The black protester who was caught on viral video hugging a squirming and uncomfortable neo-Nazi outside white supremacist dump truck Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday is acknowledging that he could just as easily have hit the guy (an act in which someone else had earlier indulged) but decided to go a different route in order to bring about change in his own way.
“I could have hit him, I could have hurt him ... but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love,’” Aaron Alex Courtney told the New York Daily News. “It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple.”
The unidentified neo-Nazi was seen at Spencer’s speech location wearing a T-shirt covered in swastikas. His not-so-subtle outfit obviously drew the attention of the crowd, which included protesters who screamed, punched and spat on him before Courtney wrapped his arms around him.
“Why don’t you like me, dog?” the 31-year-old high school football coach out of Gainesville could be heard asking the man. “Give me a fucking hug.”
Courtney could be seen attempting to get the man to hug him back, but the man just stood there, limp and uncomfortable, as Courtney embraced him.
Courtney told the Daily News that he didn’t know who Spencer was when he first received the state-of-emergency notification on his phone Monday. (Would that we were all so lucky as to not know who that little troll is, Aaron.)
Surprised to learn that Spencer was a person and not an impending hurricane, or that the notification wasn’t about a kidnapping or something of the sort, Courtney started to do research.
“I found out about what kind of person he was, and that encouraged me, as an African American, to come out and protest. Because this is what we’re trying to avoid. It’s people like him who are increasing the distance ... between people,” Courtney told the Daily News.
Courtney gave about four hours of his time Thursday protesting and was getting ready to leave when he saw Mr. Nazi himself causing a commotion among the other protesters.
“I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts, and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?” Courtney recalled.
Of course, the man had no response and nothing to offer in terms of conversation. Courtney said the lack of response and acknowledgment shook him to the core.
“After beating around the bush and avoiding my questions, I asked him, I pleaded with him, I almost broke out in tears, growing increasingly angry because I didn’t understand,” he said.
However, Courtney, whose father is a bishop, decided to take some of his father’s teachings and offer the man a hug.
“Something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love. Maybe he never met an African American like this,” Courtney said.
It took some cajoling, but, Courtney said, “I reached over, and the third time, he wrapped his arms around me, and I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life.’”
Courtney then said he asked again, “Why do you hate me?”
The neo-Nazi’s response, according to Courtney? “‘I don’t know.’”
“I believe that was his sincere answer. He really doesn’t know,” Courtney added.
The man was eventually escorted away by police, but not before taking a photo with Courtney’s friend.
“I honestly feel that was a step in the right direction, for him to take a picture with a guy that he hated when he woke up this morning,” Courtney said.
Well, one thing’s for sure: Courtney is a much better person than I am. Whether his act of faith had any impact is quite another story.
Read more at the New York Daily News.