On May 16th, Lori Haigh, the owner of an art gallery in San Francisco displayed this painting by Guy Colwell, depicting the abuse of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison:
(If picture does not show up, go here to see it)
Within 2 days, someone threw eggs at the gallery window, dumped trash on her doorstep, and began leaving death threats on her answering machine. Here’s what happened next:
So she decided to remove the painting, but still things got worse.
One day, someone walked into the gallery and spit in her face.
And then on May 27, someone “knocked on the door of the gallery, then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose, and causing a concussion,” AP said. Two days later, she still had a bad black right eye, with purple on the cheek next to the eye, one bandage over the nose, and another over her right eyebrow…
“This isn’t art-politics central here at all,” Haigh told AP. “I’m not here to make a stand. I never set out to be a crusader or a political activist.”
On Saturday, May 29, artists, poets, and other defenders of the First Amendment rallied in support of Haigh, her gallery, Colwell, and free expression.
“In effect, the attackers, instead of writing ‘Jew’ on the window, wrote ‘Artist’ on the window,” poet Jack Hirschman, who spoke at the rally, tells me. “The attack was really something out of the Brown Shirts.”
His historical parallel is exactly on point. Never let anyone tell you that fascism can’t happen in America. As Bertram Gross pointed out in his seminal book Friendly Fascism over 20 years ago, all of the relevant conditions for fascism to manifest itself are present in the United States, and if his book was updated today he would undoubtedly note that those conditions are more ripe now than when he wrote it.