A couple of weeks ago, noted “nationalist” activist D.A. King and I went a couple of rounds on Facebook after his stillborn appearance on a panel about a program that uses local police to enforce immigration law.
King, among his honorifics, is president of the Dustin Inman Society, which is pledged to advance the cause of immigration enforcement. King has also written extensively for VDare, which is an unmistakably white nationalist publication, the Harper’s Bazaar for the alt-right set. He counted the openly, avowedly racist (and recently deceased) founder of VDare, John Tanton, as “a personal friend and a personal hero.”
But, this isn’t actually about him.
“Chidi should find the courage to debate the issue without the ridiculous name calling,” King wrote, apparently oblivious to the incessant name calling he and almost everyone on the right does, and the mounting death toll in its wake as white supremacist murderers use that language as justification for their slaughter.
So be it.
I accepted his challenge. Oxford rules. I proposed a motion, that white supremacist terrorists were a greater threat to public safety than illegal immigrants. It’s the same issue he and I went a couple of round about on Twitter, briefly, about four years ago, when I was defending the settlement of refugees in Georgia.
He refused, and — in the spirit of his deep personal concern about name calling — said “HA!, You are proving my point. The issue is 287(g) and immigration enforcement. This is prototypical of a liberal. Change the topic. Too funny. How about Gwinnett Justice building and we talk about the issue at hand.”
Though I find it interesting that he apparently doesn’t think he can win the other side of that argument, I accepted his proposal of topic. But I want an actual debate. An honest debate.
And this is what one would look like.
The motion to be debated is “287(g) is not anti-immigrant.”
I say the debate should be held in Gwinnett County, where both of us, I suspect, think is the most appropriate place, the center of this issue in the American South. If we can get GJAC, great. If not, my preference is Georgia Gwinnett College, or barring that a church. I have an offer of such in hand.
The format would begin with a statement from the moderator and introductions. King would open for 10 minutes, and I would follow for 10 minutes. He would have five minutes for rebuttal, as would I. A moderator would then choose questions from the audience, alternating to whom they are addressed, for half an hour, balancing time between us. We would spend the next half an hour asking questions of one another, with the moderator asking follow up questions. Each of us would give three minute closing statements, first me, then you.
The audience would be composed primarily of residents from Gwinnett County. We can discuss a fair distribution of tickets: I would prefer they be given out to civics instructors at local high schools and universities. That would minimize the potential for either of us to stack the deck and for the audience to be filled with partisan ringers.
The audience is a jury. Their vote determines a winner. We would poll the audience on the debate question before the debate and after: largest shift in agreement wins.
The debate judge — the moderator and referee — should be an actual judge appointed to a Gwinnett court who has no meaningful record of public advocacy in either direction on the issue of immigration, if possible. Barring that, an anchor from a broadcast news station with coverage in Gwinnett or a moderator selected by the Atlanta Press Club, which conducts candidate debates for elected offices today. The goal is a neutral referee; I will entertain suggestions about how to achieve that goal.
We will cite our sources. An argument made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Any factual claim to be made will be backed by documentation, submitted to the moderator no less than two weeks before the debate. If either of us intend to challenge the veracity of a source during the debate, it is also to be done on the basis of documented evidence.
The debate would be recorded and broadcast live: over terrestrial broadcast if we can, online if that is not possible.
I said, “Let us conduct this as a lesson in civics as much as a partisan argument. We live and act in a moment where the increasing hostility between our political poles threatens the country. If this exercise is to have value, I think it will be in showing the power of reasoned, honest discourse — that people with very strong and strongly differing opinions can have a dialogue that need not be ugly.”
I also said, “If we are to debate, then, we will agree to refrain from ad hominem. Argue the motion, not the man. There are many, many things I might say about you personally to move an audience against your motion. I will refrain. I expect the same of you. The referee will have the right to declare a forfeit for failing to adhere to this.”
It seems like a lot of rules, doesn’t it? It’s really not. It’s a fancy way of saying I want an honest debate, one on neutral territory in front of a neutral, engaged audience, with a neutral referee, where neither of us can get away with lying or name calling.
Which is to say: exactly the conditions a demagogue would prefer to avoid.
This is what a fair argument looks like.
Facing the prospect of having to argue with respect for the truth, instead of simply being able to shout “Liberal!” in front of a friendly audience in 30 second sound bites, King made vague legal threats. He suggested I called him “KKK.” I did not. I did, however, describe his presence in a forum as “giving breath to every closeted Klansman looking to see his political views reflected in policy.”
Apparently, he thinks that’s actionable.
Then he said Gwinnett would be too far to drive.
Now when pressed on the issue, he simply says “I’ll get to you, George Chidi.”
Better people than me decided to sit out the forum he appeared at a few weeks ago, for fear of giving legitimacy to bigotry. But I think he should be challenged directly. The door is open. It will not close itself.
As long as it is open, other people will walk through it. Consider for example the recent comments by Brant Frost V (really … V?) on the “fertility advantage” of conservatives over progressives.
Set aside the obvious criticism for a moment, that there are lots of very progressive voters with very conservative parents. The language of birth rates and politics is deeply influenced by the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory which motivated both the El Paso and New Zealand mass murderers.
Frost also tried to raise money for D.A. King last year.
King has been arguing this issue for almost two decades. It speaks to the unprobed weakness of his position that he won’t back up his braggadocio with another appearance in Gwinnett, as I have asked. He apparently doesn’t think Gwinnett voters actually deserve the debate he says didn’t happen at this forum. He would rather play the aggrieved victim.
More to the point: it appears that he would prefer that his fellow travelers be allowed to keep playing the aggrieved victim. The risk of failure — or even a close contest in an honest debate — in a place people can see it is too great. It’s like the dumb Patriot Prayer rallies in Portland, where 50 neo-Nazis show up to find half the city there ready to roll. When your entire schtick is about the self-image of strength, being sent home with your tail between your legs is too much to bear.