One of the big pieces of news that rocked the internet this weekend was concerning an anti-far counter-protest in Portland, Oregon on where a right wing-journalist, Andy Ngo, was attacked and injured and had some camera equipment stolen. The right-wing media are going ballistic about this incident in a way that we didn’t see when a white supremacist mowed down a protester in Charlottesville. So, perhaps a little bit of double standard here. However, it would be the same to say that the left-wing media are being quite quiet about this incident in Portland where they went ballistic about Charlottesville. We must be careful about accusations of double standards, then.
Antifa (the predominant anti-fascist counter-protestors) were at a rally of several right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, counter-protesting their activities. You can guarantee there will be some aggressive behaviour here and probably violence. Both sides wind each other up and chaos ensues. Media on both sides then spend a lot of energy blaming the other side.
Let me be very clear – I am no fan of Antifa and I don’t think they do the cause of the left any good. Violence is never the answer and you should really question people who go about their business covering up their faces… This should tell you an awful lot. I don’t think there is any scenario here where Antifa come out looking good or have the moral high ground. They are on the losing side in this.
I don’t also want to be accused of victim-blaming in the same way of blaming a woman for being raped because she wore a short skirt. I suppose what I want to look at today is whether there is any culpability when someone provokes violence, and whether, indeed, Andy Ngo provoked violence himself. This requires looking at the context here. I am hopefully not bringing up a classic context argument in a way to morally excuse abhorrent behaviour:
Here is what happened to Andy Ngo:
The left-wing demonstrators easily number in the hundreds. Marching again, south on SW Third. pic.twitter.com/CTf3rSGtvT
— Jim Ryan (@Jimryan015) June 29, 2019
Let me first furnish you with a potential parallel to this scenario before we look closer at the context. When a child, Jimmy, aggressively attacks another child, Harry, in the playground at school, teachers punish rightfully Jimmy for the recourse to violence. However, teachers also work hard to investigate and understand the context to the incident. If it turns out that Harry knowingly provoked Jimmy to the point that Jimmy was aggressive towards Harry, then there are some ramifications for Harry. He is not completely blameless. I wonder whether this, which seems pretty reasonable, is a parallel to what happened in Portland.
Here is another potential parallel. War is bad and people who take part in walls are often morally bad perpetrators. When Marie Colvin, as a well-respected journalist, went into Homs in Syria to report on the violence and war, she knew the risks. Those perpetrating the violence were morally bad people (for simplification). But she knew the risks in reporting from a hotbed of violence and aggressive behaviour. When she died, it was a huge tragedy and we can certainly blame those who killed her for her death, but she was taking calculated risks along the lines all “if you go into the lion’s den, you can expect to be eaten”.
In Quillette, for which Ngo is a journalist, they reported in “Antifa’s Brutal Assault on Andy Ngo Is a Wake-Up Call—for Authorities and Journalists Alike“:
Andy Ngo is an elfin, soft-spoken man. He also happens to be the gay son of Vietnamese immigrants—salient details, given Antifa’s absurd slogans about smashing the heteronormative white supremacist patriarchy. Like schoolboy characters out of Lord of the Flies, these cosplay revolutionaries stomp around, imagining themselves to be heroes stalking the great beast of fascism. But when the beast proves elusive, they gladly settle for beating up journalists, harassing the elderly or engaging in random physical destruction.
In this situation of Andy Ngo, he has had a pretty interesting past in his interactions with the left. In “I was the target of alt-right death threats across the internet – here’s what happened next” in The Independent, it is reported:
Lenihan [a far right blogger who has published on Quillette] thought this would be some kind of a groundbreaking study, presumably based on deep research, an idea that was quickly dispelled of having any empirical value since he merely grouped journalists who followed at least 16 “verified antifa” accounts. Quillette’s founding editor, Claire Lehman, follows far more than 16 far-right accounts, including white nationalists like Richard Spencer and Steve Sailer; should we automatically assume affiliation?
In a tweet, Quillette contributor Andy Ngo attempted to identify us, and others, as covert “antifa ideologues” posing as experts for willing journalists, all of whom, apparently, have joined together in a plot to create a media-antifa industrial complex. Ngo is known for saying that antifascists activists are a violent menace who are being aided by the right, and on his podcast and social accounts is dead set on identifying the antifa-bias in the media.
Lenihan’s article created a firestorm on social media that became impossible to avoid. After Twitter suspended his account, one poster commented on the hate-filled message board KiwiFarms, saying: “None of the work should be done publicly. Just compile dossiers and collect info, then drop cocks when the timing is right. Never put a name down or make any demands and definitely never take credit. Just drop your target and move on to the next.”
A few days later, while at work, Alexander received the DM on Twitter from a journalist friend who was not mentioned in the video or Lenihan article: “Wow,” it read, “I just saw that crazy death threat against you and the other journalists and activists Quillette has been targeting. Are you doing OK?” Indeed, his name showed up on a hitlist called “Sunset the Media” amid images of Nazi violence. The video, posted to YouTube by a fan of the neo-Nazi terror organisation Atomwaffen Division, featured the images of several journalists, suggesting we should be murdered. The video ended with a quote from Atomwaffen’s neo-Nazi guru, James Mason, regarding lone wolf attacks: “I do not urge anyone to do anything like that, but when it gets done, I won’t disown them.”
Now I find this interesting because I didn’t really know an awful lot about the background of Quillette. I have read several articles on there that have been really very good, but also several articles tht have been quite dubious. As Jared Holt opines in “Right-wing publications launder an anti-journalist smear campaign“:
But for conservative media, the endorsement of peers within its narrow confines is all the expertise necessary for publication. Quillette writer Andy Ngo, who called attention to Lenihan’s work on Twitter and whose work Lenihan cites in his article, insisted that the legitimacy of Lenihan’s findings was self-evident from Lenihan’s Twitter posts. Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain told CJR that it considered Quillette a “reputable outlet” and would not independently fact-check work appearing on its site when commenting on it “in broad terms.” CJR did not receive responses to emailed requests for comment from PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil, RT’s Margarita Simonyan, or Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari. It seems unlikely that anyone reading these publications will encounter the sort of media criticism that dogs the steps of reporters for mainstream news outlets.”
Business Insider report of Ngo in “The Wall Street Journal ran a cowardly, race-baiting article on ‘Islamic England’: I live there. They’re dead wrong“:
The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion column from Quillette editor Andy Ngo that cowardly and dishonestly tried to slander England’s Muslims as having dominated Whitechapel, a London neighborhood.
I know it’s untrue and dishonest because I live there.
Ngo really went for fear mongering and race-baiting rather than giving a fair assessment of the neighborhood, so I gave one here.
One can argue, however, that it doesn’t really matter what he has written in his past, you can’t condone or justify violence towards him. I suppose this comes down to an argument over just war, or in this case just violence. Is there ever a time when we can justify violence towards someone else? I think when we are considering things like self-defence it can become a lot more obvious, but what about violence towards someone who you see as inciting violence and hate against others? Is there an arbitrary line that we draw somewhere that excuses violence in one context but not in another? How do we arbitrate that line?
For me, this conversation also comes down to something I’ve been talking quite a lot about lately, particularly elsewhere in some arguments on Facebook. That is the difference between moral responsibility and causal responsibility. Here, I don’t think Andy Ngo has moral responsibility for being attacked, prima facie (more on this next). Although I might disagree with an awful lot of the claims of such a conservative commentator, when he is beaten up violently for merely taking photographs, he cannot be blamed. (However, one can argue that is not being beaten up for merely taking photographs but for taking the positions he does in public and for attacking certain groups in the public media.)
Causal responsibility is a very different thing. This is where we can look at necessary conditions that bring about a particular outcome. It all gets rather tricky, of course, when you consider the whole universe at any given point is what is causally responsible for the universe at the next point. Causality is a very complex issue. But some people might say that Andy Ngo is causally responsible for what happened to him at that protest. He knowingly took the risk whilst being the sort of person he knew would rile up the activists. There will be those conspiracy theories that claim that all this has done is to serve him well in his agenda and status. A counterpoint would be that this is some pretty bad injuries that he has sustained in order to get there. That’s quite a risk. Stupid or brave?
He has certainly thrown himself into the lion’s den whilst being known to be a person who has publicly attacked lions and the friends of lions. He would surely have been aware of the risks of doing what he did. However, as mentioned, this doesn’t morally justify the action against him irrespective of his knowledge of the risks. In the case of the example above of Marie Colvin, she wasn’t innocent collateral damage but was targeted in a premeditated strike, as far as I understand it. My guess here is that those Antifa activists almost certainly would have known who Ngo was and would have targeted him on purpose. They weren’t just attacking anyone in the local area taking pictures, they attacked him on purpose.
Antifa’s way of dealing with the journalism of this man is by physically attacking him when he seems to be at least passively baiting them, whereas I would write a blog article against his position. Neither of these, I am guessing, would particularly further the cause of the left!
After all this talk, I’m still left with the question of what he was really expecting would happen by doing what he did? Was he merely innocently out at the rally, in the thick of it, taking photographs to objectively document the event or was there some part of him that wanted to goad the protesters into some nefarious action that would make them look bad? And if this the latter idea was the case, then where does it leave a moral analysis of his actions? If I was a famous left-wing commentator and went into the midst of a far-right, violent rally with a camera, what would I expect to happen? What would I want to happen? Am I getting dangerously close to victim blaming again? I suppose it comes down to knowing what my internal intentions are and the problem with this is that we can only second-guess those intentions of Andy Ngo.
As I always implore people to primarily question themselves, it would be pertinent for me to question myself here. Am I only producing this piece because I feel the Antifa are in some way an albeit tenuous representation of myself or my position such that I am knee-jerk appearing to defend them over and above a conservative writer? This is something I certainly need to look at. Would I be writing such a piece in defence of the white supremacist in Charlottesville? I do like to think I treat things as objectively as possible, but I also admit that I can, like anyone else, be politically swayed and see things through certain lenses. Let me know if you think I have done this here. I hope this goes some way to trying to understand the situation better rather than be about apportioning praise or blame in an overly simplistic manner.
[As an aside, the claim that activists were throwing milkshakes with quick-drying cement in them has been found to be untrue.]