The recent debacle in Charlottesville, Virginia underscores the increasing danger of “protests” that are really nothing more than street fights. When a loose coalition of white supremacists, white nationalists, right-wing protesters, and others gathered in Charlottesville — ostensibly to oppose the removal of the city’s sculpture of Robert E. Lee — initial photos of the event made the attendees look silly. But when the violent political action group Antifa arrived on the scene, things turned from cringey and ugly to physical and deadly. When the white supremacists upped the ante to murder, the only thing that should have surprised us was that this atrocity took so long to occur.
Much political hay has been made of the subsequent death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a paralegal from Charlottesville. There is no indication Heyer was a member of Antifa; she was, according to many reports, among a group of peaceful counter-protesters run down by 20-year-old Ohio resident James Fields. While Fields has not been tried as of this writing, news reports speculate that the crash was a deliberate act of domestic terrorism on the order of the “vehicle jihad” seen in terror attacks around the world.
Lost in the discussion over Heyer’s tragic, senseless death — and whether “white supremacists” should be allowed permits to assemble publicly — has been the cause-and-effect principle at work here. For years in the United States, popular culture and politics have vilified white people. This drumbeat has been underscored by academic courses, public debates, polemics, and punditry on the “nature of whiteness,” the pervasive oppression inherent in “white privilege,” and so on. These attacks have created a backlash, a resentment on the part of some whites who feel culturally disenfranchised.
The common enemy of a popular culture that seemingly hates them for being born white has been enough to unite many disparate entites on the fringes of far-left and far-right politics. Thus we saw a string of odd allies in Charlottesville, ranging from mainstream right-wingers, conservatives, and libertarians — perhaps holding their noses at the presence of their alt-right, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi bedfellows — to the worst bigots and activists all these groups can and do field. When you attack someone or a group of someones for long enough, you will inevitably prompt them to fight back. Whether their rage is justified won’t matter when you take a bike lock to the skull in the ensuing street skirmish.
This is not to say that evil should not be fought. The same logic can and has been used to claim that we should not fight crime, that we should not enforce drug laws, that we should not be aggressive with foreign terrorists, and so on. Evil must be combated where it exists… but we must be cognizant of the causes and effects this battle entails and engenders.
In many ways, our right-versus-left woes are very reminiscent of street battles between Nazis and Communists in Hitler’s Germany. Antifa are violent communists, left-wing activists who believe you have no right to disagree and no right to free speech. On the other side is a spectrum of… call them Not Progressives, who range from the vilest of neo-Nazi scum on one end of the scale to the most well-meaning of libertarians and anarcho-capitalists on the other. What unites Antifa and the Left against these Not Progressives is what unites the Not Progressives in opposition. The dispute hinges on agreement with — or opposition to — progressive politics.
The missing component in the increasingly violent (and now lethal) political street battles in the United States is any real recognition of the role played by the violent Left. Until Charlottesville, Not Progressives had generally been peaceful. They were content to talk (and fight for their right to talk despite moves to de-platform them). The prevalence of pepper spray at rallies and the appearance of memes like Based Stickman pointed to a shift in that paradigm — but what caused that shift was violent action by Antifa.
In all recent cases of political violence, Antifa and other masked left-wing terrorists have at least initially provoked that violence. Their philosophy is that what they consider evil must be fought at all costs and with any means necessary. This includes violent, unprovoked physical assault. It has been said that any man who must wear a mask to speak his mind is not terribly proud of what he has to say. More practically, those who intend to break the law conceal their identities to prevent their later apprehension.
The white supremacists have now committed murder. This is a Rubicon that cannot be uncrossed. It is one that portends great danger to all peaceful citizens. But remember also that the only reason Antifa has not already managed to kill someone is not for lack of trying. They are now regularly bringing weapons to political protests and counter-demonstrations, assaulting innocent citizens with bike locks and other improvised weaponry, and producing videos and posts on social media advocating for assault and battery on those they oppose. This was all occurring before the domestic terror incident in Charlottesville. The lack of an Antifa body count to this point has been sheer luck.
There has been a tremendous amount of political violence since Trump’s election. No less than President Trump himself acknowledged the role that Antifa has played in our nation’s recent street battles — to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media. From a personal security standpoint, however, what you must remember is that these are groups who are only too willing to hurt you and kill you for disagreeing with them. Right or left or somewhere in between, if you get caught between these groups, you may be hurt or killed. That is why this is a personal security matter. That is why this issue appears on these pages.
Most disturbing from a street-fighting standpoint is the prevalence of armor to accompany protesters’ improvised weapons. Clubs, shields, and helmets are now de rigueur at political events. It was the Not Progressives who started that nasty trend. After several high-profile defeats at the hands of the Not Progressives, Antifa chatter online started focusing on the need to armor up… because the Not Progressives were going armed, wearing motorcycle helmets, and carrying shields.
This should make you worry for your safety. Even the most ungainly, slovenly, untrained protester is a danger to you if armed and armored in this way. When Antifa members with pink baseball bats, shields, and helmets showed up at Heather Heyer’s funeral, the spectacle would have been cringe-worthy if not for the real danger those individuals presented. If you, alone, are beset by a gang of people in helmets, with bats, and with shields, you could easily be killed. This is the new physical reality of political expression in the United States.
Choose your political participation carefully. Be very aware of your environment at political events. If you see helmets, armor, baseball bats, or other street-battle accouterments, remove yourself from the area immediately. Not since the Civil Rights era has it been more dangerous to express yourself in public — or to be, white or black, right or left, the wrong color or political party in the wrong place at the wrong time. To take responsibility for your safety and that of your family, you cannot afford not to recognize the dangers presented by ALL these activist groups… including the corrosive role that Antifa and the Left play in provoking incidents that Not Progressives then escalate.
Soon, and perhaps already, it won’t matter “who started it.” What matters is how much danger you’ll be in if you’re caught on the street during one of these chaotic political battles.