A Final Word On Charlottesville

I want to talk about one rather overlooked aspect of the Alt-Right vs Counterprotesters + Antifa demonstrations which roiled Charlottesville, Virigina last weekend and left one young woman dead as the result of a far right domestic terrorist attack.

To listen to Donald Trump and his cheerleaders on one hand and the arrayed forces of the mainstream media on the other, one would be forgiven for thinking that ideology and conduct are one and the same thing.

On the Left, a strong insinuation has been made that because neo-nazis hold abhorrent views their violence is to be condemned while those who oppose them should get a free pass whenever they breach the peace – as evidenced by the fact that the “is it okay to punch a Nazi?” conversations and articles are bubbling up again. Meanwhile, on the Right, too many apologists are claiming that because both sets of protesters committed atrocities there is some kind of exculpatory moral equivalence, overlooking the fact that the AltRight saw Antifa’s standard street brawling tactics and raised them an Islamist-style car terror attack.

Let’s be clear – ideology and conduct are in fact separate, a fact which is particularly important in a country like the United States which at least nominally respects the right to free speech. Violent actions are unlawful and punishable. Provocative speech is not.

Most decent people should be able to agree that neo-nazis hold repugnant and immoral views which humankind really should have transcended by this point. Whatever the president says, there were no “fine” people at this Unite the Right rally – any decent person would have taken one look at the company around them and either gone home or rapidly joined the counterprotest. But nonetheless, free speech means that these far-right activists have every right to express their views and peaceably gather to protest if they wish to do so.

The counterprotesters, on the other hand, were not a homogenous bloc of people. Many were decent, upstanding citizens outraged at the resurgence of neo-Nazism in their hometown and determined to express their opposing view. But a significant contingent were Antifa troublemakers – Antifa being anarchist at best, communist at worst and always inclined to use their fists (and baseball bats) rather than their words in either case. These people do not have the right to silence the expression of any idea, however abhorrent and immoral, by force. There is no rioter’s veto over free speech, and nor should there be – though craven authorities too frequently allow violent leftist groups to enforce one.

The neo-Nazis who assembled in Charlottesville clearly lose the ideological argument. Their political ideas are bad, and so are the acts of violence they committed – particularly the act of domestic terror carried out by James Fields. But the fact that the Antifa elements of the counterprotest oppose the racist views of the neo-Nazis does not excuse the violent acts committed on their own side, including more than one attack against journalists.

One would think this would be a simple concept to grasp, but numerous partisan commentators on Right and Left prefer to engage in whataboutism, pointing to the sins of the opposing side while exonerating their own. This is asinine. The counterprotesters clearly win the moral argument insofar as they oppose white supremacy. The identity politics which many of them peddle may be supremely unhelpful and damaging to the fabric of American society – Lord knows that this blog spends enough time analysing and criticising it – but it doesn’t hold a candle to the very real and tangible damage wrought by white supremacy in America’s history.

Pretending otherwise is stupid, and only diminishes the moral authority of the Right, opening conservatives up to criticism that they are complicit in the white nationalist Alt-Right agenda.

That’s not to say that conservatives should engage in self-flagellation or admit any responsibility for the violent actions of Alt-Left extremists when these odious people inhabit an entirely lower moral plane. But neither should we shower undue blanket praise on all of the people who opposed the neo-nazis in Charlottesville – many of the violent Antifa contingent in particular hold abhorrent and totalitarian ideas of their own, a fact overlooked by some conservative apologists such as Mitt Romney:

Doubling down and allowing the Left to claim the moral high ground – either by furiously denying that the Alt-Right is a problem or by overcompensating and suggesting that the Right has a monopoly on evil – is political suicide for conservatives, reputationally speaking. People will not listen to our valid complaints about identity politics and leftist intolerance if we fail to clear the very low bar of unequivocally condemning the odious Alt-Right infiltrators who seek to piggyback on the wider conservative movement.

As I wrote the other day, when the devil is in our house – as it is right now – conservatives of conscience should spend less time pointing out the flaws of the Left (however real) and more time getting our house in order.

 

Charlottesville protest - alt right march tiki torches

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When The Devil Is In Your House: Charlottesville, The Alt Right And Conservatism

There is nothing conservative about the resurgent white identitarian movement taking root in America, and all decent conservatives must vehemently reject this toxic ideology – and its adherents – before we are further tarred by association

There seem to be two main responses from conservatives to the awful violence which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

One approach – and the correct one – is to forcefully condemn the rise in white nationalism and the specific act of domestic terror which one individual from that movement perpetrated on society, pointing out that no matter what these people call themselves (Alt Right, Far Right or anything else) there is no place for them in the conservative movement.

The other approach is to point angrily at the leftist counterprotesters, particularly the militant Antifa contingent, and point out that these thugs were also violent, punching people, wielding clubs and attacking journalists with very little intervention from the police. This is the “whataboutism” approach – pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own.

Sadly, we have seen too much of the second approach and not enough of the first in the days since violence came to Charlottesville.

The video above is a segment of the Andrew Klavan show. Klavan is a podcast host on Ben Shapiro’s conservative website The Daily Wire, and in this segment he demonstrates by example the way that conservatives should respond when racist, far right fanatics try to hijack our movement and sabotage our policy agenda in service of their own warped agenda.

Beginning at 6 minutes into the video, Klavan says:

Let us start among ourselves, because we’re all good conservatives here. Let us gather together and just remind ourselves – these clowns are in our house, okay? These evil, satanic clowns are in our house.

And it’s no good saying “well, they don’t believe what we believe”, of course they don’t believe what we believe. Of course they don’t. They don’t believe in the Constitution, they don’t believe in E Pluribus Unum, they don’t believe in the great American tradition of bringing people in, transforming them into America through our creed that we conservatives are fighting so hard to defend, they don’t believe in low taxes, they don’t believe in any of this stuff. They don’t believe in America, they don’t believe in the whole thing that makes America what it is.

But they’re in our house. They identify themselves as right wing, they vote for the people we vote for, they have their slogans “Unite the Right” and all this stuff. It’s no good – when the devil is in your house you gotta take care of that, it’s no good saying “well, the devil is in the other guy’s house too” – of course he is. But let’s not mince words about it.

Absolutely. And conservatives cannot afford to be hypocrites here. Whenever a terrorist atrocity is committed by a radical Islamist, many of us on the political Right correctly demand that the Muslim community do more to confront and defeat extremist Islamist ideology wherever it manifests in their mosques, their workplaces, their social circles or even their own homes. The state can not be fully responsible for making radical or violent interpretations of Islam unacceptable to susceptible people, and its attempts to do so (through the PREVENT programme in Britain, for example) will only ever be partially acceptable. The ultimate solution to Islamist extremism cannot be enforced from outside, it must be midwifed by responsible people within the community.

But if we make this demand of our Muslim compatriots, friends and neighbours, we conservatives must also be honest when a violent and extremist ideology is lurking in the fringes of our own movement. The domestic terrorist who killed one person and injured many more in Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday is no more representative of the conservative movement than the depraved Islamist terrorists who kill innocent people in London, Paris or Brussels is representative of all Muslims – possibly even less so. But still we have an obligation to stand up and vociferously object when our movement is hijacked by those who would seek to appropriate our language, policies and even our political parties for their own warped purposes. It is only fair to be morally consistent in this way.

In the face of resurgent (or at least emboldened) white nationalism it is not enough to do what some stalwarts of the American Right did, and loudly proclaim that Nazism is actually a far-left ideology, trying to pretend that the white nationalist identitarian resurgence is not a problem primarily of the Right:

This is just supremely unhelpful, not because Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t have a point but because this “whataboutism” makes it look – quite reasonably – as though conservatives are deflecting. Yet D’Souza seemed to spend most of the weekend labouring this angle of attack, which while technically true does nothing to purge conservatism of the parasites in our midst, or convince sceptical people that we have our house in order.

Right now I don’t think Republicans or many American conservatives realise just what a severe reputational issue they are facing at the hands of this president. Is the media always fair with its coverage? Of course not. Does the media lazily try to fit every story into their “conservatives are racist” framework much of the time? Yes. But that only makes it more important for us to be whiter than white at all times (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun).

Conservatives know that they will be attacked for racism if there is even the slightest possibility of malice, while leftists will be given a free pass. We know this, so there is absolutely no excuse for acts like Donald Trump’s latest press conference where he opened himself up to valid accusations by the media that he was drawing a moral equivalence between the violence of the neo-Nazi thugs and the actions of the counterprotesters (yes of course violence took place on both sides, but the ideologies in question are not morally equivalent, and only one side committed an act of domestic terrorism).

And yes, sometimes the Republican Party has been too willing to make a home for racists in their house, a fact which is not expunged by the fact that Democrats did the same in the 1960s. Engaging in whataboutism does not shift the spotlight away from conservatives, it merely makes it look to ordinary people as though we have something to hide.

At this point we are rapidly running out of excuses and mitigating factors for Trump’s behaviour. No, scratch that – the reserve of excuses has long since been exhausted, and the barrel is now bare. And if this presidential behaviour continues largely unchallenged by mainstream conservatives then only one of two things can happen – either conservative and Republican elected officials face deserved electoral annihilation in the midterms and the next presidential election cycle, or they are propped up and kept in office not by genuine conservatives but by uber-motivated Alt Right types – at which point small-government, constitutional conservatives will have been definitively pushed out of their own party.

This is untenable. The white nationalist and white supremacist Alt Right is a cancer on conservatism because they choose to align themselves with conservatism and live in our house, and rather than administering a welcome dose of chemotherapy the President of the United States is allowing the tumour to grow unchecked – either for cynical political ends, or else for a much darker purpose.

Meanwhile, every hysterical criticism and slander of conservatism ever made by leftists becomes slightly more plausible when Donald Trump, face of the Republican Party, cannot bring himself to disavow gushing words of praise from white supremacists like David Duke.

Abraham Lincoln once said:

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation [..] We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility.

We are rapidly reaching the point where all conservatives of conscience who have not already done so – including elected officials at all levels – must take a public stand and declare whether they accept the White House’s inexplicable Entente Cordiale with the Alt Right, or whether they repudiate it as a matter of conscience.

Those people who choose the wrong side of this existential debate, or who shamefully sit on the fence, will be remembered in spite of themselves.  And one day they will have to answer for their cowardice.

 

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

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Violence And Death In Charlottesville, And A Morally Compromised President

Charlottesville protest - car attack - far right domestic terrorism

If President Donald Trump cannot bring himself to explicitly condemn an act of domestic terror perpetrated against anti-racism protesters in Virginia, one must question not only whether he is capable of bringing Americans together as one nation, but whether he even intends to try

What hath identity politics wrought?

That was the question that stuck in my mind as I sat and watched footage of the far right and Antifa protests in Charlottesville, Virginia today, culminating in that heinous act of domestic terrorism where a car rammed a group of counterprotesters at high speed, killing one and injuring nineteen – a deliberate copy of the kind of low-tech attack perpetrated by radical Islamist extremists recently in Europe.

As part of my media monitoring watching this story develop, I spent some time tuned into a livestream report from Alt-Right conspiracy site Infowars. Their reporter was embedded with a group of Alt-Right protesters who had been dispersed by the police and were trying to regroup. Several of them openly admitted to being racist on camera. A couple spoke about the conspiracy of “international Jewry”, while others just barked the name George Soros over and over again. One talked about the demographic timebomb that threatened America when Texas finally turns into a Blue state due to Hispanic immigration. Lots seemed to want a complete shutdown of all immigration, legal and illegal. And all this on top of the images we have seen of protesters bearing swastikas and making Nazi salutes.

Nobody is covering themselves in glory at this point – not the far Right white supremacist protesters, not the more extreme Antifa elements of the counterprotest, not the news media, not people on Twitter and certainly not the President of the United States.

Many people have made the point that the Left’s obsession with identity politics has helped to fuel the white nationalist/supremacist backlash we are now seeing from the far Right. They’re not wrong. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the relentless growth of identity politics, aided and abetted by cynical left-wing politicians, has certainly put rocket boosters on right wing extremist sentiment.

But none of that matters in the moments after a car is driven at speed into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, in what can only be described as an act of domestic terrorism. At that point it doesn’t matter whether the counterprotesters were trying to suppress the free speech of the far Right, or whether their own leftist ideology is flawed. At that point, these discussions should be put on hold, to be relitigated after we have condemned this singular and abhorrent act of violence.

If there was a time for Donald Trump to step up and show that whatever his flaws he could be president of all Americans, this was it. He failed that test, making a statement consisting of weasel words that condemned violence “on all sides” but without mentioning the focal violent incident of the day.

Remember: this is a president who is happy to shoot his mouth off on Twitter about terror attacks in distant lands, offering certainty and condemnation even before the facts are fully established (and sometimes getting it plain wrong in the process). This is a president who can be frighteningly specific when a particular person or group has roused his anger – when he wants to be. As one Twitter user noted, it would have been nice to hear the President of the United States condemn the mowing down of protesters with the same stridency and tone he uses to attack the likes of Rosie O’Donnell or any of the other celebrities he likes to feud with.

But instead Trump said this:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Well yes, there were certainly acts of bigotry and violence committed by Antifa and others among the counterprotesters. But to paint any kind of equivalence when violence from one side has resulted in death and multiple injury is morally questionable, and politically self-destructive.

There exists a preset media narrative that the Trump White House is staffed with people who are white nationalists at best, and white supremacists at worse. This is mostly media hysteria – while Trump certainly made racist comments during the presidential campaign (not least of which suggesting that Judge Gonzalo Curiel would be incapable of ruling fairly in a Trump University pre-trial hearing because his Mexican heritage would create bias because of Trump’s border wall policy) he has not yet taken any executive action which a reasonable person could construe as being motivated by white supremacist leanings.

Nonetheless, Trump should have realised – and probably was fully aware – that anything less than irreproachable behaviour on his part on any issue touching race would be jumped on by political opponents and the media, bogging his administration’s agenda down and giving Americans just cause to fear that their president was in fact not equally concerned with the welfare of all citizens regardless of race.

And yet when given the lowest of hurdles to jump over – unambiguously criticising violence committed by white supremacist protesters – Trump failed to clear the bar, instead preferring to issue a meandering blanket condemnation of violence which was never going to be enough to satisfy the politicians, media outlets and commentators sniffing for blood.

Why not? Well, to my mind there are only two potential explanations. Firstly, Trump did not specifically condemn the white supremacists because he sympathises with their cause. Or secondly, Trump does not agree with (or is ambivalent about) their cause, but values the votes and political support of this subgroup too much to risk displeasing them by making an overt criticism.

In the first instance, this would make Donald Trump utterly depraved and unworthy of political support from any decent elected official. And in the second instance, this would make the President of the United States a coward for failing to risk taking a political hit in order to tell the kind of harsh truths and specific admonishment to the far Right that much of America needed to hear. Complicity in racism or rank political cowardice – neither characteristic befits the office of president.

Rod Dreher gets it right:

Trump’s response to the racist rally has been — how to put this? — underwhelming.  No, I’m sorry, it’s not “underwhelming”. It’s disgusting. And given that professional racist David Duke invoked Trump’s name favorably at Friday night’s rally, Trump has every reason in the world to condemn this rally and its attendees in no uncertain terms. But he didn’t do it.

[..] Yes, we can and should talk about how left-wing racism and antifa violence are feeding this right-wing racism and violence. But that can come later. Today, all that needs to be said is: these white thugs who desecrated Charlottesville today are evil, and must be condemned and resisted by all decent people. And also, by the American president.

The National Review’s Rich Lowry also makes a fair point:

I don’t have a problem with Trump condemning both sides, since both sides resorted to violence. And he did denounce bigotry and hatred. But I agree that it was mealy-mouthed and wrong not to specifically name and slam the white supremacists whose march was the precipitating event here. Putting aside the merits, if you are a president people suspect is allied with the nastiest forces on the right, you should leap at the opportunity to denounce violent white nationalists. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Trump takes a second bite at the apple sometime soon, but this shouldn’t be so hard.

While Michael Brendan Dougherty is even more appalled:

This weekend in Charlottesville Richard Spencer organized his “Unite The Right” march.  David Duke was there too. Fights broke out between the demonstrating racists and the people protesting them. A motorist driving a Dodge muscle car rammed into a group of anti-racist protestors, injuring several and killing at least one.

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.”  An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.

This is a target-rich environment. Some of these scummy racists in Charlottesville wore chainmail, others went around shouting their devotion to Adolf Hitler. A president with Trump’s intuitive sense of depravity should be able to call them what they are: evil losers. More pathetic: evil cosplayers.  Just as Spencer took Trump’s “I disavow” without a direct object to be a kind of wink in his direction, surely he’ll take today’s statement about “all sides” as another form of non-condemnation. With his performance today, Trump confirms the worst that has been said about him. He’s done damage to the peace of his country. What a revolting day in America.

What stubborn obstinacy exists within Donald Trump that makes him unable to do the sensible thing, to follow the path of least resistance, time and time again? Trump knows that his every statement and every tweet will be parsed by the media, many of whom are actively antagonistic to his agenda (see CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta’s preening, virtue-signalling battle with Stephen Miller over immigration at a recent press briefing). So why feed them more ammunition? Surely Trump knows that given widespread concerns about his attitudes to race, he needs to be whiter than white (if you’ll pardon the pun)?

More importantly, Trump should realise that criticisms of identity politics from his administration and other conservatives will be even less likely to get a fair hearing than would otherwise be the case, so long as he refuses to condemn white nationalist violence with the same zeal that he criticises violence committed by other identitarian movements such as Black Lives Matter.

Maybe somebody smarter than me can come up with a better and less worrying theory as to why Trump deliberately avoided the path of least resistance when making his statement. But to my mind, the only reason the president would refuse to explicitly condemn white nationalist violence – when he knew that the entire country was watching and waiting for him to do so – is because there is a certain constituency he is sufficiently keen to keep on-side that he is willing take the political hit for issuing a mealy-mouthed, non-specific condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville.

There is an exceedingly unpleasant subgroup within Donald Trump’s support base that holds utterly abhorrent views which need to be acknowledged and confronted, not just by ordinary grassroots conservatives or sycophantic GOP politicians but by Trump himself. And every day that the president fails to denounce that racist element, what little moral authority he has left will continue to ebb away.

 

Charlottesville protest - Unite the Right - white supremacists salute

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