“Sure, the cancer was aggressive. But the chemotherapy was also very aggressive. There was aggression on both sides.” —Elan Gale
There’s a long history of right-wingers and centrists falsely equating racist violence with freedom movements. Andray Domise notes that “after the election of 1832, New Hampshire governor and Jacksonian Democrat Isaac Hill labeled abolitionists as ‘troublemakers’ who were driving a wedge between the North and the South, and that their ‘pathetic appeals’ were sapping the foundation of democracy.”
Recently, Twitter helped resurface a newspaper article from 1956 in which Gov. Earl Long of Louisiana disingenuously labeled both violent segregationists and Martin Luther King, Jr. “extremists.”
Since the events of Charlottesville, there’s been a concerted effort by the right, modeled by Donald Trump, to make political violence a problem of the left, as if Heather Heyer had not been killed by a white nationalist linked to the oldest and most thriving terror organization in this country.
A complicit media and moderate Democrats have followed suit, but the whole idea is ludicrous. Here are five examples of false equivalencies between far-right terrorists and antifa.
1. Right-wing extremists commit nearly all political violence in America.
A recent study from the Anti-Defamation League finds nearly all political violence in the United States over the last decade has been carried out by right-wing terrorists. Between 2007 and 2016, there were at least 372 politically motivated murders, 74 percent of which were committed by right-wing extremists. Islamic extremists committed 24 percent of those murders, while left-wing militants were responsible for 2 percent. Every murder is a tragedy, but as the numbers show, it’s ridiculous to pretend that left-wing violence and right-wing violence deserve equal concern. Going back to a 2015 law enforcement study, we’ve known that right-wing terrorists pose a far greater threat to this country than any other political group.
“We find that the right groups and the jihadi groups are more violent than the left,” Gary LaFree, head of the University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism and co-author of a recent study on political violence across the spectrum, told the New York Times.
The far right—an umbrella term that includes white nationalists, neo-fascists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, alt-right adherents, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups, anti-government militias, and anti-abortion fanatics like clinic bombers—are the heirs apparent of violent right-wing terror groups dating to the earliest eras of American history. It’s therefore not terribly surprising that based on every statistical measure, as Mother Jones notes, they have “held a near-monopoly on political violence since the 1980s.”
That’s echoed by Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project leader Heidi Beirich, who told the Nation, “if you go back to the 1960s, you see all kinds of left-wing terrorism, but since then it’s been exceedingly rare.” Right-wing terror has proliferated since that era, “going back to groups like the Order, which assassinated [liberal talk-radio host] Alan Berg [in 1984] right through to today.”
2. Violence is central to far-right ideology.
What do conservatives want to conserve? Mostly, “traditional America,” the version of the country they think is so great. Their vision of the U.S. is homogeneously white and Christian, free of immigrants who don’t speak English and LGBT people forming non-heterosexual unions. On a scale that goes from Proud Boys to neo-Nazis, from Western chauvinists to hardline racists, there’s an underlying philosophy of rejection of a human other. As sociologist and criminologist Stanislav Vysotsky has written, “When even the most moderate position the alt-right or fascist movement can take is racial separation or nationalism through forcible repatriation and strict border control, including forced deportations and racialized exclusions, that movement is inherently violent.”
Matthew Rozsa, writing at Salon, notes:
Indeed, far-right violence is embedded in the very iconography embraced by that movement. As historian David Blight has pointed out, Civil War symbols like the Confederate memorials being taken down in Charlottesville (which was what prompted members of the far right to assemble there) were created in large part to reinforce a code of white supremacy throughout the United States. The event such memorials commemorated, it must be remembered, was also one rooted in violence — a collection of states using anti-government rhetoric to protect a white supremacist society through violent rebellion against the federal government.
From the Black Panthers to contemporary antifa, far-left groups that have embraced violence have done so with a sense of finality and self-protection, recognizing that violence is the only language their opposition understands.
“Antifascists are focused on a singular goal as described by their movement name: opposing fascism,” Vysotsky continues. “It would be a mischaracterization to claim that antifa oppose nonviolence. Instead, it is more accurate to say that antifa often justifiably view nonviolence as ineffective against a movement that is violent at its core, and participants who seem to lack any semblance of a conscience. This is the essence of antifascist use of violence.”
3. Right-wing terrorists attack people, while left-wing groups mostly target property.
The University of Maryland study co-authored by LaFree found “far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.”
SPLC’s Beirich told the Nation “eco- and animal-rights extremists caused extensive property damage in the 1990s, but didn’t target people.”
There’s a debate to be had about whether property damage is an effective statement of political protest or tool of social change. There is not a valid discussion to be had on whether hurting property is the same as hurting people.
4. Antifa is not backed by mainstream progressives, while Republicans have embraced the far right.
There are no highly visible progressives, prominent liberals or Democratic stars who have risked their own public image to defend antifa. In fact, they’re far more likely to parrot the bothsideism of the right, ridiculously and illogically equating fascists and anti-fascists.
Republicans, on the other hand, have nearly fallen over themselves to let right-wing extremists know they approve of their ideas and welcome them to the party. Lots of Republican lawmakers, including Rand Paul, applauded Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff with the federal government. House Minority Leader John Boehner bashed a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on rising right-wing threats including hate groups. In the weeks after Dylann Roof’s killing rampage, there were GOP voices still proudly defending the Confederate flag.
The current administration has been transparently supportive of the alt-right. Steve Bannon boasted about turning Breitbart into the “platform of the alt-right.” The White House has given press passes to alt-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec. And Donald Trump has been vocal in expressing his sympathy for neo-Nazis since Charlottesville. As the Daily Beast’s Dean Obeidallah succinctly notes, “antifa is not part of the Democratic Party, while white supremacists are part of the GOP.”
5. Community service is part of the mission of antifa.
The Panthers served free breakfast to schoolchildren, along with 60 other community programs including health care clinics and free legal aid. Antifa groups like the Redneck Revolution run “food programs, community gardens, clothing programs, and needle exchanges in addition to their armed self-defense programs.”
Black Lives Matter and antifa groups were both on the ground during Hurricane Harvey handing out food and supplies to survivors. At the Boston anti-Nazi rally, members of BLM escorted white nationalists through the crowd to ensure their safety.
It would be absurd to pretend members of antifa don’t engage in violence. But when was the last time you heard about the Klan handing out food to poor people or the alt-right setting up education programs for at-risk kids? You haven’t, ever, and if you decide to wait for such an event to take place, you should probably get your affairs in order first.