We've heard a lot about the antifa lately. They've been making a lot of noise and garnering media attention - most of it negative. President Trump called them out in his rally at Phoenix recently: "They show up in the helmets and the black masks, and they've got clubs, and they've got everything. Antifa!" The mainstream news Washington Post published this headline: "Black-clad antifa members attack peaceful right-wing demonstrators in Berkeley". Up until the disgusting display of racist nationalism at Charlottesville last month, we all thought the neo-Nazis and white supremacist Trump supporters were the enemies of American democracy. Now there's a new narrative. Now it's the antifa.
Yesterday, I read an opinion piece from the Washington Post by Mark Thiessen, making the case that the antifa are the left-wing equivalent of violent white nationalists on the right. We should be every bit as outraged by them as we are about neo-Nazis, and the Democrats are being hypocritical in not condemning them with equal force.
After Charlottesville, the media rightly demanded that President Trump and all Republicans condemn the neo-Nazis and the KKK. So where are the calls for Democrats to condemn antifa — and the brutal public condemnation for those who fail to do so? If black-clad neo-Nazis had attacked peaceful protesters at a “No to Racism in America” march in Berkeley, politicians in Washington would be falling over themselves to express their disgust — and any who failed to do so would be vilified. But when neo-communists commit this kind of violence, they get a pass from the left. - ThiessenOf course, Thiessen has a good point. We should all be equally repulsed by violent behavior, no matter which side of the political aisle it comes from. Everyone who values free speech and democracy should condemn this kind of behavior. But there's something else going on here. People like Thiessen and the president are using the antifa to draw an equivalence where there is none. News media (especially right-wing media) are playing up the bad behavior of the antifa, and making it seem as if this is much more representative of left-wing politics in general, and Democrats in particular, than it really is, while at the same time making the white supremacists seem like they are extremists, far removed from any main-stream Republican politics.
Let's be clear about this. There are many thousands of white nationalists in this country. They have a long history of extreme violence, and have killed many innocent poeple. Their political views are right-wing, and in recent decades, they have been politically aligned with the Republicans. They voted for Trump in the last presidential election, and they see him as a champion of their cause. They are a major segment of Trump's political base. Trump has refused to condemn their violence in unequivocal terms, preferring instead to spread the blame. They have a prominent nation-wide voice in Breitbart News (run by none other than Trump's good buddy and former senior advisor Steve Bannon) and various other right-wing media outlets. While I understand that not all Republicans share the views of these people, the truth is that the Republican Party caters to them. They ARE Republicans.
The antifa is a much smaller group with a much shorter history in the US. They were essentially unnoticed until Trump came to power. Their recent rise in prominence is a direct reaction to the alarming rise of visible right-wing extremism ushered in by Trump and his supporters. Although they are politically left-wing, they are NOT Democrats. They did not vote for Clinton (or any other representative in government), and they are no part of the Democrats' political base. They don't even vote. They are anarchists. They have virtually no media voice. And the level of violence they perpetrate is tiny by comparison to the white nationalists. While a small number of deaths have been attributed to left-wing extremists in recent years, none of them have been linked to antifa, as far as I know.
When right-wing extremists show up at a rally (sometimes armed with AR-15s and AK-47s), spewing vile hate-filled rhetoric, they are often met by thousands of peaceful counter-protesters. But then a few dozen antifas show up with their clubs. And yes, they attack and beat people. And we see headlines like "Black-clad antifa members attack peaceful right-wing demonstrators in Berkeley". And people like Thiessen write about it, making claims the left is just as bad as the right, and the Democrats are a bunch of hypocrites. And after a right-wing extremist murders someone, Trump feels justified in condemning the violence "on all sides".
The right has taken full advantage of the antifa to create a narrative that the left and the right are just the same. One is no better or worse than the other. They do this by completely ignoring the message of the two sides. The right-wing extremists are fascist white nationalists, and the antifa oppose fascism and white nationalism. So don't pay any attention to that. Instead, focus on the black outfits and the clubs they carry. Ignore the fact that when those "peaceful demonstrators" from the right come out to a place like Berkeley, they are being deliberately provocative. It is their goal to stir up violence, and then play the part of the victim. So publish stories that highlight the violence of the antifa while failing to mention the long history of violence on the part of the right. And make it sound as if hundreds or thousands of peaceful left-wing protesters are engaging in this violent activity, when in fact it was only a small number of antifa (see the video at the end of Thiessen's article). Most of all, blame the Democrats, as if they are responsible for the antifa. Make it sound as if the Democrats are reluctant to disavow their own extremists. (And please note that Pelosi said the antifa are NOT DEMOCRATS. Where does that statement show up in this story?)
And like puppets on a string, the antifa has played into the hands of the right. They are helping to sway public opinion by blurring the lines between the moral stance of the fascists and those who oppose them. By their methods and tactics, the antifa are succeeding in softening that opposition, making the position of Trump and his supporters seem more acceptable. They are doing much more harm than good for the cause of anti-fascism. They really should just go away and leave the opposition to responsible adults. This is much too important.