Political violence is coming from one direction in this country: The far right
The United States is headed towards what may be the most disputed, violent election since 1876, if not in its entire history. But not to worry — a bipartisan group of D.C. think tankers are on the case. Larry Diamond of the conservative Hoover Institution, Lee Drutman of the liberal New American Foundation, Tod Lindberg of the conservative Hudson Institute, and professors Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason have published some new research on political violence in Politico.
Naturally, given the identities and institutional affiliations of the authors, the article has to pretend that both sides are to blame. According to some polling they did, a growing number of "both Democrats and Republicans [say] they think violence would be justified if their side loses the upcoming presidential election."
But their conclusion is a crock. Whatever opinions Democrats may express in polls, there is no serious, organized movement encouraging political violence on the left. There is such a movement on the right, and it has the backing of President Trump. The violent threat to America's constitutional republic is coming from the right, and nowhere else.
Let's put our thinking tank caps on and consult some data. According to the New America Foundation, since 9/11 some 114 people have been killed by far-right extremists, as compared to 107 by jihadists, and one (1) by a leftist. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has numbers going back to 1994, and finds 335 deaths from right-wing extremists against 22 from left-wing ones. And while 9/11 was the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, before that the record was held by the far right. Timothy McVeigh, the main perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, was an anti-government extremist with ties to the militia movement who used to drive around to gun shows selling copies of The Turner Diaries (an explicitly genocidal white supremacist tract).
Today, the imbalance is even more marked. There are multiple active right-wing paramilitary groups that are openly violent: the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, Atomwaffen Division, the Oath Keepers, the boogaloo boys, and a slew of others. At the recent debate, Trump was repeatedly pressed to denounce the Proud Boys, and he refused to do so. Instead he told them to "stand back and stand by," which they correctly interpreted as instructions in support, and quickly sewed into patches. (He did the same routine with literal neo-Nazis back in 2017.)
Trump also clearly directed his extremist followers to flood into Democratic-majority cities to disrupt the election. His Department of Homeland Security instructed federal law enforcement officials to make statements sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse, the right-wing vigilante who has been charged with murder for killing two racial justice protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Still, even Trump's FBI agrees that far-right groups pose a significant threat of violence, according to classified documents obtained by The Nation's Ken Klippenstein.
The Politico article helps conservatives who want to set up a false equivalence between neo-Nazis and antifa, the loose and totally decentralized group of left-wing radicals that sometimes ends up fighting them, by offering a vague assertion: "Competing protesters from the right and left have clashed violently." The entire point of antifa is to disrupt far-right violence and organizing, sometimes by matching punch for punch. One can disagree with the antifa analysis of what is politically useful, or even think they are committing crimes, but that's what they are up to. When right and left are brawling in the street, in virtually every case it is because right-wing gangs drove into some lefty city (like Portland) looking for trouble, and antifa showed up to counter-protest.
Finally, only a complete doofus could think that the quavering, helpless institutional Democratic Party could ever countenance political violence (unless perhaps that included siccing the police on antifa or Black activists). At the debate, Joe Biden denounced violence of all kinds — indeed, he arguably perpetuated the false equivalence mentioned above. But in order to make it seem like Biden is as bad as Trump, the authors uncritically repeat the conservative argument that when Biden predicts that violence will continue if Trump remains president, he is really making "a veiled threat of violence should Biden lose."
This is a disingenuous troll that is both lying about what Biden is doing here — namely, making a correct observation — and laying the groundwork for a violent attack on democracy to preempt a nonexistent left-wing coup. (You know who else famously used this tactic?)
It is frankly staggering to believe that anyone could be this blinkered. However, towards the end of the article, we see what the real game is here.
The best hope now to tamp down support for this potential political violence is to establish an independent, bipartisan third force—a broad commission of distinguished leaders and democratic elders of both parties and of civil society. Its mission would be to reaffirm and defend our democratic norms, especially the critical principles that every valid vote should be counted and that political violence is never justified in the United States. Congress should immediately appoint such a commission. [Politico]
So Congress should convene a blue ribbon commission — perhaps composed of prominent D.C. think tank members from both sides of the political spectrum, cough — to lecture both fascists and anti-fascists to sit down and play nice. (Maybe a beer summit?)
Not only is there vanishingly little chance of Congress doing anything like this, even if they did it would accomplish nothing. In normal times, blue ribbon commissions are famously ineffective; compiling a group of Washington grandees to stroke their chins at something is a classic way Congress or the president takes the wind out of some political effort. And on this particular question, there is precisely zero chance that a bunch of right-wing extremists or radicals of any kind will listen to a single word that comes out of their mouths, or even notice it's happening.
What will save American democracy is not a bunch of pious D.C. lanyards playing the tired Both Sides game with fascist murderers. What will save it is all Americans who believe in our best founding principles — all people are created equal, and government of the people, by the people, for the people — coming out to defend it by voting, speaking out, and taking to the street if necessary.