‘The death count from antifa is still zero’. ‘All I want for Christmas is White Genocide’
— George Ciccariello-Maher (Democracy Now!)
Well, that quote didn’t age well…
If the recent reporting surrounding the Dayton Shooter is correct, it looks like the antifa death count has just increased to ten.
There has been the incessant justificatory refrain from the progressive left that is echoed in Ciccariello-Maher’s above quote, which refers to the killing of Heather Heyer by James Fields Jr. at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Whenever one offers criticisms of antifa violence, whether against right-wing demonstrators or even bystanders, the typical response is something like, ‘someone has died already—the young woman in Charlottesville in 2017 who was run over by a car driven into a crowd by an avowed neo-Nazi.’ As if this is a legitimate diffusion of the criticism.
There are myriad examples of antifa causing violence and arming themselves—with firearms and/or knives—in protests. In fact, the antifa groups Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association came armed to provide ‘security’ and protection to counter-protesters at the Unite the Right rally. Now, one could say that there is a difference between the armed white supremacist groups who came to Charlottesville, and the armed anti-racist groups who came to Charlottesville, but the march and demonstration was lawful until it wasn’t, and it became unlawful through a bungled mess of poor policing as well as antifa agitation.
There are also additional incidents of antifa violence against innocent people: there was the assault of journalist Andy Ngo, as well as a few other documented assaults whereby men had their skulls bashed and bloodied by pipes, crowbars, or batons. There is the bike lock-wielding philosophy teaching assistant, Eric Clanton, who attacked multiple people in a Berkeley protest, and bludgeoned an innocent man in the head with the bike lock, as well as times when antifa has thrown piss at people, and there is the infamous punching of alt-right figure, Richard Spencer. Finally, there is the instance of the self-identified antifa man who attacked an ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) detention centre armed with a rifle and ‘incendiary devices’ before being shot by police.
But what does this have to do with the Dayton shooter? Isn’t associating the Dayton shooter with antifa illegitimate — just a cheap attempt at guilt by association? After all, antifa is not an organisation but a movement composed of loosely amalgamated but autonomous people who wish to fight the far-right.
The Dayton shooter, if reports are true, was a self-identified leftist who voted in Democratic primaries, tweeted opposition to Donald Trump and ICE , and supported Elizabeth Warren and socialism. He was also an armed counter-protester at a KKK rally, and had ‘he/him’ pronouns on his Twitter bio. Finally, in response to an essay by news commentator Mehdi Hassan titled, ‘Yes, Let’s Defeat or Impeach Trump — But What If He Doesn’t Leave the White House?’, the Dayton shooter wrote, ‘arm, train, prepare’.
Well, that doesn’t mean that he’s a part of antifa. After all, he shot a bunch of innocent people and antifa would never condone such a terrible act.
Ah, but then it seems that the goal posts have been moved: it has gone from ‘antifa hasn’t killed anyone’, to ‘no one has been killed for overtly antifascist reasons’.
Similar things could be said for James Fields, perhaps. After all, he was loosely connected to the alt-right — aside from sharing extreme ideological positions that exist throughout the alt-right, he was not a member of any group that was marching. He wasn’t a part of any coordination, and no one has come out to defend his actions resulting in Heyer’s killing. (There may be cynical reasons for this, people may be trying to get out with reputations as intact as possible. But that assumption would need to be expounded upon for more justification.) Even if he is as guilty as he has been said to be, how connected is his killing of Heyer, and injuring of dozens more, to the overall demonstration that day or the demonstrations that have occurred before or since?
As with the Dayton shooter and antifa, no one on the alt-right wants to claim Fields as their representative. But unlike antifa, the alt-right has recognised Fields as one of their own.
Now, this whole back-and-forth smacks of an ad hominem and tu quoque fallacy (an appeal to hypocrisy), but at a group level.
The standard tu quoque is as follows:
1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B asserts that A’s actions/past claims are inconsistent with claim X.
3. Therefore, X is false.
What moderates and right-wingers are saying to antifa is, ‘you say you are against fascistic political violence, but you engage in the same sort of activity. You’re the real fascists!’, and what antifa and their progressive allies say is, ‘you say we shouldn’t engage in political violence because it is destructive, and yet, look! Our political opponents are fascists! They cannot be trusted to NOT beget violence.’
This antifa statement has been echoed by Mark Bray, the author of the Antifascist Handbook, when he stated:
You fight them by writing letters and making phone calls so you don’t have to fight them with fists. You fight them with fists so you don’t have to fight them with knives. You fight them with knives so you don’t have to fight them with guns. You fight them with guns so you don’t have to fight them with tanks.
Well, it seems like the time for letters and phone calls has long since passed, since fists and knives are the standard fare, and guns are standing on the sidelines.
To be clear, I’m not saying antifa and their progressives allies are hypocrites for responding to violence with violence, I am saying they are hypocrites for their understanding of violence and how they react to it. We have this bizarre situation where speech is violence worthy of physical confrontation, but milkshaking isn’t. Right-wing groups like Patriot Prayer are seen as more blame-worthy than antifa for violence because they’re ‘far right’ and they ‘incite’ violence. Well, being ‘far-right’ is one’s right, and they don’t ‘incite’ violence: unless you count their lawful marches, posters, and MAGA hats to be inciting. However, if this is that case, then you mean to say is that incitement to extremist political violence is actually incitement to political violence by extremist people. For instance, antifa and/or the Revolutionary Communist Party can march and chant their ridiculous slogans and chants, and no violence will be elicited by the right, whereas the opposite isn’t the case. I cannot think of an event wherein the presence of antifa hasn’t increased the likelihood of violence – and yet they are treated with kid gloves by government and law enforcement.
In an attempt to close up this meander: there is a malignant asymmetry that has been operative for sometime now, and has become exasperated in the so-called Trump era. Left-wing political violence is often given a pass, or is framed in terms of ‘resistance’, and right-wing, specifically white nationalist political violence is framed as a ‘surge‘ that is a part of a ‘global threat‘. Even Jihadist violence is occasionally framed in terms that obscure obvious religious motives, or is framed as an intelligible response to Western aggression and imperialism.
What we see is the demonisation of the young men, particularly white men, when they engage in violence that is on the right-end of the political spectrum. Whereas left-wing violence and Jihadist violence have a modicum of mainstream advocacy willing to stand up and expound upon the growing issues in their communities, as they see them, these young white men have none of that.
Now, these people don’t deserve advocacy for what they’ve done, nor for their ideological position — unequivocal condemnation alongside a desire to expose the causes and motivations for such actions is key in order to prevent future violence — but the overt lack of any advocacy coupled with an ill-concealed disdain for that set of people can only beget future horrors.
|White Lives Lost: More than 300,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses since the late 1990s.|
More and more young white men are in crisis, and are festering in isolation and hopelessness, and this isn’t bad because they’re ticking time bombs waiting to go off, it is just bad. Period. It is indicative of problems with mental health, but also problems with family, local communities, and society.
Marginalised people are attracted to marginalised groups, and these groups often act as breeding grounds for malformed paranoid sociopaths to find any kernel of justification for their malformed paranoid sociopathic worldviews. They lack leadership and any real sense of community, responsibility or obligation — there is a just a shared pessimism directed at a world that has gone off the rails and which they view from a message board. And when these young men come up for a breath of air, what are they greeted by? A barrage of media exclaiming: incel, white fragility, white privilege, male entitlement, toxic masculinity, colonialism, white supremacy, misogyny, genocide, fascism, whiteness, racism, unconscious bias, and the like.
Now, I imagine people on the Left will see these items as problems to be solved, and not as condemnations to be foisted upon any one person. However, these items, and their trends upward in the media, are indicative of a certain kind of white liberal consciousness that creates moral outrage in the viewer, which, in turn, creates an outrage feedback loop that appears to degrade group solidarity. This degradation of group solidarity comes at the further expense of community, which in turn erodes a sense of duty and ethics.
Individual actions can be judged and condemned in relation to a group/community context, but to take an individual action and use that to defame an entire group/community/ethnicity/religion —especially a group that one is a part of — is petty and craven. Moderates on both sides of the political spectrum, though particularly leftists, explicitly point out that this form of condemnation is illegitimate when it comes to violence committed by marginalised groups.
This post started off cheeky, but it has left me with a certain amount of melancholy. Where exactly are these politics taking us in this winding and lurching modernity? How is it to be resisted? In this increasingly fractious society how are we to build intentional communities with shared values, goals, and virtues? What sort of future is to be built, and what are we to do with tradition, heritage, and wisdom passed down from those who came before us when the modern world has turned its back on them? Is there to be a retreat into quietism?
I don’t think so. I think we need to be honest about where we find ourselves: we live in a world that is increasingly isolating and hollow. Whether intentional or emergent, this isolation, in part, leads to radicalisation and resentment. We need movements to help young men get away from their computers and find meaningful activities and social connections in the real world. We need to build movements and communities in which such people can feel pride again — to have skin in the game and have a profound sense of mattering in the world and to those around them.
What we have currently are people looking to alternate identities (radical ethnic/racial/political) as a way to find meaning and connection in this world. The far-right holds human nature to be primary, and thus has exalted race/ethnicity/region since it is a tangible and intuitive expression of that nature, and also gifts one with a sense of temporal depth and connection to the ancestral past. To them, these natures, gifts, and pasts are different, and these differences are to be preserved — and though this thought is a minority, violence, at times, may be necessary for its preservation.
Far-left people also exalt human nature, but believe that it has not been truly allowed to express itself since it has been constrained by unjust social norms and institutions. As with the far-right, violence may be necessary since such structures must be challenged or abolished in order for human nature to flourish. Hence the expressions of emancipation and progress. As Karl Marx stated:
[c]riticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower [Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right].
The tension between these views is where the truth lies: humans are social beings with a natural history, and the communities and societies we form — from tribe to band, city to civilisation — consist of in-group preference, hierarchy, and tradition — in short, ‘order’ — that may, in fact, be incompatible with other conceptions. On the other hand, we do have a shared human nature that has cross-cultural validity: there are universal interests and drives, such as the concern for well-being, autonomy or freedom from coercion, for creative expression, and respect, for example, and these can bridge gaps.
What the right is arguing, in part, is that the cultural and ethnic particularities of nations and peoples are being subsumed under the dull economic churn of neo-liberal socio-economics and mass immigration, and this is happening without the assent of the people. We see this in Brexit, Trump, and the rise of myriad right-wing populist groups in Europe. The left seems to argue that such concerns are proxies for racism and xenophobia.
Perhaps what we are seeing is the denial of the legitimate concerns coming from the right which is feeling increasingly isolated and marginalised. Perhaps the folks on the left don’t believe that the right has any legitimate concerns, but if that is so, if folks keep chipping at the flint, the tinder box could start to blaze.