A modest proposal for fascists and anti-fascists

Eli Lake

By Eli Lake Bloomberg View

Published Sept. 4, 2017

As America feels like it's coming apart at the seams, I have a modest proposal. The hard-right and hard-left activists who so enjoy protesting one another should meet every few weekends in a large national park and have at it.

The rest of us could begin to treat this wave of street agitation as the sideshow it is.

After all, this is not a fight for the soul of America. Neither the Tiki-torch Nazis nor the masked anarchists represent a viable American future. They are simply engaging in nostalgia, a scarier version of Civil War battle re-enactments.

Lumping them together does not equate two unequal sides. The cause of anti-fascism is noble, whereas the racists marching in Charlottesville are telling journalists like me I should be sent to the ovens. I'm not talking about the folks on the left who are nonviolent and unmasked, showing up to protest the fascists. I'm referring to the extreme wing that invites itself to these gatherings to "protect" these model citizens. Those "antifa" are something altogether different.

You may have heard of them recently. Human rights historian Mark Bray, who has recently become an unofficial spokesman for the movement, says that "its adherents are predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or the state to halt the advance of white supremacy."

Recently this crowd has been getting some good press. No less a public intellectual than Cornel West said after Charlottesville that had it not been for antifa, "we would have been crushed like cockroaches."

Following the president's vacillations and equivocations after that horror, a popular Twitter meme emerged comparing the antifa to the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Not quite the most apt historical parallel. Zoom back to between the world wars. Most of the people who fought the fascists in Europe's streets were themselves radical leftists. Both extremes helped to weaken already weak governments in Germany, Italy and Spain.

To get a sense of the depravity of that political moment, read George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia," a brilliant memoir of his time fighting in the Spanish civil war. Spoiler alert: The socialists and the fascists fighting for Spain were both authoritarians. Antifa today is the heir not to the Western allies who fought the Nazis, but rather the Soviets who bled them out on the eastern front. After the Third Reich fell, the Red Army turned the Eastern European states in its dominion into vassals. "Antifa" is a misnomer. It's more like "also-fa."

This movement in the U.S. has been around for decades. Originally it confronted neo-Nazis at punk concerts and the like. Today though, antifa has become the violent vanguard of the censorious progressive "safe space" movement, in which ideas and speakers deemed offensive are equated with physical violence. It was the Berkeley chapter of antifa that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter from speaking at the college this year.

Now whatever one wants to say about those two, they are not Nazis. Indeed, the hysterical reaction to their appearances proves a point Yiannopoulos often makes, that political correctness on campus is a great menace to the principle of free speech.

Antifa's vigilantism is dangerous in part because its aim is so poor. We can all agree in the abstract to oppose Nazis and other assorted fascists. The disagreement arises in labeling who's a fascist. So far antifa has shown little discernment in this respect.

Many antifa activists showed up at Trump rallies, where presumably everyone supporting him was lumped in with the Nazis and Klansmen. Antifa activists this month clashed with the police at a rally in Boston, which was ironically called to support "free speech." It's true that some of the speakers invited to this event were reactionaries. But the rally was open to people of all political stripes to support the idea that in America we are free to assemble and say what we wish.

So if any neo-Nazis or antifa activists are reading this, please agree on a schedule and demonstrate against one another far away from the rest of us. I recommend Yellowstone National Park. I promise to get the word out to the media to cover these events with the same seriousness we reserve for Renaissance fairs and Star Trek conventions.

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Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about politics and foreign affairs. He was previously the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast. Lake also covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI, and was a contributing editor at the New Republic.