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Yes, Antifa Is Very Dangerous — But Not To Fascists

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Yes, Antifa Is Very Dangerous — But Not To Fascists

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Trump, Berkeley

Call me unromantic, but I disliked a lot about the fabled “Sixties” the first time around. Some of the music was good, but otherwise 1968 was among the worst years in American life. The center nearly failed to hold.

As if the Vietnam War were not bad enough, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy made it feel as if America’s democratic institutions might not survive. Eager for “revolution,” hothouse warriors in the SDS Weather Underground faction did everything possible to promote anarchy—from rioting to setting off bombs. During the 1968 Democratic National Convention, pitched battles between street fighters and Chicago police brought chaos and a massive voter backlash.

The most immediate result, brilliantly chronicled in historian Rick Perlstein’s book Nixonland, was the criminal presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

So I found it heartening to see Perlstein take to Facebook to scold the latter-day anarchists of “Antifa.” There was nothing subtle or scholarly about it.

 “Stop destroying the left, you infantile [bleeps],” Perlstein wrote.

Can I get an amen?

In a subsequent post, the historian quoted an eyewitness account of  Antifa goons assaulting KKK-style marchers at a “white-power” demonstration in Berkeley, CA, of all places.

“Yesterday, at the anti-Alt-Right rally in Berkeley,” Leighton Woodhouse wrote, ‘I watched groups of masked Antifa members in Black Bloc formation swarm individuals who were apparently antagonizing them, and pummel them with their fists, feet, and flagpoles. When the victims tried to escape, they were run down, and in at least one case, cut off by the Antifa mob and beaten down some more.”

A similarly vivid account of Antifa bullying by photojournalist Mike Kessler appeared in The New Republic. The irony was that until the masked, black-clad social justice warriors appeared, the Berkeley crowd had decisively outnumbered, ridiculed and shamed “alt-right” marchers as the pathetic goobers that they are.

Much as thousands of peaceful citizens on Boston Common had so outnumbered white supremacists a week earlier that they took off their little bedsheets and went home without even trying to harangue the crowd.

That’s all that ever needs to happen.

But I don’t even need to turn on Fox News to know that Sean Hannity and the rest of the merry band of Trump apologists on right-wing media are playing up Antifa as the moral equivalent of Bolshevik revolutionaries.

Well-meaning journalists such as the Washington Posts Margaret Sullivan and Atlantic Monthlys Peter Beinart are certainly correct to argue that there’s no real comparison between left- and right-wing political violence in the United States. The “alt-left” Trump described scarcely exists, and had almost no role in the Charlottesville tragedy.

Beinart cites Anti-Defamation League statistics showing that 74 percent of politically-motivated murders in the US since 2007 were committed by right wing extremists; versus 2 percent by leftists.

The news media’s tendency to soft-pedal the far-right motives of killers from Timothy McVeigh to Dylan Roof has long been an instance of willful blindness.

Journalists on the left correctly fear that won’t be the case with Antifa.

Also on Facebook, Lindsay Beyerstein explains that she’s covered many protests halfway sabotaged by Antifa antics: “I always thought of them as self-indulgent parasites because they’d show up at demonstrations organized by other people and capture the news cycle with petty property destruction.”

 But when masked intruders quit breaking windows and start carrying weapons, things can change fast. “Paramilitaries facing off in the streets is God’s gift to fascism,” Beyerstein adds. “Not everyone likes racism and militarism, but everyone likes safety and order. If we’ve already got safety and order, fascists have nothing to offer casual supporters.”

But she predicts that if real “violence comes the backlash is going to come down as hard against the entire left as it did against the alt right after Charlottesville.”

That’s certainly what happened during the Sixties.  

eMy late father taught me an oft-repeated expression I always took as the essence of Americanism. “You’re no better than anybody else,” he’d growl, “and nobody’s better than you.” There was more than a little Irish nationalism in what he said, but he definitely meant it. So do I.

Most Americans do too. Even under Donald Trump, the great majority remains deeply attached to the fundamental premises of democratic citizenship. They want to believe that we’re all in it together—America, that is—and they react against anybody threatening that belief.

So that when Alabama segregationists attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators with clubs, tear gas and dogs, the majority sympathized with the victims—and brought about the end of Jim Crow. But after rioting tore Chicago apart in 1968, they went the other way. Hard.

Nobody needs the help of Antifa militants and the idiot professors making excuses for them to reject the KKK.

But let them start real trouble, and we’ll all end up wishing we’d never heard of them.

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Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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41 Comments

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth September 5, 2017

    The lack of moderation in response to injustice has only served as a fertilizing agent for hate groups. It’s a sign of nobility and being just to oppose injustice—but when force is used as the method to oppose what is wrong, then this dilutes and nullifies the indignation. The difference between the havoc caused by right-wing extremists and the use of force by the “antifa” group is that one wrong preceded another wrong.

    The best way to fight injustice, bigotry, white nationalism, and racism is to use strong and persuasive arguments, showing good deeds by initiating positive interactions with all members of society, along with having strong moral leadership and response by civic groups and law-enforcement.

    Nihilism feeds off of nihilism, pouring gasoline on a fire only increases the fire.

    Antifa tactics provide an excuse for Hannity and FOX-like entities to continue their blind adoration for Donald. Using the “water” of a coherent argument mixed with a calm righteous indignation is the best weapon against Trump and other depraved individual/groups which are deleterious for the well-being of humankind.

    Reply
    1. rhetoric_phobic September 6, 2017

      In a perfect world, I’d agree with you 100%.
      If Antifa didn’t exist, Hannity and Fox would make them up. I don’t give any credence at all to those sources of entertainment geared toward feeding the fears and feelings of the dull and uniformed.
      Here’s also a thought. Since Antifa has historically been know more for peaceful demonstrations than violence, how can we be sure there aren’t infiltrators who want to present them in a bad light? It’s right up their alley to do so. Fits their agenda perfectly.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

        The reason they are dull and uninformed is their own laziness. They wouldn’t last a day in our Metro Region. They walk too slow, talk too slow and can’t produce a single day’s work to completion without complaining constantly.

        It was inevitable that the boys of the right would try to demonize those of us who REFUSE to accept Fascism.

        When you consider the alternatives of allowing Neo Nazis to parade around our streets armed to the teeth, how soon would these brown shirts take further advantage?

        So now they demonize blacks, Hispanics and immigrants. Whose next? Jews, Catholics? The handicapped? The mentally ill?

        These nuts spend more time musing around their boozy stills in the woods than they do getting an education.

    2. Edward On-Robinson September 7, 2017

      Have you ever actually been assaulted by members of a hate group?

  2. dbtheonly September 6, 2017

    It is sad to think that Trump’s “bully boys”, the Nazis, the KKK, the Militias, need opposing; but it is more dangerous to think of what will happen when these thugs are free to shoot up churches and drive cars into peaceful protesters unchallenged.

    Greatly as I respect Aaron, I have to point out that the Charlotte Police did nothing to restrain the fascists or protect the synagogue in their path. He, rightly, points out that calm reasoning is the best weapon to use against the thugs. I suggest that it’s hard to reason with a man who is trying to hit you with his car.

    The RWMO is going to proclaim an “alt-left” whether or not it exists. We’re going to have them searching for, or creating “violent leftists” to fuel their narrative. Black Lives matter is a terrorist organization, don’t you know? Hannity is going to be Hannity. There is no “win” with the RWMO. The Lamestream Media is going to play the “both sides do it” narrative. That’s their nature.

    Reply
  3. FireBaron September 6, 2017

    As someone who joined “the Revolution” at its tail end, by the end of Nixon’s first term most of the more radical elements of the left were out of the picture. While they were the ones who opened the doors for the rest of us, once they got there they had no clue how to proceed. Those of us in the “second wave” had a better understanding of where we stood and what we needed to do.

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 6, 2017

      I so agree. The mentalities of people of the 50s were “to be seen and not heard.” We of the Boomer 60s’ generation knew that was wrong. Just imagine what would have happened if there were not 60s protests for Nixon to resign. He’d be the first US president to remain in office after knowingly aiding and abetting the WaterGate burglary. So now to get even, the Republican Majority is allowing Trump to do just as he damn well pleases.

      Just imagine if there had been NO Civil Rights marches. Would there still be signs over doors to schools, “Whites Only?” Would there be restaurants that would not serve minorities?

      And if you think bigotry was limited to blacks only, think again. Texas had the worst record of bigotry against Mexicans they called “half breeds.” The famous writer Edna Ferber wrote all about her experiences with Texas and its love of keeping Mexicans for cheap labor.

  4. Ben Franks September 6, 2017

    Here is the way to respond to Nazi,KKK, white power marches. We should appear opposite them with photos and signs reflecting the men and women who fought and died defeating the Nazis in World War II. My uncle survived 24 bombing missions over Germany, came home, put away his medals and lived a productive lfe never mentioning the war. Only after he died did his family mention the medals in his obituary. I wonder what he and the others who fought the Nazis to save our country would think of swasikas waving in marchs in our country. Those Trumpdicks have supreme gall and stupidity to march carrying swastikas along with American flags.

    Reply
    1. rhetoric_phobic September 6, 2017

      I like that their faces appeared in the news and on social media. May had some explaining to do. And their actions ran head on into consequences. You want to play nazi, maybe your employer doesn’t like you playing nazi and representing their company. Free speech allowed. So are consequences.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

        One of their faces went viral on Facebook. He was in tears because he lost his job when his employer saw his face in that crowd of angry white males. roflmao

    2. Edward On-Robinson September 7, 2017

      That is a good creative kind of nonviolent protest that I’d like to see more of. I am not in favor of violence or its own sake, or even because people like neo-nazis deserve a beatdown – I’d far rather see them in a deradicalization program and have them abandon their hateful views and rejoin the rest of the community.

      What I reject are those ‘moderates’ who say ‘don’t confront fascists, just ignore them’. this is the same advice given to bullying victims by adults who don’t want to deal with the problem.

  5. EricPoole September 6, 2017

    The parallel Messers. Lyons and Perlstein draws between violent 1968 protesters and Anti-fa in 2017 is an inexact one. The 1968 protesters chose their target — law and order — poorly. Anti-fa, conversely, is targeting people even less sympathetic than they are. In the court of public opinion, openly racist white nationalists are going to lose virtually every damn time.

    As for right-wing media using Anti-fa against the left, that would have happened even without Anti-fa. Conservative media outlets managed to paint Black Lives Matter, an almost entirely peaceful movement, as violent borderline terrorists. If Anti-fa hadn’t shown up in Charlottesville, Fox News, Breitbart, National Review Online, etc. would have painted the liberal marchers as aggressors, even as the white nationalists were bashing their skulls in.

    Which brings me to my next point. Anti-fa is not a single organization, but an amalgamation of groups, which means the people that committed violence in Berkeley and destroyed property during Trump’s inaugural ceremony aren’t the entire group. I realize that’s too much nuance for conservatives, but we’re supposed to be better than they are.

    Again, the conservative media would have portrayed the liberals as violent aggressors at Charlottesville, even if Anti-fa had stayed home, and even as the white nationalists had attacked and killed more liberal marchers. And that, according to witnesses and participants at Charlottesville, is exactly what would have happened.

    Professor Cornel West, who was at Charlottesville, said the white nationalists “would have squashed us like cockroaches” if Anti-fa forces hadn’t intervened. At Charlottesville, Anti-fa was acting in self-defense and in defense of the peaceful marchers.

    Lyons says in this article:

    “Much as thousands of peaceful citizens on Boston Common had so outnumbered white supremacists a week earlier that they took off their little bedsheets and went home without even trying to harangue the crowd.

    “That’s all that ever needs to happen.”

    That’s true. That’s all that ever needs to happen. But I have to wonder if Lyons thought it happened by magic.

    The white nationalists didn’t show up at Boston Common, because they had gotten pushback a week before that in Charlottesville. The reason the white nationalists retreated back to mommy’s basement for their planned demonstration on Sept. 9 is that the left is standing, and sometimes violently so, against them.

    The thing about peaceful protest is that it works only when the other side agrees on the peaceful protesters’ right to exist, and the white nationalists refuse to grant that concession.

    Ridiculing them hasn’t worked, presenting the facts hasn’t worked, exposing them to the sanitizing power of sunlight hasn’t worked. So far, the only thing that has put the white nationalists on their back foot has been the act of standing against them in Charlottesville.

    Many of the things Lyons says in this article are true. Anti-fa has, at times, given the movement a black eye. But even for Anti-fa and the black bloc, violence has been a tactic. For the white nationalists, violence — against us and the cause of equality — is the end game. They cry about their First Amendment rights being violated. But if they prevail, they certainly won’t grant us the same consideration that they’re demanding from us now.

    To be sure, Anti-fa aren’t perfect allies. But it’s in situations like this, I turn to the wisdom of Gene Roddenberry and the second-to-last episode of “Star Trek: TOS.” In that episode, “The Savage Curtain,” a race of rock creatures pit Kirk and Spock — along with the men they most admire, Abraham Lincoln and Sarek, who introduced the philosophy of Logic to Vulcan — against four baddies from their history.

    In the end, it comes down to a fight, and Kirk and Spock prevail, while Lincoln and Sarek fall in battle. The rock creature is perplexed because Kirk and Spock, who represent good, use the same violent tactics, as evil.

    “What did you offer them if they won,” Kirk asked the rock creature.

    “What they wanted most. Power.”

    “You offered us the lives of our crew.”

    Sometimes, it is necessary that good and evil differ only in their objectives.

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

      Lyons and Perlstein were not even born when the 1968 protests occurred. What could they really know that those of us who were young adults and teens in 1968 know?

      These guys love to slosh themselves in ego and pretend they are oh so much more intelligent because McMommy and McDaddy paid for their college educations.

      Meanwhile, most of our fellow high school students were drafted into the military and shipped off to Viet Nam the minute the ink dried on their high school diplomas.

      Most of us recall the devastation of not just Viet Nam but the 3 assassinations of that period. These guys only know how to pretend they know.

      Most of us also had relatives who attended Woodstock at Yazgier’s Farm upstate NY. These guys were still eating Pablum.

      Strange to think that they are so thin skinned that anti fa is a threat when more than half a million spent a weekend in peace and listening to music. Not a single shot fired.

      Back in 1969, protests eventually ended the war in Viet Nam, got rid of Nixon when every day for 18 months Nixon hated the sight of protestors in front of the White House demanding he resign and brought about real Civil Rights reforms.

  6. Dapper Dan September 6, 2017

    Antifa sounds more like an antacid

    Reply
  7. Richard Prescott September 6, 2017

    The only problem is that adding to violence, or adding violence to non-violent protests does not help.
    It did not in the 60s where it was used, it still does not now.
    And wearing face hiding gear, looking like ISIL fighters is totally bad, my opinion. If you are afraid to show your face then you should not be there. Do not feed the alt right in any way shape or form.

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 6, 2017

      The only reason the Charlottesville KKK progeny didn’t wear Big Daddies’ robes and hoods is because they knew they’d be targets. Which they should be.

      This country has no tolerance for idiots who think white skin is the ONLY pure Aryan validation of existence. When these White Supremacists show ass in our streets, calling out anti Semitic slurs and racists bigotry, they belong on an island by themselves. I’d suggest Gitmo.

      We don not pay taxes for beer swilling, fat gut lazy bums to show ass on our streets. They lost the Civil War because they were too stupid to face the reality that they were acting against the very thing Washington, Lafayette and Hamilton all fought for…a “UNITED” States. That Confederacy was fought to prserve the right to keep, buy, sell and own slaves.

      If they won the Civil War, they would still have free slave labor.

    2. Edward On-Robinson September 7, 2017

      Everyone has a right of self-defense, individual and collective, and if you don’t exercise it you will lose it. When you wring your hands over violence you are essentially asking someone else to be a punching bag on your behalf.

      If you’re not willing to put yourself at physical risk, you have no standing to talk about violence or non-violence.

  8. Eleanore Whitaker September 6, 2017

    Antifa is the arcronym for Anti Fascist. This aritcle is written by people who obviously support Fascism. Until it gets to the point where the Fascist rule is the ONLY rule.

    Many of our parents let Europe due to Fascist rule.

    Lyans and Perlstein are those who remember hating hippies, long hair and yet they sat their asses in college and sat out the Viet Nam war. They relied on their protests to get them the attention they didn’t get at home. So, who really are the anarchists if not Lyons and Perlstein?

    When patriotism is demonized by moron anarchists, their agenda is obvious…the same one the Fascists had in Italy under Mussolini, in Germany under Hitler and Russia under Stalin.

    Time for all fascists to grow up. We do not pay taxes for them to live off the fat of our hard earned incomes.

    Reply
    1. Gene Lyons September 7, 2017

      Nice try, but Rick Perlstein was born in 1969.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

        Nice Try faker boy. I have a son born in 1969 the year Perlstein was in his Pampers. Isn’t it just a kick in the pants to realize that you are not the knows all you pretend to be and neither is Perlstein.

        Those of us who were teens when JFK, RFK and MLK were assassinated will never allow you know it alls to erase our history for us.

        Perlstein is just another 48 year old who thinks he is the smartest thing to hit town. Merely a ruse on his and your parts.

    2. RichFromShowMe September 7, 2017

      Spot On !

  9. Jake Hawkes September 6, 2017

    As someone whose mind was opened by the protesters and even the militants that fought to stop the war in Vietnam, stop Jim Crowe, promote civil rights and women’s rights I think it’s too bad that violence is sometimes required to manifest change.. but history tells us that sometimes it is required.

    Even Gandhi, promoter of non-violence that he was knew there were limits. From Norman Finkelstein:

    “The real Gandhi did loathe violence but he loathed cowardice more than violence. If his constituents could not find the inner wherewithal to resist nonviolently, then he exhorted them to find the courage to hit back those who assaulted or demeaned them.”

    Reply
  10. rhetoric_phobic September 6, 2017

    It seems to me protesting racists and nazis should not be a partisan issue. ALL Americans should be against it. The government cannot suppress free speech but as a citizen I sure as hell have the right to drown out free hate speech every chance I get. And I will.
    I’m not for violence or random destruction of property by Antifa or “boys being boys” celebrating after a sports event. That happens too. Nor am I thrilled about the intimidation tactic of those racists and nazis being armed to to the teeth when they show up to spew their hate.
    Antifa as a group doesn’t have a history of exhibiting more violence than peace. The violent ones get the press. For some reason in this country we are more inclined to explain why the racists and nazis are racists and nazis than the history of how those who are fighting them have evolved over time. Antifa was there during Nazi Germany.
    That being said, when people are spewing the same message that our people fought a war with Germany over, here on our soil, I’m more inclined to at least understand the desire to squelch it “by any means necessary”. Germany doesn’t allow it. They KNOW where it ends up. So in Germany their Hitler youth are flying the stars and bars and the thin blue line flags in place of outlawed swastikas because to them it carries the same message. HATE.
    I’m no longer complacent about their message. There are more of us until there aren’t.

    Reply
    1. RichFromShowMe September 6, 2017

      “Antifa as a group doesn’t have a history of exhibiting more violence than peace”.

      Should it be assumed you have not seen the videos of the Riots in Berkeley and other locales with their fellow thugs, like Black Lies Matter and Black Bloc rioting?

      1. rhetoric_phobic September 6, 2017

        Should it be assumed you don’t know their history?
        Start from the 1920’s when citing examples.

        1. RichFromShowMe September 7, 2017

          Actually, your previously quoted article left out quite salient FACTS; i.e., the KKK was a Democrat organization up through the early 1900’s, as the Grand Kleagle, Senator Byrd, represented it quite well for decades, and went down in Democrat lore as the role model.

          The modern iteration of “Antifa” is a spin off and now better organized bowel movement of “Occupy Wall Street”.

          Now that Satan-on-Earth is funding the current activities he’s attracted more accomplished thugs than the Snowflakes-in-Training of Occupy Wall Street.

          Combining oil and water (Antifa and the “Ridiculous Right”) produces flames and fatalities, but no positive progress for either group.

          1. rhetoric_phobic September 10, 2017

            Dixiecrats. Yes blah, blah blah. Same old tired rhetoric from the right which has no bearing on anything now except as history.
            Your opinions on who Antifa is or how they evolved doesn’t change the facts.

          2. rhetoric_phobic September 14, 2017

            Protecting American objectives and goals is their goal.
            We have an unhinged occupant in the WH supported by the minority of the entire voting population for whom facts are not relevant. They operate on fears and feelings and their hatred of everyone who isn’t like them. Problem for them is, the majority isn’t like them. So demonizing those who fight against them is of course what they do best.

  11. RichFromShowMe September 6, 2017

    Margaret Sullivan and Peter Beinart stated: “The “alt-left” Trump described scarcely exists, and had almost no role in the Charlottesville tragedy.”

    Evidently they did not see multiple videos of those in Black with masks (Antifa and its tentacles) attacking those on the Right.

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

      Those videos are doctored by Russia’s GRU and Goocifer 2 to inflame a Civil War. Wow…you are slow on the uptake aren’t you?

      I watched the Charlottesville proceedings as it occurred. I saw NO black masks. I saw white males of the same age range acting like a bunch of KKK white supremacists who have yet to pay enough taxes to dare to use our streets for their childis exploits based ONLY on their imagined precise of power.

        1. Edward On-Robinson September 7, 2017

          Yeah yeah, Antifa made all those guys pick up torches and start chanting “Jews will not replace us” and carrying swastika banners. They made Andrew Anglin call for war on his Daily Stormer website. And so on.

          Protip: if you’re waving a Swastika flag you’re not peaceful.

  12. rhetoric_phobic September 6, 2017

    Here’a an article I read explaining Antifa. It’s lengthy but worth the read. I don’t see many going this much in depth. And I have to ask why.

    “On a recent episode of “The Daily Show” — yes, “The Daily Show” still exists — host Trevor Noah spent a segment condemning the antifa, the anti-fascist activists who have become a topic of intense conversation in the wake of Charlottesville. Noah first scratches his head: Who are these antifa, anyway? It’s impossible to know! Then he plays video of antifa activists punching white supremacists and labels them “vegan ISIS,” arguing their violent tactics only strengthen their enemies’ hand.

    Noah is not alone in his critique. Excoriations of antifa abound: from Nancy Pelosi to Homeland Security to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Most of these denunciations betray considerable confusion over what, exactly, antifa is. But more than that, they involve both a fundamental — and politically convenient — misunderstanding of the history of violence and protests in America.

    The first major problem with criticism of the antifa is a studied unwillingness to learn anything about the group. The work of historian Mark Bray, author of the just-released “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” is a good start for clearing this confusion. Bray showed that, contra Noah’s assertions, the antifa do have a clear set of ideas and tactics. Their history winds through the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, through resurgent neo-Nazism and skinhead racism in the 1980s and 1990s, to the rising power of alt-right white nationalists in the U.S. today.

    Antifa tactics, and the philosophy behind those tactics, is also clear. They believe that fascist and violent racist groups have to be confronted in their infancy, when they number in the dozens, lest they soon number in the thousands or even millions. The antifa’s primary tactics are nonviolent — protests, online research, naming and shaming — but they also believe that violence is an appropriate response to inherently violent ideologies.

    It is that stance that makes the antifa so controversial. As Pelosi said when she condemned the group, “In California, as across all of our great nation, we have deep reverence for the Constitutional right to peaceful dissent and free speech. Nonviolence is fundamental to that right.”

    Pelosi states this as a universal truth, that nonviolence is fundamental to the protection of our First Amendment rights. What she fails to note — indeed, what most commentary fails to note — is that a belief in nonviolence as effective and laudable is of fairly recent vintage, and was only adopted when white Americans found it convenient.

    The history of American political activism is a history of violence, from tax revolts in which collectors were tarred and feathered to John Brown’s deadly raid on the eve of the Civil War to labor revolts at the turn of the century to the Black Panthers’ armed self-defense creed in the 1960s.

    Indeed, nonviolence emerged as a recent exception. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the first American activist to reject violence as a mode of political protest — the women’s suffrage movement was largely modeled on nonviolent political action — but in the 1950s and 1960s he popularized nonviolence as both a tactic and a philosophy. Despite the glory now heaped on King, at the time white moderates showed little affection for his tactics. Indeed, throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans disapproved of the civil rights protests.

    Nor was nonviolence universally accepted within the civil rights movement. Many black activists argued for both self-defense and displays of force. Emblematic of that change: in 1966, Stokely Carmichael changed the name of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the Student National Coordinating Committee, stripping nonviolence from one of the principle organizations of the movement. From there, Carmichael went on to advocate for black power.

    For many white Americans, this moment represents the dividing line between the “good” civil rights movement and the “bad” black power movement: Nonviolence won orderly progress in the realm of law; militant tactics led to a white backlash. This is nonsense. The white “backlash” preceded King’s movement, endured throughout his life, and continues today. Nor was victory tied to nonviolence. When King took his “good” nonviolence to Chicago, when he used it to fight for economic equality, victory eluded him. When black citizens led uprisings through urban neighborhoods in 1968, passage of the Fair Housing Act quickly followed.

    Nonviolence won universal praise only once it could be used to discredit other forms of activism. Which is not to say Americans who have a moral commitment to nonviolence are insincere in their beliefs, but rather that the embrace of nonviolence is also the result of less laudatory political calculations — especially noticeable when praise for nonviolence goes hand in hand with absolutism on gun rights or empathy toward the Bundy militia or unquestioning faith in the righteousness of the police.Which brings us back to the antifa. Many of the antifa reject nonviolence as a moral commitment. That choice is worthy of debate, perhaps even of condemnation. But it does not excuse the sloppiness with which the group has been covered. Commentators often confuse tactics for ideas, arguing that because they engage in violence, the antifa’s philosophical arguments are null, that there’s no reason to dig deeper.

    Here’s why that’s absurd. For a year now, journalists have covered neo-fascists and alt-right white nationalists in minute detail. We know about Richard Spencer’s fashy haircut and tweedy jackets and preference for fussy New American meals. We know the wide range of alt-right factions, the white nationalists, the Proud Boys, the alt-light, and their intellectual and pseudo-intellectual heroes. We know about Pepe the Frog and the cult of Kek and Breitbart and all the rest.

    If that kind of care and attention can be given to fascists and racists, whose underlying philosophies are inherently and irretrievably brutal and violent, why is it withheld from anti-fascists and anti-racists, whose tactics may be objectionable but whose ideas are far more honorable than those of the groups they oppose?

    This is not an appeal to embrace the antifa, but it is a plea to attempt to understand them, and to understand the broad American tradition from which they draw. To do otherwise is to indulge not only in a false equivalence that puts fascists and anti-fascists on the same moral plane, but to refuse to grapple with the more complicated history of American activism and violence.”

    Reply
    1. Beethoven September 7, 2017

      Whenever there is an organized resistance to something that is deemed unfair or evil, there is always a balancing act between trying to achieve an end to the evil through non-violent resistance, or through armed rebellion. Whether it is an end to British rule in India, an end to apartheid in South Africa, an end to Jim Crow rule in the United States, an end to slavery in the U.S., an end to serfdom in Tsarist Russia, or any of the other examples throughout history, those wanting to effect the changes have always had to weigh whether they should try to achieve their goals through non-violence or whether armed resistance was the only way. Non-violence sometimes works, especially when it has the weight of numbers of populace behind it; and armed resistance means the loss of a lot of lives, as well as economic destruction. The question has always been whether there is enough public sentiment for demanding the change that it can be achieved without armed battle, or whether armed battle is the only way to overcome general public apathy.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

        When you see the same flag flown at every white supremacist rally, how is that NOT a form of intimidation by beer swilling, fat gut high school drop out males who were raised by Big Daddy on hate?

        Who raises fascists in a country that George Washington fought to keep “united” and Confederates fought to “divide?”

        No matter how the Confederacy tries to normalize parading in the streets armed with AK47s and chanting anti Semitic and racial slurs, they ask for the resistance they get. There are more of us than there are of them.

      2. Edward On-Robinson September 7, 2017

        That’s correct, but be careful not to muddy resistance and rebellion. Antifa’s strategy (such as it is) has been to obstruct fascist groups. Recall the first day’s events in Charlottesville, where Antifa stood back and let the right-wingers have their permitted march – and we got a column of torch-bearing nazi wannabes chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ and ‘blood and soil’, and surrounding and beating up a tiny group of pacifist counter-protesters?

        Nonviolence is a fine ideal, but an honest examination of history shows that it only succeeds when it is the alternative to other equally present forms of resistance.

  13. Charles Winter September 7, 2017

    The antifa claim to be antifascist, but their main effect has been to create sympathetic publicity for white supremacists and other fascists.

    Which side are they really on?

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 7, 2017

      They were not the ones in Charlottesville flying the Stars and Bars, wearing assault weapons in front of Jewish Temple and then calling out racial and anti Semitic slurs.

      I am antifa because I have NO intentions of allowing enablers to normalize fascism. You obviously do.

    2. Edward On-Robinson September 7, 2017

      No it hasn’t. Journalists and columnists who misreport or lazily repeat claims of left-initiated violence to further a ‘both sides do it’ narrative are the ones who create sympathetic publicity for white supremacists.

      Some of the headlines and stories put up by mainstream outlets last week were simply untruthful, eg the Washington Post’s claim that they ‘attacked peaceful right-wing demonstrators.’ In reality Joey Gibson arrived with friends wearing football armor (or padding, idk what the technical term is) and the three of them pushed right into the middle of the black bloc crowd screaming at people. The picture you saw of the guy being hit with the shield? He was being repelled after pepper-spraying people. Look closely at that photo and notice the antifa person who pushed him had a stick in his hand but refrained from using it, just pushing the guy away with the shield instead. And that was no peaceful guy – note the Pinochet t-shirt. Do I have to remind people that Pinochet is a hero to the alt-right, and they love to taunt their opponents with offers of ‘free helicopter rides,’ reminding them off the way death squads would assassinate political dissidents by dropping them out of helicopters?

      Are YOU out there there every time to stand up against fascism and putting your body on the line to protect other people? Are YOU willing to confront neo-nazis in person and risk assault? If not then your opinion doesn’t mean much to me. People in Antifa make lots of tactical and strategic mistakes, but that’s better than spending their lives hunched over a keyboard tapping out their opinions. I have yet to see any of these tut-tutting centrists willing to hold a line, block a road, or engage in any kind of civil disobedience – they want all the benefits of democracy and civil society but hood luck finding any of them who are willing to sacrifice for it. Suffering is something reserved for other people so they don’t have to get their hands dirty.

  14. Diane Newell Meyer September 14, 2017

    In the 1960’s a lot of the SDS and other disrupters were agent provocateurs, and other non leftist agents. In the late 60’s, the CIA and FBI were known to be agitators at the front of the demonstrations. I suspect the same of some of the antifas masked and armed provocateurs. Otherwise, why be masked?

    Reply

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