Berkeley goes Berserk
Dusk was just setting in at the University of California-Berkeley when a group of thugs “dressed ‘like ninjas’” poured into the University’s Sprout Plaza, carrying Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and bats (Rocha and King). They had come to protest the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, a journalist from the ultraconservative news outlet Brietbart. Within minutes, chaos ensued. According to the LA times, the group began smashing windows, lighting fires, pepper-spraying bystanders and hurling fireworks at the police, ultimately forcing the University to cancel Yiannopoulos’s speech and leaving the city of Berkeley reeling (Rocha and King).
The mob of masked invaders hailed from the Antifa, which is short for anti-fascist or Anti-Fascist Action (Beinart). Antifa represents a shadowy, amorphous movement on the alt-left that seeks to combat so-called “fascism” and “hate speech” using violence. There are many components to fascism, but the primary aspect as defined by the Merriam and Webster Dictionary involves exalting the nation and a particular race above the rights of an individual. Besides anti-fascism, Antifa’s broad umbrella of ideologies encompasses anti-globalism, anti-capitalism and anarchism but also more conventional liberal goals such as anti-racism and anti-sexism (Steinmetz). Though their motivations may vary, one thread ties them together, namely a willingness to confront the ideas of the political right with the barrel of a gun. Most recently, Antifa activists have coalesced in opposition to President Trump and to his political followers.
Though their motivations may vary, one thread ties them together, namely a willingness to confront the ideas of the political right with the barrel of a gun.
The incident at Berkeley was only one of many riots carried out this year by the Antifa’s hit squads. On Inauguration Day, for instance, a masked protester punched infamous right-wing activist Richard Spencer; others, according to the National Review, spent the morning “throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, setting ablaze a limousine, and tossing chunks of pavement through the windows of several businesses” (Tuttle). Likewise, in March, protesters at Middlebury College, Vermont “pushed and shoved” the conservative guest speaker Charles Murray, and in April, an Antifa group called the Direct Action Alliance bullied the Republicans of Multnomah County, Portland into cancelling their annual Rose Festival (Beinart). This string of violence leaves no doubt as to Antifa’s intentions; they will do whatever is necessary to silence speech that is pro-Trump or conservative. The only real question is—where and when will the next strike take place, and most importantly, who will be the next target?
They are watching
Antifa participants trace their beginnings back to the Anti-Fascist Action movement of the 1920s and 1930s, in which some Europeans organized to oppose the fascism of Italy and Germany. After going dark throughout much of the Cold War, the movement resurfaced in America in the 1980s (“What is Antifa?”). Disillusioned with the United States, the anti-fascists formed a variety of groups, including Anti-Racist Action, Skinheads against Racial Prejudice, and the Love and Rage Anarchist Federation (Ensinna).
Throughout its history, the Antifa remained a decentralized, leader less network that relied on brutal violence to achieve its goals (Meyer). In Minneapolis in 1983, for instance, an anti-fascist street gang called the “Baldies” roamed the city, dishing out punches to neo-Nazis (Ensinna). The Antifa of the Trump era are no less violent. Masked and dressed in black, they wreak havoc wherever they arrive and have been classified as domestic terrorists by the Department of Homeland Security (Meyer).
The motivations of the antifascists are numerous and ill-defined, but CrimethInc.com, an Antifa website, describes one underlying ideology behind their actions:
“In this state of affairs, there is no such thing as nonviolence—the closest we can hope to come is to negate the harm or threat posed by the proponents of top-down violence . . . so instead of asking whether an action is violent, we might do better to ask simply: does it counteract power disparities, or reinforce them?” (“The Illegitimacy of Violence”).
If this isn’t already chilling, consider the mantra of another Antifa organization, the Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA):
“A warning to those who wish to destroy what we hold dear; We will resist you in the streets, in the poll booths and in the townhouses…. We will not allow history to repeat itself. We will shut you down everywhere you go. We will block your marches. We will interrupt your speeches. We will protest your legislation. We will be the thorn in your side.
“We are the ARA. We are watching” (“Louisville, KY”).
Keeping the Republic
The Antifa justify their violence by arguing that they are simply defending people against “fascism” and “hate speech.” Hate speech encourages violence, their argument goes, and so it must be countered with violence. However, there are two major flaws in this thinking.
For one, the Antifa overlook that time-tested maxim that two wrongs do not make a right. Even if those on the far right preach a message of intolerance, this does not justify a violent response. In fact, regardless of what the so-called “hate speech” consists of, violence is always unacceptable. The government alone has what political philosopher Max Weber calls a “monopoly on violence,” and no civic group has a right to use force to achieve their purposes (Beinart). In the words of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, “Democracies solve conflict through debate, not fisticuffs” (“Behind the Bedlam in Berkeley”). Clearly, instead of accepting the Antifa’s violence, liberals should uphold the rule of law and refuse to cater to the wishes of the mob.
The truth is, by resorting to violence, the Antifa make themselves indistinguishable from the fascists they claim to oppose. Ironically, even the black clothes that the Antifa wear resemble the uniforms of European fascist squads such as Mussolini’s “Blackshirt” thugs (“Blackshirt”). Those who tolerate the Antifa would do well to heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr., arguably America’s greatest anti-racist activist:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (King).
The truth is, by resorting to violence, the Antifa make themselves indistinguishable from the fascists they claim to oppose.
The second major flaw of the Antifa involves their violation of each citizen’s right to freedom of speech. They have violated this right by weaponizing the word “fascism” and twisting it to their own use. In essence, the problem with Antifa’s use of “hate speech” or “fascism” is the fact that only the Antifa themselves can determine what is truly “fascist” (Tuttle). As a result, everything that goes against the grain of Antifa ideology is branded as “fascist” and stamped out, while only the ideas espoused by Antifa are expressed. This is a classic example of what George Orwell called “Newspeak”: Newspeak “occurs whenever the main purpose of language — which is to describe reality — is replaced by the rival purpose of asserting power over it” (qtd. by Tuttle). The Antifa may not have won the war on the streets, but they have, at least on most college campuses, decisively won the war of the mind.
Furthermore, the Antifa disregard the fact that even hateful or extreme ideas have a right to be expressed, which demonstrates just how little knowledge they possess of what our country’s Founders believed. George Washington, for instance, argued that even those ideas that “involve the most serious and alarming consequences” should be heard out (“Great American Thinkers”). Likewise, James Madison believed in the “safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it” (Cost). Indeed, there is overwhelming constitutional basis for allowing the expression of all ideas. As the majority opinion of the Supreme Court declared in the 1974 case Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., “Under the First Amendment, there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries, but on the competition of other ideas” (“Gertz v. Robert Welch”). This is reiterated by UCLA professor of law Eugene Volokh: “The free speech/press guarantee extends to all viewpoints, good or evil. There is no exception, for instance, for Communism, Nazism, Islamic radicalism, sexist speech, or ‘hate speech,’ whatever that rather vague term may mean” (Volokh).
Ultimately, it is far easier to tear down a republic than to build one up. Our duty as citizens is to remain loyal to those allegiances that keep our republic intact—to God, to each other, and to the institutions and values established by our Constitution (Tuttle). Those who gravitate to the Antifa would do well to heed this advice. Otherwise, they may soon find that in their quest to save the Republic, they will have in fact destroyed it.
Rocha, Veronica and King, Peter H. “UC Berkeley blames violent ‘black bloc’ protestors for ‘unprecedented invasion.’” Los Angeles Times, 5 February 2017, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-black-bloc-uc-berkeley-protest-20170203-story.html. Accessed 16 September 2017.
Beinart, Peter. “The Rise of the Violent Left.” The Atlantic, September 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/the-rise-of-the-violent-left/534192/ . Accessed 16 September 2017.
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King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies.” p.1, 1957, http://www.sitemason.com/files/dd815C/Selections%20from%20MLK%20Jr%20on%20Forgviness.pdf. Accessed 16 September 2017.
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Volokh, Eugene. “Freedom of Speech and of the Press.” The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, http://www.heritage.org/constitution/amendments/1/essays/140/freedom-of-speech-and-of-the-press. Accessed 16 September 2017.