A few weeks back America witnessed terrible anger and violence at a rally in Charlottesville, VA. The event was ostensibly organized in protest of the removal of civil war statue/support of free speech rights. Much has been written about this event, so I won’t go over every detail. Most know, after a few street skirmishes, a right-wing extremist drove his car down a crowded Charlottesville street killing one and wounding many others. It has also since emerged that another right-wing extremist fired a sidearm into a crowd of leftist counter-protesters.
Since then, the president of the United States and many other right-wing pundits have gone to great lengths to prevaricate their condemnation of the right-wing extremists at this event and create a false equivalency between the actions and motives of the parties on either side of the ensuing street battles. As one of the majority of Americans who disapproves of the performance of the president and questions his mental fitness to serve, I have little concern for the rubbish that comes out of his mouth. I’m also not surprised when those who get paid to take a side take a side.
However, I do become deeply concerned when I learn thoughtful, intelligent individuals who I count as friends are more concerned with criticizing the actions of the counter-protesters at Charlottesville and other events organized by right wing extremists.
That brings me to my friend Scott, and his recent thoughts on this subject, most notably in his post and the comments around “The Antifa, Reinvented” where he attempts to connect the Antifa on the ground in Charlottesville with those who have protested the presence of right-wing extremists on college campuses:
While it doesn’t exactly say so, the New York Times op-ed by Columbia journalism and sociology prof Todd Gitlin gives the clear impression that the Antifa arose to deal with the Naxos in Charlottesville. There is no mention of them existing before, and every reference relates to their fight against the fascism of white supremacy.
Were they not the same Antifa that trashed Berkeley last February to prevent Milo from speaking, pepper-sprayed a female Trump supporter, hit a guy on the head with a bike lock? Not if one reads Gitlin’s description.
So far no argument. In fact, I recognize the history of Antifa as extending all the way to their historical roots, fighting Nazism in World War II. However, it seems Scott disagrees with me there.
Cite? No matter. If it’s in the newspaper, it must be true, as is the rationale comparing the Antifa with the forces opposing the rise of the Third Reich. So what if stories in the old Grey Lady about the Antifa appeared long before anyone talked about Charlottesville or the Naxos. (Editors note: Scott is reticent to name the extremists marching with Nazi flags and chanting Nazi slogans Nazis, so instead, I believe, he uses the name of an island in Greece.)
He then goes on to criticize the New York Times author and editors for attempting to create a mythological, sanitized version of Antifa, apparently to fool us into thinking they are not individually capable of violence.
Will one op-ed be sufficient to cleanse the Antifa of its pre-Naxos violence? Will it be enough to distance progressives from the false equivalence? By providing the real estate to create this new myth, the New York Times is giving it a shot, even if it means ignoring its own stories. But then, the cause is so important that it’s worthy of being accomplished by any means necessary. Even reinventing the Antifa.
Scott’s entire post strikes me as intellectually dishonest. First, if you are allowed to extend the actions of individuals at Charlottesville to a criticism of the intent of the group across all events in recent history, then certainly you should also be allowed to extend the history of Antifa to include its origin. I believe this is true because Antifa’s stated intent and enemies have not changed.
Second, it is further disingenuine to assert that individual members of Antifa do not have the right to defend themselves if violence breaks out at a street protest. Or that the extemporaneous violence of people in a protest somehow taint the mission of an entire movement. I also think Scott’s gertruding a bit. Nobody in Antifa has come out to deny that they are ready for violence if it breaks out. Quite to the contrary, they marched into Charlottesville with sticks and mace, just as their sometimes armored adversaries marched in with clubs and guns and then weaponized a car with tragic, deadly results.
Yeah, but what about the flags?
If this post was a conversation, it would be fair of an interlocutor to point out I keep using the terms ‘right-wing extremist/extremism’ and ask me to defend that. If not, I will anyway. As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between groups A, B, and C if they all believe white people are superior to non-white people and America belongs to white people. This is a right-wing, extremist ideology and beyond my thoughts or feelings about the matter, right-wing, radical extremists are objectively dangerous, domestic terrorists.
Whether any of us like it or not, the United States of America declared a war on terror. Therefore, if you’re marching around an American street under the color of terrorists, you’re a terrorist. You’re the enemy. Yet, when it comes to white terrorists, our country seems quite disinterested in taking the battle to the enemy.
Finally, we get to my most important point, on which I believe Scott and I roundly disagree: White wing extremists are a clear and present danger to the safety of all minorities, LGBTQ, and they represent the vilest, leading edge of a much larger societal problem which I view as an existential threat to the American experiment. If law enforcement and the federal government are unwilling or unable to smash them into the ground, far be it from me to criticize those willing to put their bodies on the line to defeat hatred and bigotry.
While Antifa, on the other hand, are only a threat to fascist, white-wing extremists.
To me, hatred of hate is the only remaining, acceptable bigotry. Is this a paradox? Maybe. When in war, one must pick a side. I know which side I’m on.