Why on Earth are We Hand-Wringing Over Left-Wing Violence Right Now?Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Politics Features Antifa
Sometimes when you follow politics—and especially when you follow politics in 2017—a moment arises when it suddenly feels like you’ve entered a bizarro universe where nothing that seemed like conventional wisdom just a few days ago makes sense anymore and you’re the only one that remembers what the previous, normal universe was like. It feels a little like one such disconcerting moment is upon us right now, as it has only been a month since a violent right-wing white supremacist—the very type that has become increasingly emboldened since the election of Donald Trump—murdered an anti-fascist protester, Heather Heyer, and injured dozens of others following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Yet, somehow, the current media narrative appears to be hyper-focused on… left-wing violence?
It’s been less than a month since Donald Trump, the Fox News Grandpa President, infamously stood at a podium in his gold-plated hotel and decried political violence “on many sides.” Trump was—very rightfully—savaged by the press, by liberals, Democrats, leftists; even a few Republicans, not normally known for their unflinching moral principles, deigned to condemn his remarks with a slightly more forceful tone than their typical “Aw shucks” tepid distancing. For once, it was something we could all agree on. There is no equivalence between these two sides. It felt like we had turned a corner. Yet, amazingly, everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Vox to the Washington Post to the Daily Show seems to be falling over themselves to say, “Actually, Trump was right. There is an equivalence between the two sides.” Why are they doing this? What is wrong with them?
The impetus for this current conversation stems from this short clip of a violent scuffle in Berkeley shared by journalist Shane Bauer, by far the most widely shared piece of reporting he did that day; an incomplete picture of an ugly moment which was one part of a much larger context that was instantly disregarded. The rest of the reporting from that day told a larger story about many thousands of people successfully protesting against the forces of white supremacy and fascism, standing up for victims of oppression and sending a clear message that hate and xenophobia had no place in their community.
Yet the conversation that seems to have subsequently emerged is devoted largely to discussing a five second clip showing the tail end of a violent skirmish. It’s understandable that the right will elevate incidents like that in order to suggest that they are the true victims of violence and oppression. Re-framing the debate in this way and constantly keeping their ideological opponents on the defensive is what they do. But liberals can’t seem to help themselves from taking the bait time and time again. What was true tthen—again, we all seemed to be in agreement about this—remains true today: there is no equivocation between these two sides, and to attempt to make that case is repugnant.
Here’s the reality about right wing violence. Setting aside incidents like the Oklahoma City terrorist attack or the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin or the more recent Charleston Church shooting, or even Charlottesville, in 2017 alone right wing extremists have been responsible for dozens of murders and violent attacks. There was the fatal, unprovoked stabbing of student Richard Collins III in Maryland. The man who traveled to New York specifically to kill black men, and stabbed a homeless man to death. The horrifying double murder on a Portland commuter train. The man who shouted racial epithets at and then shot two Indian men, killing one, in Kansas City. The racially-motivated shooting of a Sikh man in Kent, Washington. The shooting of a protester by a couple of Milo Yiannopoulos supporters outside an event in Seattle. The mass shooting of six Muslims at a Quebec City mosque.
These are just a few of the most high-profile of such incidents. On average this year, nine mosques across America are being targeted by right-wing arsonists and vandals per month. If there was a left-wing equivalent to any of these terrible incidents, certainly it would be newsworthy to elevate and discuss them. But there simply aren’t. And we should not be talking about black clad, stick-wielding left wing protesters—who, agree or not with their methods, recognize the threat fascism poses to all of us—as if they represent another side of the same coin. It was wrong when Trump did it in the hours and days following Charlottesville, and it remains wrong today.
No one wants to see violent clashes on the streets in America or anywhere else. It’s scary. But when neo-nazis, white supremacists and their allies on the right organize in the streets, espousing an inherently violent and dangerous ideology, spreading a message of hate and terrorizing immigrants, people of color, or other marginalized communities, it’s as inevitable as the law of relativity that they’ll eventually face a militant opposition. Especially when the state seems to go out of its way to sanction and protect their particular form of speech, while violently cracking down on others. This is all simply a sad reality of the world we’ve created for ourselves.
Of course we can all agree that peaceful, nonviolent, mass opposition—which is really what we’ve seen in the incredibly inspiring demonstrations in Boston and Berkeley—is the ideal way to confront these toxic, violent right wing groups. But instead of spending time elevating, equivocating, and condemning the people who in many cases lately have been the only ones standing between the vulnerable and those that mean to do them real harm, perhaps that energy could be better spent on actually confronting the oppressive forces of white supremacy and fascism in a meaningful way.