent example. Federal prosecutors here have charged several cases with overtones of extremism lately. They include a couple in Toledo who planned to shoot up a bar, another Youngstown man accused of telling people online to shoot federal agents and a Toledo man accused of threatening to shoot Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The statement made by Herdman, an appointee of President Donald Trump, sticks out because of how straightforward it was and the level the force with which he gave it. The president himself has sometimes shied away from being straightforward and forceful in statements addressing extremism that creeps up more and more from the dark underbelly of this country. Notably, after a hate rally in Charlottesville in 2017 that ended with a white nationalist from Ohio plowing his car into a crowd and killing a 32-year-old woman, the president said there were “very fine people on both sides” at the rally.
Herdman didn’t mention the other side on Thursday. He didn’t feel he had to. To him, the other side is the rest of the country.
Now, let me speak generally to those who are advocates for white supremacy or white nationalism. I am talking directly to you.
The Constitution protects your right to speak, your right to think and your right to believe. If you want to waste the blessings of liberty by going down a path of hatred and failed ideologies, that is your choice.
Democracy allows you to test those ideas in a public forum. If you want to submit your beliefs to the American people and get their reaction, please be our guest.
Keep this in mind, though. Thousands and thousands of young Americans already voted with their lives to ensure that this same message of intolerance, death and destruction would not prevail. You can count their ballots by visiting any American cemetery in North Africa, Italy, France or Belgium, and telling the white headstones.
You can also recite the many names of civil rights advocates who bled and died in opposing supporters of those same ideologies of hatred. Their voices may be distant, but they can still be heard.
So go ahead and make your case for Nazism, a white nation and racial superiority. The Constitution may give you a voice, but it doesn’t guarantee you a receptive audience.
Your right to free speech does not automatically mean that people will agree with you. In fact, you have a God-given and inalienable right to be on the losing end of this argument.
What you don’t have, though, is the right to take out your frustration and failure in the political arena by resorting to violence. You don’t have any right to threaten the lives and well-being of our neighbors.
They have an absolute and God-given and inalienable right to live peacefully, to worship as they please, to be free from fear that they may become a target simply because of the color of their skin, the country of their birth or the form of their prayer.
Threatening to kill Jewish people.
Gunning down innocent Latinos on a weekend shopping trip.
Planning and plotting to perpetrate murders in the name of a nonsense racial theory.
Sitting to pray with God-fearing people who you execute moments later.
Those actions don’t make you soldiers. They make you cowards. Law enforcement does not go to war with cowards who break the law. We arrest them and send them to prison.
As I said, this case was made by a concerned member of the public and a responsive police officer. That’s all it takes to stop you. The men and women of our community are allied with law enforcement. And every single member of law enforcement took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Many of us have taken that oath several times, as police officers, as federal agents, as prosecutors, as military members, as elected officials. Together, we represent the best of what America has to offer.
Our skin is every color you can imagine. Our families come from 100 different countries and 100 different faiths. What makes us different doesn’t split us apart, though.
Those differences are insignificant compared to what is the same about us. We are united in our commitment to each other, our families and our communities. We are the living embodiment of everything you say is impossible. Together, we are united to ensure that you commit no further acts of violence in the name of your beliefs.
When you wake up tomorrow morning, no matter what time that is, I want you to remember something: You can’t set your alarm clock early enough to beat us out of bed. The men and women of law enforcement don’t wake up. We never go to sleep. We are always awake.
And arm in arm with the public, when your hatred leads you to break the law, we will do everything we can to be there and stop you.