The violence that accompanied recent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia is merely the opening salvo in a larger conflict between those advocating fascism and those committed to human decency, equality, and democracy.
And with white nationalist fascists planning more rallies to come, it’s a foregone conclusion that the violence in Charlottesville will continue. Considering this trajectory, I thought it fitting to promote a dialogue regarding specifically what ‘the left’ in the US stands for, and should seek to accomplish, moving forward.
To be perfectly clear, I abhor violence, and that includes organized violence employed by any group, be it Klan’s men, Nazis, and other fascists on the right, or ‘Antifa’ or ‘Redneck Revolt’ violence on the left. My resistance is principled; it has nothing to do with knee-jerk fear of violence and is not coming from a weak pacifist unfamiliar with the ‘real world’ of violence that we face. As a scholar, I professionally study war and how wars are communicated to the public via political propaganda.
My research also examines mounting public opposition to war at a time when most Americans view war as fundamentally immoral and destructive. I am also no stranger to violence in my personal life; I’ve had far more experience with it than most Americans. I hold a black belt in Shorei Ryu Karate, and practiced the discipline for more than a decade and a half, regularly engaging in controlled violence against others. I would probably still be practicing it now, if it were not for numerous back injuries and other bodily damage I wreaked on my own body via martial arts and extreme sports. I am also no stranger to guns. As a youth, I had plenty of experience with target shooting, firing hand guns, rifles, and assault weapons.
My bias here is clear. Although trained in the art of violence, the first thing I learned in the martial arts is that violence is never something one should actively seek out. Rather, it’s a last act of self-defense when your life is in danger and there are no alternatives. If there is one life-lesson I learned in Karate, it is that violence is almost never the answer to one’s problems. If someone is threatening you physically, you walk away (if you can).
If someone pulls a weapon and it is possible to escape without engaging them and without risking your life, evasion if far superior to confrontation. But I was also trained to employ various techniques that would severely maim, or even kill others, in cases where my life was in danger. THAT is the only time when violence is warranted. Having said that, I would never condemn individual citizens for using violence to protect their lives in the face of physical assault, and that goes for all protesters who defend themselves or others against fascist attacks. Additionally, it is the law of the land that individuals can carry concealed weapons, so even if I would never carry a gun myself, I can’t legally fault others for carrying them for self-protection.
But saying that I endorse violence as a last-resort and as a means of preserving life is different from endorsing groups that proactively plan to engage in violence, such as Antifa or Redneck Revolt. I can respect the commitment of these groups to protecting the lives of others, but to the extent that members of these groups advocate planned mass violence, they are going beyond simple self-defense. They are actively seeking confrontation with police and far-right protesters. I strongly agree with Antifa and Redneck Revolt that right-wing reactionary movements need to be discredited and defeated. But the means through which that occurs is another question entirely.
Much of the contemporary debate over recent events is complicated by the fact that fascist groups seek to fuse demonstrations – which are legally protected under the First Amendment – with violence against counter-protesters – which is obviously illegal and deplorable. Whatever some on the left think about it, fascists are guaranteed freedom of speech and assembly under the law. But it would also be foolish to expect that fascist rallies aren’t going to devolve into violence and terrorism, considering that fascist belief systems idealize the use of violence as a means of attaining political goals.
Free speech debates aside, we should be perfectly clear: there is a very real danger in the Trump administration’s flirting with fascism via threats to criminalize journalists, his support for physical assault against leftist protesters, and his providing of cover to violent right-wing militants in Charlottesville. Considering Trump’s latent fascist tendencies, the emergence of a full-blown fascist state is something we can no longer afford to ignore.
Trump’s rhetoric in the last week is dangerous. His initial condemnation of violence ‘on many sides’ suggested a willful ignorance to what happened in Charlottesville. One side seeks the extermination of non-whites and the ethnic cleansing of the continent via genocidal violence, and they use violence to try and achieve these goals. The other side, including Antifa and Redneck Revolt, offer a principled stand against fascism, seeking to eliminate the threat of fascist violence. Even if I disagree wholeheartedly with their methods, I can see that their violence is a response to an increasingly militarized far-right in America that has committed itself to coercion, terrorism, and genocide.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘A Plea for Nonviolence: Fighting Fascism in Trump’s America’.