Over the weekend, Antifa activists in Portland brutally assaulted Andy Ngo, a gay Vietnamese-American editor and photojournalist. Ngo was admitted to the hospital and, as a result of his assault, suffers from a brain bleed, among other things. The attack on Ngo, in an American city, in broad daylight, from a group purporting to care about justice and equality, should have been inconceivable. Instead, it was inevitable.
My first instinct upon opening Twitter in the wake of his attack was to be outraged at the dearth of journalists and pundits defending Ngo or arguing that violence is never acceptable. But then I thought about it for more than a moment.
Violence is often acceptable. Sometimes it is even admirable. It is entirely ethical to conclude that if someone attacks you, you can use violence to repel his assault. Likewise, if someone or a group of someones were violently assaulting a third party, it would be not only unobjectionable, but heroic, to step in and stop the assault, even if the only way to do so was through the use violence.
This is precisely why the attack on Ngo was inevitable and why, in all likelihood, further attacks, from Antifa activists and others, will follow.
Pundits on the right have long rallied against the left’s misuse of words like “unsafe” or “violent.” We have long cautioned that, beyond doing a gross injustice to the English language, these misuses would ultimately beget something worse than an abuse of syntax.
Ngo’s assault — and the reaction to it — is that something worse. Once you buy into the idea that speech can be violent, the logic defending violence as a means of suppressing speech is almost unassailable.
If we agree that, as a general rule, violence is a tool like any other that can, and sometimes should, be wielded in an attempt to quell further violence, then once the Antifa activists determined that Ngo’s speech is violent, it is both logical and consistent that they would use violence to thwart him. This is bad news for just about everyone.
Larger and larger segments of society are buying into the notion that speech can be violent. As more people reorient their worldview through this lens, the problem is compounded by a second factor: the kind of speech that counts as violent seems to be perennially expanding. As a result, any group, at any time, can conclude that someone — this time a gay, Asian-American journalist — is violent and must be stopped with violence.
This time it was Ngo. It will almost certainly happen again, to someone else, very soon.
The aftermath of Ngo’s assault has been disturbing, for several reasons. The first and most obvious is the lack of mainstream media coverage this has received. A couple of notable journalists have reported on this, including CNN’s Brian Stelter and Jake Tapper, but overall, this incident is going heavily underreported. If Ngo had been beaten up in the Palestinian Territories instead of in Portland, his assault would be front-page news. It’s not.
The coverage that Ngo is actually getting isn’t all that great, either. A brief perusal of the commentary demonstrates an ironic and profoundly hypocritical reality. It’s common knowledge that blaming victims is the quickest way to make enemies on the left. Ngo seems to have been excluded from this consideration.
The Twitterati have several questions: Why was Ngo there? Didn’t he know Antifa could be violent? Doesn’t he bear some responsibility because he’s written so many “violent” things? Had he been a she, had she been wearing a short skirt, had she been raped instead of beaten up, these questions would be not only verboten, but considered violent themselves.
In the meantime, the real violence has gone under-reported and under-criticized. This weekend, Antifa did nothing more radical than carry an idea that the left has long been advocating to its logical conclusion. It is unquestionably sensible: the logical end point of calling speech violence is using actual violence to suppress speech. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the end of peaceful society as we have known it.