President Trump garbled the message, but he was right. There was violence on both sides during the horrific events in Charlottesville.
Racial hatred is evil. Given America’s fraught record of discrimination against African-Americans, the KKK, white supremacist groups, and neo-Nazis deservedly have a unique place in America’s chamber of horrors.
But that’s not all that needs to be said about Charlottesville, or about the current state of American politics. Peter Beinart poses a pointed question to liberals in the September issue of the Atlantic: “If you believe the president of the United States is leading a racist, fascist movement that threatens the rights, if not the lives, of vulnerable minorities, how far are you willing to go to stop it?”
Some on the left are answering: There are no limits. Anti-fascist action groups, antifa, are resorting to violence and intimidation to shut down political opponents.
Beinart ticks off a list of recent examples of leftwing violence: “On Inauguration Day, a masked activist punched the white-supremacist leader Richard Spencer. In February, protesters violently disrupted UC Berkeley’s plans to host a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart.com editor. In March, protesters pushed and shoved the controversial conservative political scientist Charles Murray when he spoke at Middlebury College, in Vermont.” At Berkeley, “masked anti fascists broke store windows and hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at police during a rally against the planned speech by Yiannopoulos.”
Antifa targets supposed fascist sympathizers and enablers as well as actual fascists and Nazis. Leading up to a right-wing parade in Portland, the Direct Action Alliance declared that they would stop the Nazis from marching. Their opposition wasn’t confined to racists, however. The group “also denounced marchers with ‘Trump flags’ and ‘red MAGA hats’ who could ‘normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice.'”
Scott McConnell of the American Conservative concluded that “for the antifa, and the vast swarm of left wing social justice warriors, any kind of Trump supporter is ‘Nazi Scum’ by definition, people whose First Amendment rights to speak and gather should be denied.”Since Trump’s rise, antifa has experienced “explosive growth. According to NYC Antifa, the group’s Twitter following nearly quadrupled in the first three weeks of January alone. (By summer, it exceeded 15,000.)”
That’s worrying. Just as worrying is the fact that the “direct action” methods of antifa are finding support among mainstream liberals. Beinart quotes one leader who claimed, “Suddenly, anarchists and antifa, who have been demonized and sidelined by the wider Left have been hearing from liberals and Leftists, ‘you’ve been right all along.’” Slate and the Nation have nodded their vigorous approval.
The logic is: Naziism and white racism are so uniquely evil that every form of opposition is justified. And further: Anyone who is associated with racists, however loosely, is fair game for similar treatment.
When he started playing white identity politics, Trump unleashed and emboldened white supremacists. Trump isn’t himself a racist, but there’s no doubt that David Duke thinks he has a friend in the Oval Office.
Trump’s candidacy and Presidency has also unleashed a violent leftwing movement, increasingly popular among young people and increasingly mainstream. As a result, Beinart says, “A politicized fight culture is emerging, fueled by cheerleaders on both sides. As James Anderson, an editor at It’s Going Down, told Vice, ‘This s**t is fun.'”
Christians must denounce racism in all its expressions. The church is called to be a brotherhood where all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations are harmonized into one body. White churches have long been complicit in American racism, and so the denunciation of racism must take the form of repentance.
Yet Christians can’t be bullied into ignoring the hatred and violence of the political left. We must condemn Nazis with their torches and antifa thugs with their clubs. We can’t allow cries of “moral equivalence” to cow us into silence.
And Christian interests are more directly at stake in this polarized political situation. If wearing a MAGA hat makes you a fascist sympathizer, if thinking racist thoughts is a form of “violence,” how long before opposition to gay marriage or transgenderism becomes a form of violence that needs to be suppressed by antifa counter-violence? How long before wearing a cross makes you a fascist?