Wingnuts want to make Democrats answer for Antifa. Democrats should avoid that trap. (More)
“I applaud the more than 7,000 people who came out today to peacefully oppose bigotry, hatred and racism that we saw on display in Charlottesville”
Yes, Antifa – short for “anti-Fascists” – are violent. You’ve probably read about the fracas in Berkeley on Sunday. The Washington Post spotlighted the violence under the headline “Black-clad antifa members attack peaceful right-wing demonstrators in Berkeley” and, if you read only the headline, you’d assume all of the progressive demonstrators were rioting thugs. The truth wasn’t that convenient:
Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa – “anti-fascist” – members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.
Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”
All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults. Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told the Washington Post the rally resulted in “13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.”
Yes, that “pepper-spray wielding Trump supporter” was a “peaceful right-wing demonstrator.” Cough. But look at the numbers: five people attacked, 13 arrests. You have to read a long way into the article to find this:
“I applaud the more than 7,000 people who came out today to peacefully oppose bigotry, hatred and racism that we saw on display in Charlottesville,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a statement. “… However, the violence that small group of protesters engaged in against residents and the police, including throwing smoke bombs, is unacceptable. Fighting hate with hate does not work and only makes each side more entrenched in their ideological camps.”
So, 7000 demonstrators and the overwhelming majority were progressives opposing white supremacy, but The Story is about 13 violent jackasses. The larger story, pushed by Fox News, wingnut websites, and the God-King himself … demands that Democrats answer for Antifa’s violence. Indeed most of that larger story paints Democrats as being in league with Antifa.
Democrats should refuse to step in that trap …
“They have no allegiance to liberal democracy”
… for the simple reason that Antifa hooligans are not Democrats. Dartmouth historian Mark Bray, who literally wrote the book on Antifa’s history and tactics, told Vox’s Sean Illing that Antifa have no interest in the Democratic Party and indeed no trust in democracy itself:
First, they argue that in Europe you can see that parliamentary democracy did not always stop the advance of fascism and Nazism – and in the cases of both Germany and Italy, Hitler and Mussolini were appointed and gained their power largely through democratic means. When Hitler took his final control through the  Enabling Act, it was approved by parliament.
They also say that rational discourse is insufficient on its own because a lot of good arguments were made and a lot of debates were had but ultimately that was insufficient during that period, and so the view that good ideas always prevail over bad ideas isn’t very convincing.
They other key point, which probably isn’t made enough, is that these are revolutionary leftists. They’re not concerned about the fact that fascism targets liberalism. These are self-described revolutionaries. They have no allegiance to liberal democracy, which they believe has failed the marginalized communities they’re defending. They’re anarchists and communists who are way outside the traditional conservative-liberal spectrum.
Simply, Antifa point to Mussolini and Hitler as proof that democracy can’t stop the rise of fascism and argue that only violent resistance has ever stopped fascists from seizing control of government. Bray notes that they have little historical evidence to back up their claims:
Whenever we look at the question of causation in history, you can never isolate one variable and make grand or definitive conclusions. So I don’t want to overstate any of the causal claims being made here. But Norway is an interesting example. In the ’90s, they had a pretty violent neo-Nazi skinhead movement, and the street-level anti-fascist groups there seemed to play a significant role in marginalizing the threat. By the end of ’90s it was pretty much defunct, and subsequently there hasn’t been a serious fascist [movement] in Norway.
Another example you can look at is popular responses to the National Front [a far-right political party formed in Britain in 1967] in the late ’70s in Britain. The National Front was pretty huge, and the Anti-Nazi League, through both a combination of militant anti-fascist tactics and also some more popular organizing and electoral strategies, managed to successfully deflate the National Front momentum.
So Antifa may have played some role … along with “more popular organizing and electoral strategies.”
“We would have been crushed like cockroaches”
In a more immediate sense, the context of an individual rally, Bray says Antifa have shown some successes:
Antifascists argue that after the horrors of chattel slavery and the Holocaust, physical violence against white supremacists is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective. We should not, they argue, abstractly assess the ethical status of violence in the absence of the values and context behind it. Instead, they put forth an ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late. As Cornel West explained after surviving neo-Nazi attacks in Charlottesville, “If it hadn’t been for the antifascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.”
I don’t usually see Cornel West as a reliable source. Maybe his description is accurate. He was there and I wasn’t. But he’s prone to extremist hyperbole, so I’ll take what he said with a grain of salt.
And for the record, by simply implying that Antifa have a right to self-defense when white supremacists attack, Dartmouth censured Bray for “supporting violent protest.”
The university’s response fits The Unwritten Rules for Progressive Protest, which inevitably invoke Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in declaring that progressives must let armed right-wing thugs beat them bloody, because “non-violence,” or else “both sides!”
“I don’t like this. I don’t like it.”
Regardless, Democrats should simply refuse to talk about Antifa, because no one will listen. For example, back in April Sen. Bernie Sanders denounced Antifa far more vigorously than the God-King has ever denounced white supremacists:
“I don’t like this. I don’t like it,” Sanders told The Huffington Post after speaking at a rally for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello on Thursday night. “Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous – to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.”
Note that he offered no weasel words about “many fine people” opposing Coulter, or the violence coming from “many sides.” It was as blunt a condemnation as anyone could expect. And it wasn’t enough:
But the worst part of Bernie’s hypothetical Presidency would have been the explosion of Antifa and across the world. Heartened by Bernie’s nonsensical rhetoric about the majesty of breadlines and unearned equity, Antifa would have swollen its ranks like never before and may have become a society-destabilizing force.
That was written last week – four months after Sanders denounced Antifa. Okay, fine, that’s just some wingnut posting on Medium … but here’s a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and current CEO of American Majority, writing at The Hill:
For all the talk of Trumpian bluster or exaggeration, there is only one group that seeks to systematically and violently achieve its goals here in the United States on a broad scale: the so-called “anti-fascist” movement, now commonly called “Antifa.” And the goal? It’s not “anti-fascist” or “anti-racist” as they attempt to portray themselves. It’s the systematic elimination of free speech, free assembly, and free thought via any means necessary, including violent protest, the media and Orwellian revisionism.
It is the imposition of a perverse type of intolerance based on Marxist and Chinese communist values that, it turns out, is far more welcome and pervasive within the Democrat Party of Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) than neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists are in the Republican Party.
That was written two days ago … again, four months after Sen. Sanders condemned Antifa.
For the record, Sen. Warren also condemned Antifa’s violence:
Warren spoke to WBSM, a New Bedford, Mass-based station, after holding a town hall at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. About five minutes into the interview, WBSM host Tim Dunn brought up the presence of violent left-wing protesters in Charlottesville, Va., and asked Warren to explicitly condemn left-wing violence.
“Absent the presence of white nationalists, left-wing protesters threw bottles of urine and rocks at police officers. The same occurred last night at the president’s rally. Are you prepared to condemn violence on that part of the left-wing agitators, such as Antifa, as you have the right-wing nationalist group?” Dunn asked.
“Violence is not the way to go. Violence is not the way to advance our interests,” Warren responded.
Senator Warren did commendable work here posturing for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Rather than answer the questions asked of her, she virtue-signaled by repeating what everyone already knows (white supremacists = bad), and she offered a general condemnation of leftist violence without getting too specific.
Anyone else hearing echoes of “he won’t say ‘radical Islamic terrorism?’”
In the wingnut worldview, Democrats = Antifa … period. Never mind that Antifa don’t support the values of the Democratic Party, or even democracy itself. Never mind that Democrats explicitly renounce the violence. For wingnuts, none of that matters.
“In perspective, different extremist groups commit violence in different ways. Focusing on incidents of killings alone gives a misleading picture.”
How ridiculous is the wingnut worldview? Consider that the conservative Daily Caller could not rebut evidence that white supremacists have committed the overwhelming majority of deadly domestic terrorist attacks … so they just lumped human lives, statues, windows, and dumpsters in the same bin:
[Anti-Defamation League senior fellow Mark] Pitcavage told NPR that “the far left is very active in the United States, but it hasn’t been particularly violent for some time.”
“In the past 10 years when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders,” he said.
The statistic from the ADL, which looked at domestic extremism from 2007 to 2016, found about 275 murders at the hands of those who the ADL considers right-wing extremists. The ADL’s definition of right-wing extremists includes but is not limited to white supremacists, anti-government extremists and anti-abortion extremists.
So the Daily Caller decided to fact check that and found:
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to the ADL to assess the source data behind the “74 percent” statistic, but the ADL declined to provide the data. “We did not make the full data set public,” the communications team told TheDCNF.
Instead, TheDCNF conducted an independent analysis of domestic extremism for the same 10-year time frame. The analysis only includes instances where domestic extremists had a clear ideological motive.
The data from our analysis comes from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a university research center partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security.
Our findings support the ADL statistic. Using their definition of right-wing extremists, we found that 92 percent of ideologically motivated homicide incidents were committed with a right-wing extremist or white supremacist motive.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a somewhat similar analysis of domestic extremism since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and found that 73 percent of all domestic extremist incidents that resulted in death were perpetrated by so-called right-wing extremists.[Emphasis added]
Okay, so the ADF were correct, yet the Daily Caller gives a verdict of “Unsubstantiated” – yes, really! – because:
Left-wing and environmental extremists committed around 69 percent of all extremist property attacks, which often involved acts of arson. Muslim extremists committed about 62 percent of all homegrown bombing incidents and 29 percent of all armed assaults by extremists. Besides homicide, right-wing extremists are responsible for around 48 percent of all armed assault incidents by extremists with a clear ideological motive.
In perspective, different extremist groups commit violence in different ways. Focusing on incidents of killings alone gives a misleading picture.
So in non-lethal “armed assault incidents,” the Daily Caller’s own data attribute 48% to “right-wing extremists” and 29% to “Muslim extremists.” Even if you assume all of the others were Antifa, that leaves only 23% … less than half the number of right-wing “armed assault incidents.” So how is the threat of right-wing violence “Unsubstantiated?”
Broken windows, spray-painted statues, and dumpster fires, that “69% of all extremist property attacks” that the data attribute to “left-wing and environmental extremists.” So yes, Antifa are just as violent as white supremacists … if you think attacks on windows, statues, and dumpsters are no different than attacks on human beings.
That’s how ridiculous the Antifa Boogeymen story is.
So here’s my advice to Democrats. Don’t talk about Antifa. If asked about them, say: “Antifa hooligans have no place in the Democratic Party. Period.” Then talk about the Democratic Party’s “Better Deal” policies.
If the reporter wants to keep talking about Antifa, say “I’m not Antifa. I’m a Democrat. I’ll be happy to talk about Democratic Party policies to help hardworking families. But I won’t answer for Antifa. If you want to write about them, go talk to them.”
And if the reporter keeps pressing, turn and walk away. First, because Antifa deserve no defense. Second, because they are not Democrats and Democrats shouldn’t have to answer for their hooliganism. And third, because what Democrats say won’t matter a damn anyway.
That’s how you avoid the Antifa trap.
Photo Credit: Natalie Behring (Getty Images)
Good day and good nuts