Read Part 2 here
“If you say nothing, if you do nothing, you are just as much to blame as the evil itself, you will be held just as responsible.” – Joey Gibson, Patriot Prayer
“Failing to stop fascists from speaking – that is, giving them the opportunity to organize to impose their agenda on the rest of us – makes you as bad as them.” – Rose City Antifa
The Patriot Prayer rally of June 30th ended in a riot.
Five people were hospitalized, one with a fractured skull. Police filled the streets with the sound of flash bang and the smell of pepper spray. Antifa and Patriot Prayer retreated to their homes in Oregon, Washington, and the rest of the scattered states from whence they came to lick their wounds and plan their next steps. Patriot Prayer and various allies posted a host of videos of Antifa getting beaten up. A moment when a Proud Boy knocked out an Antifa member with one punch was especially popular. A few far right YouTubers made the moment into video game parodies.
This is what happens when you make people afraid.
The people who punched out Antifa almost certainly showed up with the express hope of doing just that: they have agency and culpability. I’d say they should be tried for assault, except that the Antifa member who got knocked out swung at the Patriot Prayer member with a pipe. Attacking first doesn’t make people go away. It prompts them to defend their bodies and their ideas.
Violence cannot change people’s minds. It can only change their actions. War has a place — I’m not a pacifist — but violence is a last resort, not a leading tactic. These rallies and riots aren’t military battles (yet). Like almost everything else happening right now, they are propaganda-generating events in the name of gathering supporters in the ongoing ideological battle for America’s future. This is a battle of ideas, and Antifa is losing that battle by fighting with sticks and fireworks.
News outlets had a different take on the riot than did the videosphere. Almost every article claims that both groups initiated the violence. Some articles insinuate that Patriot Prayer initiated it. Only a few articles acknowledge the truth, but that truth lies buried far below the headline.
This is fake news.
I don’t like that it’s fake news. I don’t like the term fake news. Usually, that term describes a knee-jerk denial of reality. On the last weekend in June, it described an actual phenomenon.
You could argue, and many people will, that Patriot Prayer started the violence simply by showing up. That their words are violent. That the things they stand for are violent. That the violent rhetoric of Patriot Prayer justifies this sort of thing. Didn’t I take up far too much of your time in Part 2 describing the incendiary nature of Joey Gibson’s speech? The allusions to, and direct calls for, violent rebellion?
I don’t know the exact point where speech crosses into incitement of violence. I don’t pretend to know.
I do know that perception is important.
I know that there is a lot of propagandistic power in the high ground, and that you don’t cede the high ground without a damn good reason. What did Antifa gain by throwing a firework at Patriot Prayer and assaulting them with sections of pipe? Nothing. Patriot Prayer hasn’t been driven from Portland: they will be back on August 4th with guns. All Antifa did on June 30th was create powerful videos for the conservatives to watch. Videos showing them what they already suspected and feared: that the left is a violent and dangerous threat that must be countered and destroyed. Where is the great victory to counterbalance these losses? Where is the strategic triumph that justifies the creation of propaganda that will drive people further to the right?
The media is complicit in blurring the facts. I know that many of them based their reporting on just a few eyewitnesses, and maybe didn’t even bother to watch the videos on which their stories rest. I know that this kind of sloppy journalism makes people on the right distrust journalism. I know that the next time the media reports something real, something horrible that is actually happening, that conservatives will have one more reason to doubt it.
I know that maybe this comes across as tone policing and the ol’ “Be Civil” argument that everyone hates so much right now, but it isn’t. I’m not asking you to be polite in your conversations if you can’t be polite right now. I’m not asking you to be calm and logical when talking about things–or to people–that hurt you and the people you love. I’m asking that people not throw fireworks at human beings and than pretend they didn’t.
Protests are a political action, and politics are aimed at affecting perception, and if you’re going to engage in politics you’d damn well better care about perception. And if, in this climate, with the atrocities that America is currently perpetrating at the border and elsewhere, you can’t do that? If you can’t stay calm and you can’t see a Trump supporter without wanting to throw fireworks at them? Maybe stay the fuck home then.
Because it doesn’t do any good. It feels good. Punching the alt-right–or the alt-light or Trump supporters or whoever–doesn’t make them go away. Lord knows we have punched a great many people in this country over the past two years and they are stronger than ever. It doesn’t work. If you don’t care whether or not it works as long as you cause pain to the people who want to hurt you, examine whether you actually care about the well-being of this country and the people in it or whether you just care about feeling less powerless while the ship sinks.
Trump is coasting to a 2020 victory on this kind of shit. Maybe you have the kind of privilege that allows you to be relatively untouched by the things Trump is doing and may do in the future, but not all of us have that privilege. The priority is getting Trump out of office for the sake of America and defusing the movement that brought him to power. Period.
People talk about how this is similar to the way Nazi Germany started, then fuck around throwing fireworks and punching people in the street. If you think America’s current political situation eerily echoes the origins of Nazi Germany–and I am with you on that–do whatever it takes to head off fascist takeover at the pass and buy us time to find a better solution to America’s problems. Campaign for Democrats, who are far from perfect but who are not Trump. Vote. March peacefully, the way so many people did earlier on June 30th. The enormous groundswell of opposition to the separation of children from families forced Trump to at least pretend to walk that policy back. Keep up that kind of pressure. Inundate your congresspeople with calls.
Above all else, be human. Fascism depends on dehumanization. Encourage empathy whenever and wherever possible. Kindness doesn’t feel like a radical act or provide the delicious shot of adrenaline of a good street brawl. But kindness is radical, especially in times like these. Attack ideas. Foster connections with others, especially with people who are even remotely on the fence about extremism on the right. We need allies, or at least people who aren’t active enemies.
Avoid, at all costs, increasing Trump’s support. If that means tone policing, maybe police your fucking tone. Maybe fixing America is worth the price of restricting some of your righteous fury to your personal life and sympathetic friends.
Stop pretending this nonsense helps. It doesn’t. It polarizes and radicalizes. It drives conservatives into the embrace of the paramilitary groups on the far right. When people feel frightened, their first instinct is to find someone who will protect them. The alt-right promises to do just that, with violence, forever.
Antifa wants to “make fascists afraid again,” and they’re doing a great job. One of the defining characteristics of a fascist is fear. Their violence stems from fear.
Stop helping the alt-right make fascists.