Leftist violence vs. Trump-aligned groups worrisome: James Miller
The chaos that descended upon the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has widened the already gaping tear in our national discourse. What was supposed to be a rally to protest …
Leftist violence vs. Trump-aligned groups worrisome: James Miller
The chaos that descended upon the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has widened the already gaping tear in our national discourse. What was supposed to be a rally to protest the coming removal of a Robert E. Lee statue became a powder keg of hateful ideologies.
On the streets of the college town, neo-Nazis and white supremacists faced off with leftist anti-fascists (antifa), each side deploying makeshift weapons like clubs, bricks and blowtorches.
Social media captured the dangerous spectacle, broadcasting the onslaught like a pay-per-view boxing match. In the end, the riotous free-for-all left one dead, and scores of injuries.
The one fatality was caused by Hitler enthusiast James Alex Fields Jr., driving his Dodge Challenger straight into a crowd. The victim, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, died at University of Virginia Hospital.
In the aftermath of the bloodshed, outpourings and grief and pleas for calm came from both Republican and Democrat. President Donald Trump denounced violence on both sides, not explicitly naming the racial supremacy groups who initiated the rally.
For not naming the ideology of the organizers, the president was met with heavy criticism by congressmen from his own party, including Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Orin Hatch, and Corey Gardner.
And, to a degree, the reproofs are valid. Trump should have slammed white supremacy by name.
But some commentators also took issue with his denunciation of the left-wing agitators. Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring tweeted, “violence, chaos, and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides.’ It is racists and white supremacists.” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked for Trump “to speak out against the poisonous resurgence of white supremacy” and declared there “are not ‘many sides’ here, just right and wrong.”
Guttersnipes always carp at whatever Trump says for clicks and revenue. And part of success in politics is continually crying foul about your opponents, justified or not.
But this latest round of censuring is genuine. The president’s detractors truly believe that white supremacy was the main cause of the savagery. At the risk of being labeled a neo-Nazi ally, I’ll say that one-sided judgment misses the larger picture. Yes, the rabid right-wingers in Waffen-SS regalia are morally depraved. But the increasing instances of leftist violence employed toward Trump-aligned groups is just as worrisome, if not more so.
In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinhart traces anti-Nazi activists back to the late 1980s. The activists we see today first formed to fight off fascist friendly tendencies within punk circles. A decade later, the Internet helped connect disparate antifa groups. Trump’s sharp and heated rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims during last year’s presidential campaign led to an explosion of visibility to such groups, resulting in membership growth.
The actions of antifa take place largely in the shadow of the state; that is, they exact their own kind of rough justice.
“They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet,” writes Beinhart.
From Berkeley to Middlebury College, emotive leftists are shutting down conservative thinkers in the name of diversity and tolerance.
It’s an unpopular fact that Nazis have a right to protest in America. The Supreme Court decided as much in the case of National Socialist Party of America vs. Village of Skokie. Even the ACLU defended the rally’s organizer Jason Kessler after the event was changed from its original location.
If white supremacy is anti-American, so is the antifa insistence that believers in racial superiority not be given the right to freedom of assembly.
As civil libertarian journalist Glenn Greenwald write, “purporting to oppose fascism by allowing the state to ban views it opposes is like purporting to oppose human rights abuses by mandating the torture of all prisoners.”
No doubt, if given their druthers, the antifa membership would gladly strip neo-Nazis of their right to protest. But, because that’s not an option, the second best alternative is to shut them down with force.
Violent assault isn’t just counterproductive and wrong, it’s also short-sighted. There is another, more simple solution. Nazi ideology can be combatted more effectively by depriving it of the attention it craves. In the 1995 “Treehouse of Horror” episode of the Simpsons, giant advertisement characters are rampaging through the city, causing endless amounts of destruction. Instead of watching helplessly as their city burns, the citizens of Springfield, with the help of crooner Paul Anka, kill the enchanted commercial figures by averting their eyes and ignoring them.
Ideas are like viruses. They need hosts to survive. The Charlottesville melee attracted, at most, 1,500 acolytes of white supremacy. Had they marched and gone home, it wouldn’t have registered outside the local news. The ensuring destruction would have never occurred. And Heather Heyer might still be alive.
President Trump is right: Both sides are culpable for the terror in Charlottesville. The Constitution holds that even the most noxious views get a platform in America. Suppressing them through violence or intimidation is behavior of which Hitler would nod approvingly.
Historians will look back, I hope, at our epoch’s blending of violence with words with the same amused befuddlement we have when looking back at the geocentric model of the universe. Never in Orwell’s wildest dreams could odious opinions be equated with physical aggression.
So how, then, has our country become so out of touch with its founding principles?
I shudder to answer, especially when my social media timeline is littered with young liberals happily wearing “punch more Nazis” shirts.
One sad truth remains: Charlottesville, like other tragedies, will remind a bludgeon for both sides to use against each other. Few want a real reckoning with the forces that divide us. The lust for pounding your political enemies into dust is still too powerful. Sadly, even our president is not immune from such a base instinct.
James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, works as a digital marketer in Northern Virginia.