This year, an old evil that we thought was defeated began its resurrection. An ideology that killed millions in the twentieth century gained a band of fanatical young adherents who bellowed their creed of hatred in centers of learning and liberalism. They lofted the flags of a murderous totalitarian dictatorship, took to the streets in ominous matching uniforms with the paramilitary apparatus of makeshift shields and sticks, and used violence to shut up anyone who disagrees with them.
Oh, and the Nazis tried to make a comeback, too.
Yes, half of this story is the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, where a band of young neo-Nazi fanatics held a Tiki-torch-lit rally that I described as “Nuremberg by way of Pier One Imports,” or more memorably as “Citronellanacht.” But the other half is the rise of black-clad rioters who bill themselves as “anti-fascists” or “Antifa,” resurrecting an old banner created by German Communists.
If this sounds uncomfortably familiar, that’s because it’s a replay of Germany in the late 1920s and early ’30s: a politics dominated by street battles between Nazis and Communists. In my more pessimistic moments, I toyed with describing this as Weimar America.
My concern is that this is not just a leftover echo of the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement—that it’s an attempt to create a permanent new conflict in American politics where the only alternatives are the racial politics of the far left versus the revived racial politics of the so-called alt-right. And both sides will seek to portray these as the only alternatives.
Don’t like Political Correctness? Well, don’t you think that’s better than being a white supremacist? Believe me, if you try to discuss this, particularly on social media, you will get that argument and its exact counterpart in the other direction, over and over again.
Some people are already calling it Weimar America, a replay of the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic in Germany, with its running street battles between Fascists and Communists. Both sides had an interest in making everyone think these were the only two choices, and in drowning out any better alternatives. We’ve already gotten a preview of that in the lame campus brawls between alt-right thugs and black-clad Communist ‘antifa’ rioters. This sort of thing is not going to end well.
No, we are not in as grave a crisis as Germany in the years before the Nazis rose to power, and totalitarian ideologies have fewer adherents here. But that’s why I regard the rise of “Antifa” as a more ominous development than the return of Nazi-style white nationalism. The Nazis are a relatively small group, whose best effort to gather their forces from across the country brought about 300 disaffected young men to Charlottesville. More importantly, the Nazis have fewer sympathizers and virtually no support from the higher levels of the culture.
The one exception, unfortunately, appears to be the president. No, Donald Trump does not support white nationalists outright, despite a lot of heated over-interpretation on that from the Left. But he has a tendency to frame his response in ways that are oddly sympathetic to them, as in his contention that there were “fine people” on both sides of the riot in Charlottesville.
Before leaping to the defense of all of the ‘fine people’ marching shoulder to shoulder with Nazis, Trump made a big production over the fact that he waiting to speak until he had painstakingly gathered the facts. He used the word ‘facts’ about fifteen times in the minute prior to this statement. So from what reliable report, or from which of his advisors, did he get the talking point about how these were just ordinary, upstanding citizens concerned about a statue? What was his source for this ‘fact’?
The only people I’ve heard trying to make that claim are—you guessed it—the white nationalists who organized the rally. We’ve had inklings before that Trump picks up fake news and conspiracy theories from the Internet and retweets rumors in his Twitter feed, and also that he and his people pick up memes that come through the pipeline of the racist alt-right. (Remember the ‘sheriff’s star’?) It looks like that’s happening again, while he is president, and in response to a case in which he is specifically called upon to show that this odious faction does not have his ear.
So we can only conclude that they do have his ear.
But Antifa is getting a lot more support, a lot more openly and directly, from the highest levels of the culture. On the ideological and historical level, the New York Times has been working hard to rehabilitate Communism and peddle the Left’s equivalent of Holocaust denial: a stubborn denial of the crimes, failures, and massive human cost of socialism. On the journalistic level, there has practically been a news blackout on Antifa’s acts of violence and censorship, and they have been hailed as the equivalent of the GIs who fought World War II.
The left has given up violence, having ‘cleansed itself through a painful process of introspection,’ according to an opinion piece in the Washington Post. And even if they are violent, it’s just not the same thing, because they’re not motivated by ‘hate’ when they club people over the head. They’re violent in a good way, and only against the bad guys. In fact, come to think of it, they’re just like the GIs who stormed Omaha Beach!
No, really, this actually became a meme, the most famous version of which came from The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg: ‘Watching ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ a movie about a group of very aggressive alt-left protesters invading a beach without a permit.’ Funny, I must have missed the part in Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks’s character is a radical socialist. Maybe it’s in the director’s cut.
But this illusion didn’t last long.
After the media worked so hard to establish this new dogma, Antifa thugs repaid their courtesies by staging what can only be described as a violent takeover of the campus at the University of California at Berkeley. Ostensibly this was in response to a ‘No to Marxism in America’ rally that never even happened. But it didn’t matter whether it happened or not. Antifa used it as an excuse to attack any passersby suspected of being white nationalists or merely conservatives or Trump supporters….
Some of us have long warned that college campuses are becoming like one-party dictatorships, intolerant of any opinions or culture opposed by the left. But up to now, this cloying monoculture has largely been accepted and enforced through voluntary means. They chose conformity. Now the universities are becoming literal pockets of totalitarian rule—zones in which those with dissenting political opinions face the prospect of being beaten by an angry mob.
Actually, it’s more anarchic than that. The Antifa mobs weren’t stopping people to interrogate them about their political opinions. In one video a middle-aged man and his college-aged son are being attacked, and he starts by asking, in a bewildered tone, ‘What are you guys beating us up for?’ The only answer he gets is a fist in the face, and that’s the only answer any of us are liable to get when Antifa comes for us.
A whole history has been building up to this. In 2016’s end-of-year review, I summed up the progress to date:
The message from two years ago, when I became a reluctant draftee in the Culture War, was that the left’s version of that war is targeting everyone. The story of last year was that Political Correctness is turning back onto the universities that spawned it, and being a traditional liberal in good standing won’t protect you.
This trend at the universities continued in 2016 and hit a new milestone when Emory University reacted to the supposed crime of pro-Trump chalk drawings by vowing to use security camera footage to track down and punish the wrongthinkers. ‘It’s official: the campus is now a one-party surveillance state. If you support the wrong political candidate, the security apparatus of the university will be harnessed to unmask you and prosecute you for hooliganism. University totalitarianism has arrived.’…
As I observed when Bill Nye proposed jailing global warming skeptics, the left used to make a lot of noise about how we should ‘question authority,’ but now ‘authority is their entire agenda, in politics, in economics, in culture, in religion, in science.’
The addition this year is the enforcement of political uniformity by brute force at the hands of a literally black-shirted campus militia.
It’s like something out of one of those novels the kids have been reading: “The dystopian future has already arrived for the young adults at the University of California at Berkeley—and elsewhere—where those with unapproved views can expect to be beaten by gangs dressed all in black and wearing masks to cover their faces.”
A lot of people on the Left, including many who still call themselves “liberals,” have been talking themselves into the idea that it’s a heroic act to “punch Nazis” and that we should all rally behind the Nazi-punchers. They are missing the real lesson of Weimar Germany.
In the years leading to the Nazi takeover, there was no shortage of volunteers willing to punch Nazis. The National Socialist and Communist factions used to brawl in the streets all the time. But this did not slow down the arrival of murderous totalitarianism. Aside from the fact that Germans were merely being offered two variations of totalitarian ideology, the main impact of the brawls was to get everyone used to the idea that political disagreements should be settled with fists and knives and guns—instead of with arguments and voting.
The point is that no argument should be settled by a howling mob or by punching people. We should maintain a deep suspicion of mobs as such, not matter what their cause.
All of this is feeling like a live-action, digitalized version of ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,’ Rod Serling’s ‘Twilight Zone’ parable in which even the whispered prospect of an alien invasion causes the neighbors on a suburban street to turn against one another, forming frenzied mobs based on the slightest rumor.
This brings to mind an old question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “Who watches the watchmen?” In this case, the question is: If Antifa is here to protect us from the Nazis, who is going to protect us from Antifa? What do we do when the “anti-fascists” end up being a lot like the fascists?
The “liberals” should be the first ones to ask this question, because in practice they will be the first targets, as we found out when leftist protesters shouted down a speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The old ‘liberals’ wanted to dispense with individual rights so they could pursue the fantasy of setting themselves up as benevolent, all-seeing planners who would protect us from harm and order our lives to achieve the ‘greatest good for the greatest number.’ But they wanted to do this while still thinking of themselves as the good guys, as fighters against oppression, as defenders of liberty. That is the pretense that is being torn down today in the suicide of liberalism.
It’s not just that the mainstream “liberals” are opening the path for a more radical faction on the left. We are also seeing how they are not prepared to fight resurgent racism.
When you are confronted with racists and your first reaction is that maybe we should curtail freedom of speech and start punching people, that’s a confession that you have no other, better response prepared….
When you spend your time finding ‘racism’ in the form of frat boys getting drunk on Cinco de Mayo or Kylie Jenner wearing a camouflage bikini, it’s no wonder you’re not prepared when genuine racists show up outside your front door.
The contemporary mania for fake hashtag activism gives the left the illusion that they are Social Justice Warriors constantly fighting the good fight against White Supremacy—without ever actually doing so. Decades of intellectual makework knocking down straw men have left them unprepared to confront the real thing. It has also left them with a disastrous lack of credibility when it comes to addressing potential allies on the right. Decades of trumped-up accusation of racism have caused a lot of people to reflexively ignore anything the left says about race, ever. Let’s put it this way: when you make out squeaky clean straight arrow Mitt Romney to be a crypto-racist, a lot of people are going to ignore you when you set your hair on fire about Donald Trump.
This shows “the failure of leadership based on superficial virtue-signaling.”
That also turns out to be the problem with the Left’s bungled “resistance” to President Trump—the next stage in my countdown of this year’s top stories.
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