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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UKIP Take The Low Road

UKIP protest

 

Perhaps it was inevitable, given the relentless barrage of attacks on the party in recent days, but today marks the day that UKIP made a mistake, took a page from the conventional political handbook and played into their opponents hands. Their folly? Allowing three of their European election candidates to go running to the police, demanding that any demonstrators who call them ‘fascists’ or hurl other insults be arrested for committing a hate crime.

The Huffington Post reports:

Ukip has asked police officers to arrest demonstrators for a hate crime if they call their supporters “fascists” at a public meeting held by the party.

Three of the party’s European election candidates said, in a joint statement, that they had asked Sussex Police to arrest “any protestors who call our supporters ‘fascists’, hurl other abuse or any physical assault, for ‘hate crime’ or under the Public Order Act” at the Hove meeting on Tuesday night.

It has become fashionable in left-wing circles to talk about how UKIP represents next great fascist threat to the United Kingdom, and that its leader Nigel Farage is the reincarnation of Oswald Mosley with a sprinkling of Enoch Powell. Such outraged left-wing hysteria is only fuelled by the propensity of organisations that really should know better – such as Unite Against Fascism – to picket and protest UKIP’s political gatherings under the (either incredibly stupid or breathtakingly cynical) pretext that opposition to economic migration automatically equals racism.

That UKIP have been taking fire – often unfairly and excessively – from all sides is incontestable. But by doing what they claim to loathe, running to the government for protection and redress every time they get their feelings hurt in the rough and tumble of British political discourse, UKIP are undermining one of their most endearing aspects – the ‘no nonsense’ individualist approach that scoffs at today’s entitlements culture and the right to live life unoffended and unchallenged.

This impulse to hit back is partly understandable. For months, UKIP and their supporters have been heckled and jeered and accused of unpleasant things by every left-leaning organisation with a megaphone, while mainstream politicians rode the wave of anti-UKIP hysteria and stood in front of television cameras cynically repeating many of the same allegations and unpleasant talking points. For some in the party, used to seeing their own ‘kind’ on the receiving end of police harassment – for skirting too close to the wrong side of the law when speaking about immigration or gay marriage, for example –  it must be cathartic to imagine the police handcuffing and carting away the person who has heckled their every campaign stop or policy launch.

But just as opposing economic migration does not automatically make one a fascist, calling someone a fascist is not close to being a hate crime – fascists not being viewed as an especially sympathetic or endangered minority, for one reason. And if we as a country do decide to expand the (already overly-long) roll call of groups entitled to hate crime protection and the list of words whose utterance will prompt a police visit – to include new additions such as ‘hypocrite’ or ‘idiot’ for example – before long there will be no politicians, journalists or bloggers left.

One of UKIP’s core strengths – the thing that made them a breath of relatively fresh air in the very stale British political system – is the fact that they always pushed back against the growing nanny state-ism that values freedom from being offended over freedom of expression. What’s more, they have done this at a time when the bulk of British elite opinion has trended strongly in the other direction, almost sanctifying the ‘right’ of the individual to coast through life without ever being shocked or offended or insulted. Their motives for supporting free speech have not always been pure, but this is yet another indictment of the major political parties – the fact that it has often been left to a strident outlier party to speak out in defence of such a core British value.

At present, UKIP remain well placed to triumph at the upcoming European elections, but the result will be close and even the smallest missteps or scandals could tip the balance. If Nigel Farage’s party choose to surrender their successful and appealing ‘happy warrior’ image and replace it with the outraged snarl of the perpetually wronged victim, the danger is that they will start to resemble the very thing that their opponents accuse them of being – a sort of British National Party Lite, full of little-Englanders nursing a grudge.

UKIP have come too far – and enliven the British political debate too much – to allow this to happen.