Last weekend, neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallied to “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was removed. They were confronted by militant Antifa protesters who marched alongside peaceful protesters. As chaos ensued, at least three people were killed and dozens injured.
Many rightly criticized President Trump for his failure to condemn the white supremacist alt-right by name in the aftermath of Charlottesville. Nevertheless, his claim that “a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent” should not be overlooked.
As a Jewish person, it is disturbing to see neo-Nazis come out of their mom’s basements to proudly preach their racist anti-semitic beliefs. That said, they are infinitely less threatening than the ironically named “anti-fascists” who violently shut down speech with which they disagree.
Antifa thugs are infamous for their brazen attacks on free speech advocates, and on conservatives in particular. Yet, their violent repression of political opponents resembles the work of Hitler’s Brownshirts far more than the incompetence of the neo-Nazis. Antifa members are masked and armed; the neo-Nazis wear everyday clothes and holds their tiki torches. When Anitfa shows up to events, they are organized and ready to violently shut down “hate speech.” It’s hard to say what the neo-Nazis are ready for.
These attacks on free speech are direct results of two increasingly mainstream leftist ideas in academia. The first is that “hate speech” is not covered under speech laws. The concept of “hate speech” supposedly allows students to riot and violate the free speech rights of conservative speakers on campus. If conservatives espouse “hate speech,” it is legal, and even obligatory, to shut them down.
For the more moderate left, this justifies loud protests and first amendment encroachments. It does not necessarily explain the rise in physical violence against “hate speech.”
To explain the rise in violence, we must turn to the second idea from left-wing academics: speech as potentially violent. This absurd notion justifies physical violence in certain situations, such as incorrectly assuming someone’s gender. That’s right: misgendering someone is now a form of violence. This argument is also used when discussing a variety of other issues, including the labeling of “undocumented” immigrants as “illegal” immigrants.
This kind of rhetoric leads to a group like Antifa. After all, if “hate speech” isn’t free speech, then we must shut it down. If what they are saying is violent, then we have to respond with violence. That’s how we got Antifa.
Mainstream politicians and cable news commentators on the left have condemned Antifa, but its popularity among grassroots leftists and academics is growing. Conversely, the alt-right collection of neo-Nazis and white supremacists has been widely condemned, and while they have a greater public presence than a few years ago, their popularity is declining.
The alt-right is disgusting, but they are dying out on the farthest fringes of society. Antifa is growing, and it represents the logical conclusion of mainstream leftism, even if many leftists condemn them now. Sadly, their political violence is only going to escalate.
In short: I don’t fear the sick, white supremacist fantasies espoused by weirdos on the fringe of society. I fear the growing threat of violent leftist mobs.