In the wave of the violence used by right-wing extremists, many seem to forget the violent side of the extreme left. Without defending the alt-right, we must seek to condemn all violence, regardless of which side it comes from.
Richard Rorty, one of the most important liberal political philosophers of the late 20th century, said that “if you think you’re going to change the mind of a Nazi with the use of an absolutist ethic, you’re missing the boat”, and Albert Camus, another prominent philosopher, warned of the possibility that anti-fascism could come to mirror its enemy and that it could start to embrace the very same principles of domination and the overuse of violence that it sought to fight. One glance at the Antifa today proves both thinkers right.
The Antifa rose to prominence as a response to alt-right groups which gained an increase in exposure after the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. Amongst the many left-wing populist groups that have seen a resurgence, the Antifa stands out as the most outspoken and the most aggressive. The name ‘Antifa’ is an abbreviation of ‘anti-fascism’, though the group routinely adopts violent, fascistic practices to silence dissenting voices. While the Antifa has caused quite the buzz in mainstream media, the anti-fascist movement has been around for nearly a century. Historically, anti-fascism was defined as “a reactive and militant opposition to fascist groups in power”. It was birthed out of the need for marginalized groups to fight against anti-democratic and authoritarian ideologies characterized by strong nationalism.
Fascism first arose after the First World War; it was the first time the black shirts and fascism as a concept appeared in a global political arena. They advocated an aggressive nationalism where the culture of their people was portrayed as superior to other people’s cultures. In devastating post-war times, high unemployment and difficult social conditions run amok in European societies and resentful workers started to look to the newly formed Soviet Union with its communist agitation, which won many benevolent listeners. As resentment surged among workers, and strikes and factory occupations became increasingly common, a counter-reaction came. Young men with black shirts and determined gazes marched through the streets, calling themselves fascists.
Fast forward to more recent times, fascism-like movements have taken a life of their own. Fascists no longer call themselves fascists. They patrol the streets in illusory costumes and are out to hunt everything, from Trump supporters to dissenting journalists. On Saturday, June 29th, the Antifa descended in Portland for a counter-demonstration to the ‘Him Too’ protest, a movement organized by the radical right-wing group Proud Boys in support of Brett Kavanaugh and against ‘false rape charges’. Violence erupted, and journalist Andy Ngo, who is an outspoken critic of the Antifa, was recognized and beaten. The assault was captured on film by local journalist Tim Ryan and on the film we hear people screaming ‘Fuck you Andy’ before he gets viciously attacked with strokes, kicks, sprays, and milkshakes.
Winston Churchill once said, “The fascists of the future will call themselves ‘anti-fascists’.” It is worth considering. The Antifa has entirely lost the political purpose they once held. A recurring formulation is that the violence by the extreme left is tactically conditioned and intended to protect and defend democracy, but which extremists claim differently? Extremists are dangerous specifically because they take liberties to act above law and consider themselves as saviors in a society that, according to them, is in the process of being overthrown. Why would it be that violence is so much greater when it comes from the right than when it comes from the left? Many believe that the alt-left has a better purpose and that violence coming from them is more justified and unintentional but the reality couldn’t be further from it. Mike Isaacson, one of the founders of Smash Racism D.C., an Antifa organization in Washington, has publicly defended the use of violence as a legitimate tool to combat the creeping threat of what he deems authoritarianism.
The only reasonable attitude which applies to both the alt-right as well as the alt-left is that the purpose does not sanctify the means, and that violent political extremism must always be judged equally regardless of the ideology behind it.