If 2016 is the year when our political parties failed, inflicting on America arguably its worst presidential choice in our nation’s history, then 2017 is when our broader institutions began to lose their collective minds. This is the year when reasonable men surrendered to unreason — when political tribalism trumped human decency.
The primary tragedy of Charlottesville was the loss of a young woman’s life. The secondary tragedy was the distortion of our political culture. The president of the United States actually declared some portion of a collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and alt-right white nationalists to be “very fine people.” He just couldn’t bring himself to completely disavow men and women who’d supported him since the day he descended down the escalator at Trump Tower.
First, here’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, one of the best and most respected political journals in American life:
Watching ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ a movie about a group of very aggressive alt-left protesters invading a beach without a permit.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) August 16, 2017
Let’s not forget pic.twitter.com/q5wjVmZylR— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) August 16, 2017
And here’s CNN contributor and former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon:
Also confronted the Nazis without a permit: pic.twitter.com/3c2f3X9slC— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) August 16, 2017
Indeed, for a time the very notion that a person could and should condemn both Antifa and the alt-right generated extreme rage online. How dare you equate fascists and anti-fascists! Outlets such as the Washington Post and CNN published fawning apologetics and romanticized profiles of the far left’s vigilante thugs. Antifa had its pop-culture moment.
It was disgraceful. All of it. And this weekend Antifa struck again. A small group of peaceful right-wing protesters gathered in Berkeley. Black-clad Antifa thugs attacked. The Washington Post has the story:
Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa — “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.
Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”
Even worse, the police literally stood aside and let Antifa take over a public park. It allowed mob rule and then justified abdicating its responsibility to protect the liberty and safety of Berkeley’s citizens by claiming that it wanted “people to freely assemble.” This is a sad joke. It gave control to Antifa. It empowered the heckler’s veto.
The video evidence of violence is appalling. Antifa isn’t heroic. It’s brutal:
Antifa beat down apparent alt-righter. pic.twitter.com/WVdDJqLKmA— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) August 27, 2017
As vicious as they are, in a functioning constitutional republic, Antifa is a manageable, short-term problem. A vigorous police presence followed by a wave of arrests and aggressive prosecutions would largely end the threat. The men and women of Antifa aren’t insurgents; they’re little more than a cowardly gang of left-wing thugs.
Far more serious is their effect on the rule of law and political discourse. Has hatred for Trump so blinded America’s liberal elite that it’s willing to romanticize violence? Is their respect for the First Amendment so fragile that the thrill of watching alleged members of the alt-right get punched in the face is worth more than preserving core constitutional liberties? Have the police forgotten their role as guardians of American liberty?
Antifa’s apologists are competing with the alt-right for control of the political sewer.
This isn’t #resistance, it’s lawlessness. It’s not anti-fascism, it’s violent repression. Is the rule now that any gathering of Trump supporters — alt-right or not — in any blue enclave risks a violent response? Have authorities, through a combination of cowardice and political correctness, ceded control of the streets in key American towns to a Marxist/anarchist mob?
Antifa and its elite apologists are sending a clear message of hate and loathing to millions of Americans who don’t have a fascist bone in their bodies — to the millions of good people who voted for Donald Trump. Antifa doesn’t occupy the moral high ground. Its apologists have no grounds to sneer at anyone. Instead, they’re competing with the alt-right for control of the political sewer.
Condemn Antifa now. Prosecute its members now. Or watch America continue to tear itself apart. Violent Marxists are evil. Violent fascists are evil. If we can’t understand both of those basic truths simultaneously, then we have truly lost our way.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.