I write in response to the Jan. 27 article "Montclair GOP club seeks apology from councilman over comments.”  I feel compelled to speak out against the dangerous attitudes of the local GOP club and what it portends for all our futures. 

I appreciate the Montclair Local giving voice to diverse viewpoints — even in these truth-challenged times I harbor some faith that the marketplace of ideas will ultimately prevail.  Yet I’m stricken by the GOP club’s flabbergasting reply to the letter from Councilman Robert J. Russo, who in response to the horrific assault on our Capitol on Jan. 6 made a sensible call for “good Republicans in Montclair to repudiate this shameful conduct and continued conspiracy talk by President Donald Trump and the majority” of House Republicans.

Russo’s words somehow offended the GOP club, whose president, John Van Wagner, says Russo owes them an apology for asking local GOP activists to repudiate the Jan. 6 assault on our very system of government. He argues the club is not an “appendage” of the state and national GOP, but rather a club predicated on individual liberties, which “abhor[s] collectivism,” “dehumanization,” and the denial of “free thought.” Van Wagner somehow views the request to join in opposition to the actions of insurrectionists wiling to dehumanize and even kill people to further their political aims as a greater assault on liberty than the attacks themselves. 

I’m shocked that the local GOP club sees a greater affront in them being asked to publicly condemn the riots and all they represented than in the riots themselves. And assuming he’s right that the local GOP is not an “appendage” of the state/national parties, so long as they call themselves the “Montclair Republican Club” they are at a minimum aligning themselves with the principles of the larger party. If they refuse to speak out against bad actors within their larger party, they are either endorsing those views or too cowardly to publicly oppose them. Political parties, by definition, are a place where individuals come together for collective action. You can’t have it both ways — if you affiliate with the party, you will be judged by the actions of the party. 

There’s a simple solution to this problem — oppose the insurrection in whatever terms fit your worldview. Just take a stand. Nobody but Van Wagner seems to be saying that we hold all Republicans responsible for the Jan. 6 attack. He did say (seemingly as an afterthought) that they condemned the riot. But his actions suggest he supports the underlying lies that precipitated it. Van Wagner claims Russo is a non-partisan seeking to “neutralize political opposition.” But shouldn’t all community members speak out in defense of the very liberal values the GOP club claims to defend? If the recent attack on our electoral process by the former president and the attack on Congress by his supporters is not a time to stand up for one’s values and for the god of the country, then I don’t know what is. 

Nathaniel Kolodny


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