Leave it to America’s far left to make fighting Nazis seem unreasonable.
This past Saturday, my hometown of Boston, Mass., became a focal point in the racial and political unrest that has seized the nation since the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., the previous weekend. In the City of Beans, a gang of similarly-minded individuals planned to hold a “free speech rally” on Boston Common—speech that presumably would include incitements to racial and anti-Semitic violence, à la Charlottesville.
In response, city residents mounted what could only be described as an overwhelming show of counter-force: a phalanx of 40,000 sign-wielding liberals who marched two miles from Roxbury to the Common in a concerted effort to demonstrate just how undesirable racism has become in this increasingly welcoming New England town.
Of those 40,000 people, 33 were arrested for disorderly conduct such as throwing rocks and bottles at police and instigating scuffles with those they deemed to be their mortal enemies—i.e., Nazis, Klansmen and the like.
In such a contentious, emotionally-wrought environment, 33 arrests might seem like small potatoes—a negligible amount of hooliganism in an otherwise respectful and orderly exercise of free assembly in an uncertain time.
Indeed, it would be an impressively small figure, except for one thing: There were virtually no white supremacists on Boston Common that day.
Yes: Initially, several representatives of America’s leading neo-Nazi groups—including those who appeared in Charlottesville—were slotted to speak at the Common’s Parkman Bandstand on Saturday. However, because the blowback to this event was so ferocious—on the part of both ordinary citizens and the city’s mayor and chief of police—nearly all of the most contemptible and poisonous of these genocidal thugs opted to get the hell out of town before the thing ever really got off the ground.
What remained of this “free speech rally,” then, was a disparate, minuscule and heavily cordoned-off collection of libertarian weirdos whose unifying purpose seemed to be nothing more concrete than to celebrate the right to gather in a public park and make an unholy spectacle of yourself. Among the few who actually spoke (not that anyone could hear them) were an Indian-American entrepreneur running for U.S. Senate in 2018, along with the deaconess of a Rhode Island religious sect whose rituals include smoking cannabis through a giant ram’s horn.
There were no Confederate battle flags. No Nazi salutes. No tiki torches. No “Jews will not replace us.” No nothing.
In short—and to the world’s great relief—Boston was not Charlottesville. Not by a long shot. And yet, by their conduct, certain members of the heaving counter-protest seemed determined to believe that it was, and that the men and women squeezed into the Parkman Bandstand—some of whom carried rainbow flags and signs reading “Black Lives DO Matter”—were an existential threat to liberal democracy and deserving of the maximal abuse one can inflict in broad daylight while surrounded by Boston’s finest.
The result—as seen on TV—was that a handful of hapless white men in red caps—some of them undoubtedly scared out of their wits—were pushed, shoved, screamed at and put in such danger of serious bodily harm that they required a police escort back to their vehicles or some other private space. Indeed, without all those cops standing nearby, there is little doubt the scene would’ve turned real ugly, real fast.
This will not stand, my friends. This aggression will not stand.
If combating racism is to be the great mission of the Resistance under Donald Trump—and why on Earth shouldn’t it be?—we must follow the example of the 39,967 who did not cause trouble in Boston, while robustly condemning the 33 who couldn’t summon the willpower to act like normal members of society.
Don’t ever forget: The whole point of opposing white supremacy is that violence, hatred and intimidation are intrinsically harmful to democracy and all human relations. Accordingly, the anti-fascist left cannot become associated—even for a moment—with violence, hatred and intimidation. If we want history to view us as the good guys in this fight, we need to earn that distinction by behaving better than our opponents. We cannot allow ourselves to sink to their level.
In his insane press conference last Tuesday, Donald Trump attempted to draw a moral equivalence between white supremacists and those who resist them, suggesting that the “alt-left” can be just as intolerant and thuggish as the alt-right. Well, guess what: Every time a member of our team does something stupid—such as punching a Trump supporter in the face—we make Trump’s point for him. And every time we tacitly (if not openly) cheer that stupidity on, we become complicit in fostering the type of culture that we claim to find un-American and repulsive.
Is that what we want? To prove that Nazis are only slightly less respectable than we are? With the future of Western civilization at stake, I think we ought to aim a bit higher than that.
Repeat after me: Nothing good can ever come from violence. Being officially opposed to fascism does not entitle you to employ fascistic tactics to achieve desired ends, and there is nothing more fascistic than threatening physical harm upon those with whom you disagree—up to and including those who ruddy well deserve it.
To that end, our challenge today is to not permit the cause of anti-fascism to be defined by the group that has made a portmanteau of that very term: “Antifa.” New to the American vernacular, but in fact derived from European agitators in the 1930s, Antifa—a loose confederation of quasi-anarchists, helpfully profiled in this month’s Atlantic—defines itself in explicitly confrontational and often violent terms, and seems interested not in winning the understanding of its enemies but in beating them into submission. You know: Just like Nazis.
This is not the way to win the moral high ground, folks. And it sure ain’t the way to win elections.
Equally dangerous—and equally worth underlining—is the left’s abandonment of all subtlety and nuance in the name of effecting a more multicultural world. If there is any lesson we should draw from the protests in Boston, it’s to resist the urge to accuse anyone we don’t like as a card-carrying racist or anti-Semite. While it’s apparently true that every Nazi and Klansman in America is an enthusiastic Trump supporter, not every Trump supporter is a Nazi or Klansman—nor, indeed, is every conservative or libertarian a Trump supporter in any way, shape or form.
Every time we liberals aggressively assume otherwise—as practically everyone in Boston did, despite ample evidence to the contrary, both before and after the fact—we turn ourselves into the hysterical, intolerant caricatures that the alt-right suspects we’ve always been, making it that much more difficult to change hearts and minds or be taken seriously by those who are skeptical of our true motives.
As I watched the scene on Boston Common—crisply described by Matt Taibbi on Twitter as “basically thirty people or so surrounded by the whole city of Boston”—I understood why conservatives feel under siege by a culture that doesn’t seem to care what they think. The way counter-protesters dismissed the very idea of a rally that welcomed unpopular opinions—the way Police Commissioner Bill Evans carelessly remarked, “Their message isn’t what we want to hear”—it’s no wonder the alt-right has come to label us all as “snowflakes” who cannot handle the open airing of competing views in the public square.
Having been on the winning side of virtually every battle in America’s ongoing culture war, it is not necessary for liberals to tar and feather every person on Earth who might possibly speak—or think—an unwelcome idea. Witch hunts should be limited to when there are actual witches on site—as there were in Charlottesville last week, and as there is in the Oval Office right now—and when they occur, they should be conducted by the forces of reason, restraint and truth, and not by Antifa, which traffics in bullying, propaganda and sometimes even death.
There is nothing to be gained by playing as dirty—or even one-tenth as dirty—as the darkest forces that have ever bestrode the face of America. Morally-speaking, standing toe-to-toe against literal Nazis is the easiest battle any of us will ever be required to wage, and we would do well always to remember the wise man who famously cautioned, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This is our moment to prove that we leftists really are on the right side of history, and with modern-day Klansmen on the march and a racial arsonist in the White House, there is absolutely no margin for error.
This is not a drill, people. We have to get this one right.