The last few weeks in American political life have been truly insane. I mean, for anyone with at least a vague understanding of the early days of Putin’s Russia it might seem believable but really, we’re experiencing an unprecedented level of lunacy.
The lunacy isn’t exclusive to the Trump administration though. The clashes between activated members of the Alt-Right and Antifa (Antifaschistische Aktion) have become cause for concern for anyone with a nostalgic longing for a workable democracy. Antifa, a mostly white male group of university educated, inner city dwelling activists, have used violence on anyone who they see as fascistic in multiple conflicts around the United States. Antifas almost always have their faces covered from the nose down making them hard to identify.
The sucker punching last week of Neo Nazi Richard B. Spencer by an Antifa was celebrated by many on the left as retribution for Spencer publicly spreading a poisonous ideology. There were very few voices saying ‘OH, so that’s what we do now? Punch people we don’t like?’ Once classically liberal leftists adopted the rhetoric of the fascist enemy. Any means necessary became the mantra.
An Antifa was shot outside a Milo Yiannopolous rally in Seattle last week after attacking a Milo supporter from behind. Masked Antifa protesters at the same rally were also spotted using violence towards women. Behaviour like this would have once been considered disgusting and unacceptable, yet people have decided that the threat of fascism is so real that it’s ok abandon discourse and replace it with primal violence against anyone who is an enemy to your ideology.
This fundamentalism doesn’t just apply to leftists though. The right are, of course, guilty of it too. Various conservative activists and commentators have thought it is totally acceptable to ‘reclaim’ the name Nazi. Obviously being accused of Nazism enough times has done one of two things; a) take the on brand in an ironic mockery of leftist hysteria, or b) seriously accept the branding due to their nationalist politics and their place in the war against ‘commies’.
The hysteria on the left is fuelled by hysteria on the right and so on and so on forever and ever. Increasingly people are giving up on debate as a way to find common ground and take solace in grouping, othering, isolating and fighting. Much to the despair of every classically liberal moderate. The completely self indulgent idea that radical ideology is adopted by people who ‘just care more’ about the future than everyone else is laughable, considering most of us in the middle only see this extremism tearing our civilisation apart. Whether your book is the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf, The SCUM Manifesto or The Myth Of Male Power, The Bible or the Koran; you’re only empowering the enemy by refusing to engage them.
We spent centuries evolving from feudal tribalism into liberal democracies. Obviously these societies which we created were not fair for everyone. Inequality and power have been constantly challenged. Abolitionism, civil rights, women’s suffrage/liberation and many other struggles have changed the fabric of our society and helped it become fairer, freer and more liberal for more people. The difference between these movements and the clashes between the Alt-Right and Antifa is that we’re now seeing no real effort from one party to engage the other. The violence employed by Antifa, whether it’s justified or not (it’s not) is just causing more violence. Supporters of Richard Spencer have put a bounty of over $5000US on his attacker. Although they claim that the bounty is only about identifying the man so he can be bought to justice, the sheer employment of a ‘bounty’ at all sends a clear message. With one punch Antifa have started a war they may not be equipped to win.
While both sides squabble on the terms of their fight, those of us in the middle are trying to figure out how we’re all going to move forward without destroying each other. We should peacefully protest any assault on our freedoms but this also means rejecting radicalisation and fundamentalism in any form it might take.
When our society abandons judging people for their individual deeds in favour of attacking entire groups based on ideology then liberalism and democracy is dead. When we assume the powers of the state to inflict violence on others we are pissing all over everything previous generations had to fight for. Nobody’s political opinion, radical or otherwise, is more important than that. No ideology is more important than peace and democracy. Both the Alt-Right and Antifa would do well to remember this.