2 of 2
I’m often approached by a guy on my ship, a young electronics technician, who wants to convert me to the alt-right. I don’t know what he sees in me that makes him think his message will resonate, but he does it anyway. He tells me climate change is a hoax, statistics pointing to the benefits of socialist economics are contrived by the government to maintain a bureaucratic stranglehold on the advancement of capitalism, and the left is systemically orchestrating the fall of modern society. When Republican Representative Steve Scalise was shot in the leg at a practice for an annual bipartisan charity baseball game by a man who’d supported Bernie Sanders, he knew it was a broader effort by a leftist organization called Antifa (short for anti fascism). The attacker, James Hodgkinson, turned out to be a kook with a history of violence. He unfortunately had espoused the ideology of the left, but that’s as far as it went. He was part of no leftist conspiracy to take over the United States, like my shipmate contended. He had acted on his own.
The conspiratorial right perceives a vast effort by social structures to subjugate it. It’s an ironic notion, considering that every liberal force in society is a natural outgrowth of resistance toward conservative movements to do that very thing to minorities and women. But many on the right seem immune to that irony.
Planning this sequel, I had discussions with two good friends of mine who lean libertarian. Each sees violence on both sides of the gap that divides white supremacists – embodied by neo-Nazis, American nationalists and militia members – and the counter-movement left – Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other groups who lay claim to democratic socialism and communism. Our conversations were sparked by the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the broadest terms, they are correct. Certain fringe members of the left have embraced violence, lighting limos aflame, breaking windows, burning empty business fronts and, in self-defense, punching Nazis. Conversely, the alt-right’s platform is to subjugate all who don’t look or live like them. This does not exclude killing the Other, a practice which planted its toehold firmly in the American conscious Saturday, which was not the first time. Just months ago, a white nationalist in Portland, Oregon, stabbed to death two good Samaritans and injured a third after they intervened when the white nationalist accosted a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab on a train following a white supremacist rally. There is violence on both sides. One of my libertarian friends was willing to bet that violence perpetrated by people who associate themselves with BLM and those who claim ties to white supremacy is similar in frequency and intensity, and he suggested a systemic approach to the argument. So that’s what I took.
Placed aside each other, the comparison between the two sides takes on ridiculous proportions that would be comical if not for the grave implication of the difference. The difference makes sense. One wishes to relegate the other to a wasteland, committing much the largest amount of social violence of any group; the other wishes to defend itself, barely noted in statistics about social violence against personhood.
Historically and today, the left is responsible for far less violence than the right. The New York Times writes:
White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.
Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.
Though Black Lives Matter is a more prominent movement and has been blamed (falsely) for espousing violence, observant alt-right members see a more particular threat in Antifa. DemocracyNow! hosted Mark Bray this morning, an academic who specializes in the long, ill-known and rich history of Antifa, provided some clarity. If you don’t know what Antifa is, here’s a quick (oversimplified) refresher. It could be characterized as a vigilante movement against the crimes of the far right. It has nearly a century of roots that intermesh the history of fascist movements, including those that engulfed Italy and Germany in the run-up to World War II. Antifa members are accused of authoritarianism because they are not capable to employ judicial process in their methods. What this criticism misses is similar to what criticism of the Black Panthers missed in the middle-late twentieth century. Like the Black Panthers, the Antifa movement studies and defends normal people against white supremacy and Nazism. As Bray noted to Amy Goodman, DN’s host, once these movements become relatively dormant, they focus on more systemic things like access to public resources for people to whom those resources have been historically denied. Antifa, which has advocated self-defense against Nazis and the denial of speaking platforms to those who promise to advance physical violence against minorities (Milo Yiannopoulos, for example), is a reactionary force. It is a Newtonian reaction to violence that is proactively employed against minorities. So when Antifa members punch Nazis, they see that violence as a necessary action against a threat to the vulnerable.
So considering the scope and nature of action on the left, it’s impossible to characterize the movement as violent. It is not violent. In fact, it is peaceful. The movement on the right if the opposite. It is inherently violent. It inherently asks its members to subjugate or kill people who don’t look or live like them.
In the terrifying context of our moment, I can’t say what matters any better than I did with one of my libertarian friends over email about what Donald Trump means to us. I’ll leave you with it:
Trump, Spencer, Duke, et al., intend to incite violence. Trump encouraged police officers to brutalize those they arrest. He’s well aware that of the nature of his following, that his supporters will take his fusillade against the media as statements in support of violence against reporters. He can’t claim the inciter’s ignorance. He’s born witness to what his statements inspire, on the campaign trail and in the hundreds of hate crimes committed in his name in the week after his election. Spencer and his ilk actively advocate the subjugation of women, blacks, gays, anyone who doesn’t look or live like them. They are advocating violent crimes against people’s bodies, which becomes a public safety problem. An imperfect analogy is yelling “bomb!” in a crowded theater, which is has historically not been considered protected speech under the First Amendment. But the reason that example is imperfect is because it doesn’t have the systemic effect of what the alt-right movement is doing. On a systemic level, this takes away a person’s agency. You are not hurt directly when Trump’s commands his following to beat you up, and you can calmly argue with Trump the illogic of his words, but you will be hurt when his imps lay their hands on you.
This is different from the defense against gas chambers. It is is different than the fleeing of demands for papers. In fact, it is the cause of all those things, the thing that forced it. I’m wrong in that first paragraph. There is not violence on both sides. There is violence on one, self-defense on the other.