LAST month a shudder ran down my spine, the likes of which I had not experienced in more than 50 years. I had just finished watching a YouTube video of Donald John Trump doing convincing impressions of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler at a white supremacist rally in North Carolina.
As he frantically waved his ridiculously tiny lizard-like hands about and ranted about Democrat Congress member Ilhan Omar hating America thousands began chanting ‘send her back!, send her back!’
Back where? To her country of her birth, Somalia. It wasn’t only Omar that this racist, misogynistic clown targeted. In total he directed his venom towards eight women, and as he named them the crowd went crazy. They also turned their anger on media representatives. When some reporters in the press pit remained seated during the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, Trump supporters angrily yelled ‘stand up, media!’ from the stands. And, of course, when this posturing nincompoop attacked the press, his imbecilic supporters cheered wildly.
The video projected me back to a time when – as a correspondent for the Star daily newspaper in Johannesburg – I was routinely sent to cover neo-Nazi rallies in various parts of South Africa.
In those days the target was invariably Jews, and on one occasion when I entered a hall packed full of white supremacists, a raging nationalist addressing the crowd stopped in mid-speech and demanded to know who I was.
When I replied that I was a Star correspondent, he asked why a newspaper would want to employ ‘a Jew jockey hippy.’ Where he got the idea I was Jewish, I have no idea, but the ‘jockey’ bit was clearly intended to insult my diminutive stature (5ft 4in). And the ‘hippy’ bit was aimed at my shoulder-length auburn hair.
There was a rumbling of discontent among the attendees that built up to a crescendo, with the crowd eventually roaring ‘throw him out!,’ ‘throw him out.’ As a gang of about a dozen enormous knuckle-draggers advanced on me, some wielding pick handles, I legged it out of the hall and ran towards the company Mercedes that was waiting for me outside the hall.
John, my black chauffeur, was leaning nonchalantly against the car, and when he saw the hostile neanderthals he said: ‘Don’t worry, boss, I’m holding a knife behind my back.’ This caused me to scream ‘if you show a weapon, we’re dead meat. Get in the car and drive. NOW!’
He did precisely that. But, as we were in a muddy field, the car slewed 180 degrees when he hit the accelerator and jet-sprayed the advancing thugs with mud and grass. ‘Ha!,’ chuckled John, ‘now they are all black.’
I would have laughed at that, but for the fact that the morons chose to give chase in their vehicles. John told me to calm down. ‘They’re not gonna catch us with beat-up old Ford vans and tractors,’ he correctly pointed out.
Fascism – which landed my father in an Italian prisoner-of war camp during the Second World War – is what caused me to flee apartheid South Africa in 1973, and there are no words to describe the sheer horror I felt when I saw it resurface last month in North Carolina.