So, This College Professor Makes The Case That Antifa Violence Could Be Ethical

Posted: Aug 30, 2017 1:10 PM
So, This College Professor Makes The Case That Antifa Violence Could Be Ethical

So, as with most things on the far left, all you have to do is wait patiently for them to trip up. Yes, they were violent in Charlottesville, where they confronted white nationalist groups who were supposedly there to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, but a woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a white nationalist plowed through a group of counter protesters. That horrific incident overshadowed the rest of the group’s ugliness, though Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has said that anyone who committed violence in the city will be found, regardless of political affiliation. It made the president’s remarks, in which he blamed both sides, a tad odd since one side decided to commit a homicide with a car, though the focus is now solely on Antifa, who descended into Berkeley, California and proceeded to beat people up.

As Guy wrote, the rally was called Patriot Prayer. It was not a white supremacist event, but it was cancelled anyway. That didn’t stop Antifa from chasing people, specifically Trump supporters, and beating them. Journalists were also harassed. Now, the mayor of Berkeley said that free speech week at the college campus should be cancelled because the left might riot. In other words, we can’t offend these far left loony birds. Shutting down constitutionally protected free speech through violence or threat of violence and rioting is, well, quite fascistic. Heck, even The Washington Post is noting that Antifa is violent, which is quite ironic since the paper published an op-ed about how the political left had renounced violence. That didn’t age well at all.

So, is this defensible. Is some speech so horrid that it’s akin to violence and must be confronted by any means necessary, or so odious given its past history that it must be violently uprooted before it can take hold? Most importantly, is it ethical? Well, one professor thinks so. Dartmouth professor Mark Bray, who was recently on NBC News’s Meet The Press this month has defended Antifa’s actions, noting that millions have died as a result of fascists taking power, and that more speech to their bad speech isn’t always the antidote. Benjy Sarlin, also of NBC News, interviewed Bray, where he said that such attacks on these alt-right groups are ethical [bold text represents NBC News:

NBC News: How would you define the antifa movement?

BRAY: It’s basically a politics or an activity of social revolutionary self defense. It’s a pan-left radical politics uniting communists, socialists, anarchists and various different radical leftists together for the shared purpose of combating the far right.


You wrote in your book: "At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase incorrectly ascribed to Voltaire that says I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." What do you mean by that?

Anti-fascists are illiberal. They don't see fascism or white supremacy as a view with which they disagree as a difference of opinion. They view organizing against them as a political struggle where the goal is not to establish a regime of rights that allow neo-Nazis and victims to coexist and exchange discourse, but rather the goal is to end their politics.

If you establish that so-called fascist speech is illegitimate, then who decides who will be targeted as fascist? Can’t it lead more mainstream politics to end up being targeted?

When anti-fascist groups successfully defeat the organizing of local neo-Nazis and fascists, what usually happens is their group falls apart and individuals go back to being labor organizers or environmentalists or whatever kind of leftist. The lifecycles of anti-fascist organizing rise and fall with the organizing of the far right.

Anti-fascists oppose anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and there is a certain political lens that — agree or disagree with the lens — there is an element of continuity in terms of the types of groups targeted. I don’t know of any Democratic party events that have been 'no platformed' (shut down) by anti-fascists. So there is a political lens, people will quibble about what the lens is, who designs the lens, but I don’t think the slippery slope is actually, in practice, nearly as much of a concern as people imagine it would be.


You write that violence represents a "small though vital sliver of anti-fascist activity" and you mention that it's not the only thing they're up to. But what makes it so vital?

Even if a group does not intend for that to be the way to go about it, if you’re organizing against violent fascists, being able to defend yourselves can unfortunately come in handy. The other part of it is looking at the broader historical trajectory of the rise of and fascism and Nazism in Europe, the liberal playbook for stopping the advance of fascism failed.


When you say self defense, are we talking about guarding clergy members in Charlottesville who are under attack when the police aren’t there, or do you consider self-defense charging neo-Nazis with clubs even if they haven’t necessarily attacked you?

I’m doing a couple of different things. I’m trying to lay out the history and the perspective of the anti-fascists themselves who are doing this work, and I’m situating myself certainly ethically and politically in this context. What I’m trying to say is that the various differing ways anti-fascists go about resisting fascism are legitimate to be considered, that they are historically formed and ethically reasonable. I try not to wade too far into "What about this and what about this." I like to leave it as general as "I support collective self-defense against fascism and Nazism."

So basically, you don’t want to take a clear position on that specific distinction (between self defense and preemptive attack).

In the abstract. I’m going to leave it at that if you don’t mind.

Yeah, no true American is a friend of fascism, and yes—its political rise in Europe led to the most destructive conflict in human history. Bray says you can’t ignore them and history shows what happens when you do. The Ku Klux Klan has fewer than 10,000 members total. The white nationalist wing of America is equally as popular. They may have a lot of groups, but not many members. I ignore this scum. I don’t care about them because we’re a consolidated democracy; the vast majority of Americans know that our system of government is, to quote academia here, the “only game in town.” Even at the height of racial segregation in America, and the power of the Klan, which did reach millions of members, there was no fascist takeover. Our institutions, the balance of power, and the inability for one branch of government to more or less become so powerful as to execute a coup akin to those we’ve seen in Asia and Latin America is virtually nil. There will be no tanks on the Capitol Grounds. Also, President Donald Trump is not a fascist. You may not like him, but he’s not a fascist. Neither was Bush, or Scalia, or Cheney. That’s the thing, the word has become synonymous with those with whom we have political disagreements, as we saw in Berkeley over the weekend, and that has morphed into left wingers adopting Gangs of New York rules for public protests.  The alt-right and the white nationalists are no different. Both groups represent the worst of America. Both groups are bullying, violent scum. It may feel good to punch a Nazi; it’s still assault. It’s still a crime. You just can’t punch people because they wear paraphernalia that might trigger you. If they throw punches, it’s a whole different ballgame, but beating people up because they may be a Trump voter or a Nazi is absurd. Ironically, this is exactly what the Nazis did to their opponents through their various paramilitary groups, specifically the Stormtroopers (Sturmabteilung), the first vestiges of Nazi Germany. Just because you don’t adhere to the ideology of Aryan-based National Socialism, but use the same tactics to beat up people you’re diametrically opposed to politically, doesn’t make you a good guy. Oh, and a big part of Adolf Hitler consolidating power was due to the Enabling Act within the constitution of the Weimar Republic, which would have never flied here.

Just because Antifa is battling neo-Nazis, or people who they think might be neo-Nazis, doesn’t make them the good guys. In this case, it looks like this is a group that has lived long enough* to see them become the villain.Oh, and what about the reporters who were roughed up? Well, it's okay because they were all white.

*Yes, it's the quote from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

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