As children, we learn that America is a nation forged in civil disobedience. The Boston Tea Party, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, Women’s Suffrage, the Labor Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and anti-war movements stretching all the way from the Mexican-American War to current movements against the War on Terror. With all of these movements, we’ve come to understand civil disobedience as a mechanism for social change. We’ve also come to learn that social change requires far more than mere passive resistance.
Protesters are moved to action by deeply held moral conviction and feelings of distress associated with an injustice, to expect them all to be peaceful, simply flies in the face of logic. This is no less true of Antifa and their movement against the far-right. For these leftists, kicking back while a pervasive nationalistic, pro-white, anti-trans, anti-semitic, anti-immigrant police state washes over the country is simply not an option. Doing nothing should be perceived as an abdication of one’s personal, moral and ethical responsibility. And yet, it would seem that those perched on their secure, comfortably-moderate soapboxes, in their safe communities seem to be asking for just that. Do nothing to fight the KKK, neo-Nazis, and White nationalists who have mobilized across the country in the era of Trump. At least, that was the story 2 weeks ago.
Unfortunately, the media has shifted a bit further from the rational this week, embracing the utterly illogical notion that anti-fascists, not Nazis, are the bad guys. While the President’s “both sides“ argument was shitty enough in the wake of Charlottesville, it appears that some liberal media and liberal politicians are trying to ‘out-Trump’ Trump with their almost exclusive condemnation of Antifa. For example, Nancy Pelosi’s statement condemning “Antifa violence“, while failing to discuss the growing threat of far-right extremist violence. An odd thing for her to neglect, considering that right-wing extremists have been responsible for the vast majority of domestic terrorism since 9/11, and Antifa has been responsible for none. Not even one death.
Perhaps more egregiously, Daily Show commentator Trevor Noah broadcast to millions of Americans that Antifa was “vegan ISIS.” Apparently, Noah didn’t see the irony or the offensive nature of the label, given that Heather Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville by a White Supremacist using the same vehicle-attack method specifically called for by ISIS and Al Qaeda. She lost her life defending the very things “liberals” are supposed to stand for, while Trevor Noah earned a multimillion dollar paycheck to sit behind a desk and be remarkably bad at his job.
It seems fairly obvious that America’s elites have no issue enabling right-wing extremist violence, as long as they aren’t made uncomfortable, and as long as leftist counter-protesters are brought to heel. But, moderates and elites have always been more comfortable with passive pussy hat-type resistance, and sadly we’re a country full of moderates. Hell, given the tone of our media this week, Dr. King’s 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail could have just as easily been written today.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.
The media’s song and dance and the moderate American’s refusal to put their personal comfort on the back burner to fight social injustice is nothing new. Gallup polling in 1968 showed that 74% of Americans believed that demonstrations, marching, and picketing were hurting the Civil Rights movements. And as for moderates, those who so proudly invoke the name of MLK today, 50% of them believed that Dr. King was personally hurting the movement. Peaceful, somewhat peaceful, not peaceful, none of that really matters. Most Americans just don’t want to be reminded that shit is bad for other people, they don’t want to see it, they don’t want to know about, and they damn sure don’t want to actually have to do something about it.
Of course, our political and media elite are happy to oblige them. In the end. it suits their purpose to prevent a leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist movement, not only in this country, but in any country. They’ve been working, hand in glove, with our intelligence agencies in this capacity for decades. Frankly, revelations this week that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had labeled Antifa “anarchist extremists” and “instigators” and formally classified their activities as “domestic terrorist violence” long before the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, weren’t all that shocking. It’s a long-standing pattern, the FBI has been infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting leftist movements viewed as threatening for almost as long as they have been in operation.
For example, more than 60 years ago the FBI launched COINTELPRO with one simple goal, infiltrate leftist groups including the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party, the New Left, and the Black Panther Party, foster factionalism, create suspicion, turn members against one another, discredit and defame individuals in the media, and neutralize the movement. Most notoriously, it is the operation that infiltrated the Chicago Black Panther Party and played a key role in the assassination of Party leader Fred Hampton in 1969. While COINTELPRO was officially terminated in 1971, Ronald Reagan expanded the CIA and other intelligence agencies power by executive order in 1981, giving them broad power to infiltrate and disrupt American organizations. Therefore, it is easy to consider that these tactics may still be used against groups like Antifa today.
With that in mind, Thom Hartmann issued a well-timed warning for the fash-bashing of Antifa earlier this week:
There’s little doubt in my mind, having lived through the era of COINTELPRO and the Patriot Act, that somewhere out there is a person who’s planning to commit an act of terrorism. It may be a dedicated but deluded left-winger, or more likely, a right-winger hoping to stir things up by pretending to be a left-winger. And Trump and his friendly “news” outlets are ready to use it.
Perhaps apocryphally, Mark Twain once noted that “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
There’s no shortage of examples of that rhyme, and given all the “mainstream” press now being thrown at the Antifa movement, it’s a sure thing that they’re going to be the administration’s and the media’s next big boogeyman.
Hartmann is undoubtedly correct. The internet is full of (sometimes hilarious) examples of right-wingers who’ve been owned in their attempts to discredit people of color and the left by way of edited videos, false police reports, fake vandalism and conspiracy theories. The simple fact of the matter is this, far right-wing extremism does not challenge the establishment, it doesn’t affect bank accounts of the wealthy, it doesn’t affect the safety or well-being of the elite, it poses no real danger to the Capitalist system, and so media and other elites are content to enable it while wagging fingers and waging war on the Left.
Ignore them, ignore the hype, ignore the pearl-clutching, hand-wringing moderate and the “both sides” bullshitter, because frankly, none of this new. If you’re not a dapper dickhead racist posing as a respectable young man, or a Roman saluting swastika emblazoned scumbag, Antifa is not your enemy. Whether you agree with their methods or not, one would certainly hope you are aligned with their values. Rather than disparaging Antifa’s methods from a comfortable distance, Americans should consider it their moral and ethical duty to simply show up and stand alongside them in defending the fundamental right of PoC to exist in this country. This is hardly controversial.