My Twitter feed is almost exclusively composed of humorless anti-fascists. It makes for some pretty depressing reading, especially in the early mornings. I roll over, still half-asleep, and check my phone to make sure the world hasn’t come to an end, and all I see are grim promises and angry slogans. It upsets me so much that I simply can’t find it in myself to do my morning workouts.
I wouldn’t do the morning workout anyway, of course. 5 AM is far too early to swing kettlebells around. But it is a convenient excuse.
Anyway, I do have a certain fondness for the antifax side of Twitter*. I wouldn’t say it’s comforting, exactly, to know there are so many violent anarchists who oppose DJT, but I suppose it’s reassuring in its own way. And really, the fact that stickers are the weapon of choice for furious, political radicals has its own charm:
— Berkeley Antifa (@berkeleyantifa) December 31, 2016
I kid because I care. Keep up the good work.
But if there’s one thing that concerns me with anti-fascism, its the worrying tendency to adopt fascistic tendencies, especially when concerned with free speech. Stickers aside, it is a common strategy in the antifax community to break up neo-Nazi rallies, to disrupt concerts, to exert pressure on groups and organizations to prevent them from hosting far-right conventions. One example is this tweet, which I almost excuse, given its acceptable use of a Big Lebowski quote:
Plenty of boots on the ground at Saint Vitus now. Lots of Antifa here and zero Proud Boys. If they show, they’re entering a world of pain. pic.twitter.com/uDFmcRKb3k
— South Jersey Antifa (@SJAntifa) December 31, 2016
Then there’s this article from It’s Going Down, which says, in regards to a planned Confederate Memorial in Virginia, “We are not going to allow these organizations to march. This is a call out to all #antifa crews, affinity-groups and local chapters to mobilize and #shutitdown.”
First of all, yes, that Confederate Memorial is composed of white supremacist groups, at least one of which has the dubious honor of being recognized by the SPLC. Second, this “memorial” has been organized with the explicit purpose of protesting a “diversity parade.” From their Facebook page:
The Lexington city council took it upon themselves to replace the Lee/Jackson parade and celebration with a diversity parade. The parade is being held by CARE. A Anti-racism organization that has no clue of the truths of the Southern cause and history. The goal of this parade according to “CARE” , is to “rid Lexington of the battle flag forever”. With this being one of the largest Southern events , having it changed or set aside is unacceptable. Giving these so called “diverse” people the upper hand has never been and will never be in our play book. From one end of the Southland to the other, ALL SOUTHERN BROTHERS AND SISTERS NEED TO STAND UP AND TAKE THIS STAND!!! Giving in and letting them run over us was not in the LEE/JACKSON agenda!!!
Here’s the part where I find myself defending the white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Fascism is a direct assault on Liberal values. Fascists don’t want free speech, they want silence. They don’t want free assembly, they want fear. They don’t want free expression, they want obedience.
Fascists don’t want freedom, they want a boot on the neck.
Fascism is a disease. Fascism is a cancer. Fascism is an abscess. And in the face of vile rhetoric and threats, it seems like the only sensible solution is to #shutitdown. But when one group descends on another for the express purpose of making sure their voice cannot be heard, that is fascism, no matter what vocabulary you use.
Can the tools of the enemy be used to defeat the enemy? If we are to stand for liberal values–if we truly intend to fight for them–then don’t we have to stand for them for all people, even if they’re Nazis? Small-l liberals spent 2016 bleating about “safe spaces” and “microagressions.” What moral superiority can we claim when we prevent people from sharing views we disagree with? How can we, with a straight face, say “you have to allow my LGBTQ burlesque show to perform here” while also saying “but the guys with the hoods have to stay home?”
False equivalency, I know. Not just because burlesque is a far greater threat to America than the KKK, but because radical Leftists DON’T bleat about safe spaces. Radical Leftists don’t care about Liberal values–militant anarchy is rarely concerned with such niceties. But I am.
So it bothers me when we say “If you preach hate, you can’t preach here.” It bothers me when we say “If you hate Muslims/Jews/Blacks/Latinos/Trekkies, you can’t assemble here.” It bothers me when we say “If you roll in here with a Confederate flag belt buckle, we’ll beat you up.” Because a Liberal society needs–needs–the ability for people to say disgusting things. There can be no limits on speech, not in a free society.
What’s the answer, though? Nazis are notorious for bad-faith arguments. And there’s no doubt that they would not offer me the same freedoms. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I should do.
But I do know I’m not ready to fight fascism with fascism.
*The preferred term in the Twittersphere is “antifa,” which I really dislike. You can’t chant something that ends in a vowel. The “X” in “antifax” gives it a lot more punch. I’m working on making it mainstream, but it’s slow going.