In recent years, with the rise of the alt-right, Donald Trump, and a million other people and groups to despise on the political right, “Frankenstein’s Monster” is often bandied about to explain why no one has sympathy for, say, a Trump critic like myself. Having spent years engaging in hyper-partisanship, I helped create the monster, so while I’m welcome to participate in undoing the damage, I should never trick myself into believing my hands are clean in his election.
Part of overcoming a problem you helped either cause or enable is to own it. To say “Yes, I did handle this incorrectly and now I’d like to earnestly help destroy the monster that came, in part, because of my words and actions.”
Much of the GOP fails to do this as it relates to white supremacists and Nazis. As seen in Charlottesville, the common response was to concur with President Trump’s “all sides” assessment of the situation. One which spreads the blame around to distract from responsibility.
I rejected this reasoning. I knew full well what the violent leftist group Antifa did, not only Charlottesville, but across the country in countless protests for years. But after a woman was killed and Charlottesville was thrown into chaos following the purposefully provocative display from supremacist groups comprised of Nazis, KKK and alt-righters, it was clear to me that Antifa’s culpability in the chaos was an unnecessary part of the equation. These masked, thuggish, anarchist goons had plenty of blood on their hands that I could point to in any number of other situations. The chaos in Charlottesville did not need to be about them.
Denouncing the supremacists who lit the fuse in this particular situation was the proper, correct, and moral thing to do, and to do otherwise was not those things.
Unfortunately, however, the left did as they often do and took this focus on specific condemnation too far. It wasn’t enough to say “Antifa is irrelevant to the point of supremacists being a problem.” It wasn’t enough to point out that in terrorist attacks, the right is quick to demand specific condemnation of Muslim fundamentalists while suddenly finding the nuance to blame “everyone” in this situation.
No, whether or not they would now like to pretend otherwise, many on the left played footsie with Antifa. Many tried to pretend that these bandana-clad troublemakers and vandals were somehow heroic, bravely combating fascism. Only after intense pressure from the right, albeit in a morally relativistic manner, has the left finally begun to actually call out these scumbags for who and what they are.
But it wasn’t always this way. The defensive posts and morally ambiguous baloney pouring out of the mouths of people claiming to be on the side of peace reached a fever-pitch in the direct aftermath of Charlottesville.
Based on what was happening all around, the looks on their faces, the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so. On Democracy Now, Cornel West, who was also in the line with us, said that he felt that the antifa saved his life. I didn’t roll my eyes at that statement or see it as an exaggeration—I saw it as a very reasonable hypothesis based on the facts we had.
“No police officers in sight (that I could see from where I stood), and we were prepared to be beaten to a bloody pulp to show that while the state permitted white nationalists to rally in hate, in the many names of God, we did not. But we didn’t have to because the anarchists and anti-fascists got to them before they could get to us. I’ve never felt more grateful and more ashamed at the same time. The antifa were like angels to me in that moment.”
Rev. Seth Wispelwey
Directing minister of Restoration Village Arts and consulting organizer for Congregate C’ville
“They have their tools to achieve their purposes, and they are not ones I will personally use, but let me stress that our purposes were the same: block this violent tide and do not let it take the pedestal.”
These quotes are from people that were grateful to Antifa for taking on the supremacists. Understandable that a person who would believe their life is in danger at the hands of the modern representation of pure evil would view just about anyone standing between themselves and that evil positively.
But by the time this Slate author puts it all into published words, there’s simply no chance she doesn’t know that the violence from Antifa did not require any enemy to meet on the field of battle. They bring violence everywhere they go. It just so happened that this time the recipients deserved it. One can be thankful others were kept safe without rewriting who Antifa is and how dangerous they are, but rewriting who Antifa is was exactly the objective.
Robert Creamer at the Huffington Post contributed to this notion that political violence from the likes of Antifa is not comparable to violence from other groups. Essentially positing that while political violence is abhorrent, at least Antifa is using it to combat fascism saying “The notion that there is any moral or empirical equivalency between the political violence of the right and the left in the United States is simply wrong” because “when it comes to the use of violence, there is a massive difference in values between the left and the right.”
Mark Bray, author of “The Anti-Fascist Handbook” said on NBC’s Meet the Press that “self defense” is a perfectly acceptable form of violence. Unfortunately, his definition (as is the definition of much of Antifa’s rank and file) is that merely the ideas or language of white supremacists is violence on its own, and as such all violence perpetrated towards “racists” is self-defense. Pre-emptive self defense it seems.
The left (and the blue-check media) went on to outright glorify Antifa, citing its roots in anti-fascist movements that swept Europe in the 20s & 30s (while paradoxically claiming that Antifa is disorganized and lacking leadership which would make claiming their heritage of near 100 years odd to say the least).
Watching 'Saving Private Ryan,' a movie about a group of very aggressive alt-left protesters invading a beach without a permit.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) August 16, 2017
Also confronted the Nazis without a permit: pic.twitter.com/3c2f3X9slC
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) August 16, 2017
Let's not forget pic.twitter.com/q5wjVmZylR
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) August 16, 2017
"Alt-left thugs" who battled Nazis pic.twitter.com/fflvchzGDF
— John Hendrickson (@JohnGHendy) August 15, 2017
But cameras at protests that turned violent were just too much to keep the lie going. The lie being that the perpetration of violence is automatically defensible so long as the target of that violence is more reviled than the perpetrators. And if the target of their violence is misidentified? That’s still ok because hey, mistakes happen while thwarting fascism.
The truth is you can condemn supremacists alone as it relates to Charlottesville and still not defend or lionize Antifa.
But now, at last, the left starts to get on board with this idea as Nancy Pelosi and the Washington Post and a few others have recently begun disavowals of the disgusting violent thugs that call themselves Anti-Fascists but are nothing if not strong believers in “might makes right.”
At best, Antifa are anarchists. At worst, they are exactly who they claim to fight.
The left got into bed with them, pretended they weren’t there at first, then when forced to, said they “didn’t agree with their tactics” but still refused to disavow. And then finally, after a reporter was beaten to a pulp because Antifa decided he was a Nazi and claimed the same pre-emptive self-defense justifcation that Mark Bray championed above, the left had to admit the jig was up.
So a quick word to all those who have suddenly found the gumption to denounce these criminals: you wanted the focus to be on white supremacists in Charlottesville, and I agreed with you. You wanted to prevent deflection and “all sides” talking points from sullying the truth about the dangers that Nazism presents, and I was with you.
But in the end, because you couldn’t do the simplest thing, you helped the supremacists and I refused to participate. You gave them their talking points. You proved to people that perhaps could’ve been on your side, that you approve of violence.
You gave cover to Antifa. You helped legitimize their cause. It is your monster. I’m glad you have disavowed what they’ve done. But it’s time to stop pretending you didn’t help them do it.