(WRITER’S NOTE: After writing this I thought more about the title and decided that it was important to remind everyone to be careful taking things at face value (face value…masks…get it?) For example, this title, while catchy, is not 100% accurate. Surgeons wear masks. Nurses wear masks. Fire-fighters wear masks. And Batman, the most bad-ass of all superheroes, wears a mask. So be skeptical of everything you read. Now onward.)
“The extreme always seems to make an impression.” – J.D., from the movie Heathers
We live in an extreme world. Even though great leaders have long espoused the power of moderation, over the long term, as a path towards permanent change, Americans often lack patience and prefer extreme measures to rational ones. The word extreme has been reduced to little more than a marketing tool. Your deodorant offers EXTREME protection. Your toothpaste offers EXTREME whitening. Even your snack foods are EXTREME. Why would anyone waste their time on normal when you can have an extreme? Americans love extremes. They want the immediate outcome promised from extreme actions.
It is interesting to note that when we look at things that are at opposite extremes, we often see that they have more in common than they have differences. For example, a devout atheist and a Christian fundamentalist may seem to be at extreme opposites, but often times share much in common. Both sides are often intolerant of differing views to the point of feeling compelled to constantly lecture those naive enough to believe differently than they do. Both sides often believe that the world would be a better place if everyone shared their views. Both sides believe that they know something that is scientifically unknowable. The list of similarities between opposing extremes is usually greater than the differences. Thus is the nature of extremism.
One extremist group that has been working overtime in the United States since the election of Donald Trump, are the White Nationalists/White Supremecists/Nazi fringe hate groups. While these groups may differentiate themselves in degrees and goals, they still represent roughly the same agenda, which is the exaltation of white people and their culture above other races. Some of these groups are particularly problematic, because they are well-armed and believe in using any means necessary to achieve their agenda.
Seemingly, at the opposite extreme is Antifa (ANTI-FAscist). Like the KKK these extremists hide behind masks and believe in using “any means necessary” to further their agenda.
While I am in absolute agreement with Antifa that fascism must be battled wherever it is found, I also believe that there is a blueprint for fighting White Supremacy that has been employed with great success by people such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. That path, of course, is not extreme and therefore does not necessarily appeal to people who desire the instant ego-gratification achieved through violence. It is a path that exalts strength of character above physical strength. It is the path chosen by Rosa Parks, Gautama Buddha, Bob Marley and John Lennon. I am speaking, of course, of non-violent resistance.
Using violence against White Nationalists elevates their cause. White Nationalist rallies like the one in Virginia last week occur on a regular basis. You don’t hear about them, because there is nothing newsworthy about morons yelling and holding Tiki-torches. The Nazis show up, hoping to elicit a reaction from counter-protesters. When they fail at their goal, they go home feeling further marginalized. The only reason why you are hearing so much about what happened in Charlottesville is because, in this case, the Nazis were able to achieve their goal of finding a counter-force that was willing to use violence. This offers them free media exposure which helps them to recruit others to their cause. It is for this reason that some have speculated that Antifa is actually an alt-right organization designed to help White Nationalists with recruiting.
Antifa members use their own form of hate-speech against those who do not believe in using violence to elevate the White Nationalist movement. They call those who disagree with their tactics “Nazi sympathizers”, a term designed to put peaceful Progressives in the same group as the fascists Antifa claim to be fighting. These tactics weaken non-violent resistance and allow Antifa members to attack peaceful leftists. Similar tactics have been used throughout history to divide movements.
An extreme type of black and white thinking pervades Antifa. Their very name is set up to divide with black and white thinking. If you are against Antifa’s tactics, then you must be pro-fascist, right? Extremist groups often seek to divide by eliminating the gray area of an issue. Extreme black and white thinking is a cornerstone of nearly every personality disorder in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychologists to evaluate mental disorders). One could make the case that Antifa is a cult that preys on people with violent personality disorders. Like any cult they believe that they are doing righteous work. Attempting to debate someone who suffers from extreme black and white thinking is difficult at best and usually resembles the following conversation.
Progressive: I hate Nazis, but I’m not sure that using violence is the best way to go about it?
Antifa: So you are a Nazi-sympathizer?!
Progressive: No. Like I said I hate Nazis but..
Antifa: Pick a side!! You are either FOR Nazis or you are AGAINST them!! Which is it?!
Progressive: I’m against Nazi-ism, but like I was saying..
Antifa: What?! What are you saying?! You’re going to make excuses for Nazis?! Then YOU’RE a Nazi!!
Now you find yourself one step away from being attacked by a violent extremist who believes that they are righteous in attacking you, because they have now labeled you as a fascist. In the Antifa extremist worldview, a fascist is anyone who does not agree 100% with their violent ideology. In their extreme black and white thinking you are either part of their myopic solution or you are part of the problem and Antifa believes fully in solving any and all problems with violence and destruction.
It is easy enough to pick an unpopular stance and name your group after the opposite of that stance. For example we could start a group against hate and call it Antiha (ANTI-HAte). This catchy name would allow us to use “any and all means necessary” to counteract hate. We could even use hate to counteract hate. If anyone opposed our hateful measures we could accuse them of being pro-hate and marginalize their voice. If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it absolutely is.
Life is not black and white. There’s more than one way to fight Nazi-ism. Breaking windows of local businesses like Antifa did in Seattle or destroying University property as they did at Berkeley does nothing to stop White Nationalism and unfortunately moves us closer to the right-wing police state that the elites have been trying to thrust on us since the Orwellian days of Richard Nixon. Simply put, Antifa’s tactics are counterproductive to our movement. If you are a Republican governor trying to get anti-protest laws passed in your state, having Antifa smashing in the windows of local businesses and starting fires in the streets is a quick and dirty way to scare the locals into agreeing with your Draconian law.
I certainly identify with the anger felt by Antifa and even admit to feeling schadenfreude at the sight of seeing Richard Spencer getting punched in his stupid, racist face. But this punch did nothing to change Spencer’s ideology. In fact, getting punched while expressing his views, however unpopular, made him into a sympathetic character in the eyes of those not particularly schooled on the finer details of Spencer’s creed. Most people had never heard of Spencer before the infamous sucker-punch. Antifa’s attack expanded Spencer’s base greatly and as Spencer is a deceptive and articulate speaker, this new broader base has allowed him to recruit new members to his disgusting cause.
White Nationalists are always seeking to recruit from the millions of white Americans who use the phrase “I’m not racist, but…” Many white Americans do not call themselves racist and would be appalled to be part of a group that openly and blatantly hated any minority group. White Nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke know this, so instead they seek to paint themselves as patriotic Americans who are simply trying to preserve American heritage. When a group that is dressed like Isis shows up and engages in violence against these “patriotic” Americans, it allows them to use their sympathetic position to recruit the “I’m not racist, but…” white Americans, who now begin to see themselves as fellow patriots who are simply trying to defend white heritage against an extremist group. In this way, “Antifa is a major gift to the right.” as Noam Chomsky has been pointing out recently.
I cannot stress enough that Antifa is the absolute best recruiting tool that alt-right White Nationalists have at their disposal. Without Antifa, these clowns are exposed for exactly what they are, or they are ignored, which is the very thing they fear the most. The Nazi movement in America is small and fringe. You can equate it roughly to a toddler who has been put in timeout. It will kick and scream and throw anything it can get its hands on in order to try to gain your attention. Antifa is the equivalent of smacking the toddler in the face. Their extreme actions give these Nazis EXACTLY what they are seeking. Listen to the disgraceful words of their White Supremacist President, Donald Trump. Over and over again he says “What about the actions of the alt-left?!” in his attempts to normalize the behavior of these Nazis while simultaneously marginalizing our powerful leftist voice. Antifa pushes us closer to the second civil war the White Nationalists has been courting for decades. Antifa makes the White Nationalist movement sympathetic to those who otherwise would not have aligned themselves with it.
Antifa says that they believe in the use of physical violence as to “make racism so unpalatable as to discourage anyone from practicing it.” If only humans were actually wired this way, then I would fully support this use of force. But we know intuitively that violence only causes those on the receiving end to double-down on their belief, while simultaneously recruiting others to feel sympathy for the victim and their cause.
Imagine that you were exercising your First Amendment Right to free speech on the subject of pro-choice, for example. You believe very strongly in a woman’s right to choose and you are peacefully demonstrating, using your voice, when suddenly someone in a black mask comes up and punches you in the face. How hard would the person have to punch you to turn you pro-life? Of course the question is ludicrous. Violence will never change your mind on that subject or any other. All it will do is to cause you to be more locked into your belief than ever. Now you have been assaulted for your belief. Before you were simply a single voice. Now you are a martyr. It will be much easier to recruit people to your side for future rallies. People who normally could not care less about your politics will suddenly want to be by your side. Violence against you has made you more effective at spreading your ideology. It has had the opposite effect of its intention. Enduring a punch is a small price to pay for the ability to effectively spread one’s philosophy. If I were Richard Spencer, I would pay someone to dress up in all black and punch me. My jaw would feel better with a few aspirin, but my message would be heard by millions of people I couldn’t have reached previously.
Let us not dismiss violent resistance entirely. For example, during World War II violence against Nazis was absolutely necessary. But let’s not make ourselves look foolish by comparing hate-mongering idiot, Milo Yiannopoulos, to Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. To do so would be to give him entirely too much credit. Milo Yiannopoulos was a virtual unknown before Antifa burned the Berkeley campus. Overnight he became a household name. Once again Antifa had the effect of elevating the alt-right cause. Their antics canceled one speech that would have only been heard by a handful of people. But as a result of their violence, millions who had never heard of Milo Yiannopoulos before, became interested in what he had to say and as Milo is a deceptive and persuasive speaker, surely he was able to sway some of this newfound audience over to his garbage ideology. If I were Milo Yiannopoulos, I might even consider hiring people to dress up like Isis and burn down the place where I was suppose to be speaking as a publicity stunt.
As much as I would like personally to slap Milo Yiannopoulos in his little bitch mouth, I simply cannot reward him by turning him into a martyr. Nor can I make the claim that his rhetoric is somehow violent, simply because it leads others to inaccurate viewpoints that can lead to violence. The most proactive thing I could do to counteract hate-speech is to educate others as to their methods, so they will not fall victim to them. If I really want to silence Nazis I can use The First Amendment and apply a variety of different political pressures to the venues that allow them a place to speak, reminding venue operators of the peril they are putting themselves in as hate-speech is not protected under The First Amendment. I can threaten to publicize their position and this will undoubtedly cost them future revenue. This is the strength that the left has long been known for, the strength of creativity and relentless political pressure.
We have these Nazis outnumbered 10,000 to 1. Let’s not help them grow their numbers. If a Nazi puts his hands on you, then knock his stupid-ass back into the dark ages he crawled out of. But don’t allow yourself to be provoked to violence with words.
Because that is EXACTLY the reaction they are looking for.