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The Trouble with Antifa

By Casey Dorman

I’ve recently seen a number of articles and even a book defending the tactics of Antifa and other groups that use violence to fight alt-right and neo-Nazi demonstrators, and speakers. Some of have cited historical instances, such as the Civil Rights Movement using the Deacons of Defense to protect nonviolent demonstrators, or Gandhi’s words, suggesting that violence may a necessary resort in some cases. These citations have misrepresented these instances. Although Martin Luther King, Jr. consented to using the Deacons of Defense to protect marchers on at least one occasion, and Mahatma Gandhi said that if someone was unable to use nonviolence to “protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by non-violently facing death,” he could use violence, he was clear that it was “second best”  and neither Martin Luther King, Jr. nor Gandhi regarded violent protest as a useful or valid method of achieving their goals. Finally, claims that German “passivity” allowed Hitler to come to power misrepresents the support he had among the people. Furthermore, Hitler used violence perpetrated by Communists as the excuse to suppress freedom of speech and assembly and was supported by the citizens who feared “street violence.”  The fear of “violent Bolshevism” was as strong a recruitment tool for Nazism as was anti-Semitism.

There are several very definite dangers in the use of planned violence as a method of protest:

1. It often results in public support for those it opposes. While those on the left may never equate the behavior of neo-Nazis and Antifa-like groups, there are many among the public, supported by conservative media, who do, and it is these people who are the most likely to be swayed by racist or anti-Semitic rhetoric or to support ultra-conservative policies and political candidates. They are the ones who need to be targeted for anti-racist messages and persuasion, because they are the ones who are most likely to fall prey to White Nationalism.

2. Despite the claim that the presence of a violent component to protect or augment nonviolent protesters, is more effective and insures the safety of the protesters, a 2015 study by Erica Chenoweth and Nancy Schock of the effect of “violent flanks” within larger nonviolent movements found that:

a. Violent flanks that emerge from within otherwise nonviolent campaigns appear to decrease these campaigns’ likelihood of success.

b. Mass participation is the strongest determinant of nonviolent campaign success, and violent flanks have a negative effect on participation levels, suggesting that violent flanks can indirectly contribute to campaign failure.

c. In case studies, armed movements were consistently shown not to protect nonviolent activists but rather to put them at greater risk, as authorities used the presence of armed actors to justify widespread repression against all resistance movements, violent and nonviolent alike.

3. Those who support groups such as Antifa claim that the evil they are opposing—neo-Nazism, the KKK, White Supremacy—presents a far greater threat of harm than anything they are doing to stop them from expressing their views, so the aim of preventing them expression is a valid one. The difficulty here is that the violent group itself is the arbiter of which views should be allowed and which not. We have laws, based on our constitution, on what speech is allowed and what is not. Such laws have protected not just neo-Nazis, but Communists, flag burners, war protesters and athletes who show their defiance in public. Antifa has “shut down” not just neo-Nazis, but Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopolous, Charles Murray, and Ben Shapiro, while other groups have used violence or the threat of violence to stop Israeli speakers from speaking on campuses, anti-abortion activists, and conservative politicians (e.g. Condoleezza Rice). Once violence is the determiner of what views are allowed to be expressed, we are no longer a free society.

I am terrified of the threat of Nazism and White Supremacy, but malignant ideas should be opposed by arguing against them, not by using violence.

Casey Dorman is editor of Lost Coast Review and the author of the new political novel, 2020, which can be found at Amazon

Reader Comments (2)

Well said Csaey. Thanks for bringing the facts to light.

September 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

There is no distinction in acts of political violence. Any such action is vile and reprehensible, no matter the self-righteous justification held in cognitive dissonance by any aggressor.

The best way to defeat a person espousing a supremacist attitude of any sort is to encourage them to speak their views in the public square, where they can then be subject to superior logic, ridicule and laughter. There's nothing quite so defeating as a preposterous political rant followed by a raucous round of derisive laughter. No one wants to follow a ridiculous person with a ridiculous mission.

September 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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