What is the #Resistance? It's a coalition of liberals, centrists, and conservatives who are fervently opposed to President Trump. And while the over-the-top name may make the Resistance sound like a battalion of Yugoslav Partisans in the 1940s, these are not fans of antifa, the loose organization of people who physically confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the streets.
So when some apparent antifa members violently attacked some white supremacists at a rally in Berkeley recently, it led to a paroxysm of anxious handwringing and condemnation from Resistance figures, and a slew of articles directly equating neo-Nazis and antifa. The Daily Show's Trevor Noah even compared them to ISIS.
This is grossly irresponsible. Whatever one thinks of antifa, it is beyond dispute that neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the extreme right are a greater threat to America's democratic institutions. It is critical not to lose sight of this, or to distort reality by drawing a false equivalence between neo-Nazis and antifa.
Now, that is not to say that antifa's violent tactics against extreme right forces are always good. A five-on-one attack, which happened in Berkeley and seems to be the incident which galvanized most of the Resistance freakout, serves no purpose and looks awful.
However, I see absolutely no problem with standing between pacifist clergy and armed neo-Nazis, and fighting back if attacked, as some antifa did in Charlottesville. "Antifa saved my life twice," reported one pastor.
You might disagree. But what can't be avoided here is perspective. Even the absolute worst caricature of antifa is nowhere near as bad as the reality of extreme right groups. Just a few weeks ago, a neo-Nazi terrorist allegedly drove his car into a crowd of people — literally an ISIS tactic — killing one person and wounding 19 others. Far worse, this group has the clear sympathies of the president of the United States, commander in chief of the most powerful military force that has ever existed.
Elites should remember that neo-fascist and other extreme right-wing organizing is going to produce counter-mobilization almost automatically. As Matt Christman argued recently, even if absolutely scrupulous nonviolence were a decent tactic, it simply can't be expected:
You know what, I can't even tell them that [ignoring neo-Nazi rallies] wouldn't work, in some vacuum, I don't know. But the thing is, that's literally impossible and will never happen, because these are people going out in the street, intentionally being provocative ... saying with all the air in their lungs that a huge segment of their fellow Americans don't deserve to live. That is going to bring people out in response. It is going to. [Chapo Trap House]
The United States is only about 61 percent non-Hispanic white — leaving something like 125 million people who would not be welcome in a whites-only ethno-state favored by white supremacists like Richard Spencer. The very idea of changing this country into a such a place — or even just carving one out of some of the states — implies either ethnic cleansing or genocide on an unprecedented scale.
Loudly advocating for such things is so far beyond the pale that some people are bound to come out and at least yell abuse at those who do so, which can very easily slide into brawling. No number of tut-tutting op-eds will change this. It happened many times and in many places in the 1930s, and not just in Germany. British fascists under Oswald Mosley attracted angry counter-protesters, as did a rally of American fascists in New York City. In 1960, fascist Italian Social Movement backing of the Christian Democratic Party government of Fernando Tambroni resulted in militant counter-demonstrations and clashes with police so large that Tambroni had to step down, and the ruling coalition turned to the center-left Socialists for support.
Indeed, half the point of extreme right rallies is to try to bait left-wing protests, and duping gullible centrists into thinking they are no worse than leftist forces — or that they're the victim of left-wing violence that needs to be suppressed by the state, so as to get assistance in clearing the way to seizing power. Trump's Department of Homeland Security is obliging, fueled by a tidal wave of agitprop from right-wing media, warning of "domestic terrorist violence" from antifa.
Luckily, right-wing extremists are far from executing an actual putsch to take over the government. But a more moderate version of this ideology is at the pinnacle of American power. Right now the Trump administration is plotting mass deportation of (mostly Latino) DREAMers, in what is clearly meant as an attempt to get rid of as many brown immigrants as possible. If the Resistance is not to accidentally enable this sort of thing, they need to keep their eye on the real threat.