As I have mentioned here before, when I was in second grade, my friends and I invented a gang for ourselves. We had a name, insignia, military-style ranks and command structure — the works. It is the sort of thing little boys do. What we did not have, and desperately needed, was an enemy.
But ours was a pretty small neighborhood, and a friendly one. There was no enemy to be had. So we invented one, filling its leadership ranks with imaginatively devious personalities and giving it an elaborate backstory. We spent many hours tracking our enemy, and we were always (necessarily) just a step behind them. If we came across a broken bottle or a crushed soda can in the street, its significance would immediately be explored and expanded upon: Which one of our rivals drank Shasta Tiki Orange Mango?
In the third grade, things were a little different. This was the 1970s, not very long in real terms after the order came down to desegregate the public schools. Progressives then, like progressives now, were remarkably crude thinkers. There were not very many black residents in my West Texas town, and though my understanding is that the schools had not been legally segregated, some of them were effectively segregated, because the city was segregated de facto if not de jure. There were a couple of dozen public schools in the district, and five were either all-white or all-black.
The remedy of the time spoke to the progressive conception of the public schools as a factory for producing whatever sort of citizen the state should need. In this case, it needed citizens in racially mixed schools, so white third-graders were shipped across town to a largely black elementary school, some of whose students were in turned shipped to the largely white schools we had attended. The students at Ruel C. Martin Elementary weren’t exactly thrilled to have a bunch of new white kids at their school (I do not imagine the black students sent to white schools were more eagerly welcomed). And although things were pretty peaceful by third-grade standards, the sense of us-and-them-ness was sufficient to render our imaginary gang irrelevant.
We spent a year taking long bus trips, and during the day Mrs. Kell would read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to us, and warn us not to believe the bits in the science films we watched that seemed to conflict with her interpretation of the Bible. And then Kevin, Derek, and Alison — along with a Vietnamese kid who was white enough for desegregation purposes — went back to fourth grade as though nothing had happened. Thus was the 14th Amendment satisfied in Lubbock, Texas.
We did not think very much about gangs after that. We were thinking about Alison, mostly.
‘Antifa’ is at war with an enemy that is about as real as the one my second-grade gang was always preparing to fight.
But not everybody gets over that in elementary school. A few of my friends drove hours and hours to Dallas when they heard there was going to be a demonstration by white-supremacist skinheads there. There was. It consisted of about five knuckleheads, median age approximately 17, and about 40 counter-demonstrators, median age about 21, mostly college students. The same thing happened on a slightly (but only slightly) larger scale with a Ku Klux Klan rally a few years later. In Vidor, Texas — a town notorious for its KKK activity in spite of the fact that it had, so far as I could tell, no Klan chapter or Klan members — a group calling itself the Lesbian Avengers staged a pretty good-sized protest at the main municipal building. Their thing was fire-eating, and they were terribly, visibly disappointed that not only did the KKK fail to materialize but there was no counter-protest at all, only a visit from an elderly and very polite fire marshal who addressed them as “you ladies,” saying that he supported their right to protest under the First Amendment but that he thought they were being a little bit irresponsible: “We try to teach our children not to play with matches,” he said.
Which brings us to the so-called anti-fascists, who style themselves the “antifa.”
They are at war with an enemy that is about as real as the one my second-grade gang was always preparing to fight.
There is no budding fascist movement in the United States. But every gang needs an enemy, so they have invented one. This isn’t to say that sundry whackos and Twitter warriors do not exist. Our country is large, and it contains multitudes: I was at Waco for the Branch Davidian standoff, which was a very dramatic episode. But it nonetheless remains the fact that messianic Seventh-day Adventist factions are not a major factor in American life: It would exaggerate their importance to say that they are even a minor factor. There are 320 million people in this country, and a few of them are going to be UFO cultists, Nazi furries, bronies, and Methodists. One of them is going to be that pro-Trump guy who shows up at rallies wearing the American flag as a pteruges and sporting a Roman centurion’s helmet, or that other guy in that Tom of Finland get-up that the Village People rejected. In the same way, there are still KKK chapters here and there, and you still come across the occasional man in his 40s who saw that infamous skinhead episode on Geraldo and said to himself: “Yep, there’s my life’s calling.”
It’s a big country, and sometimes a stupid one. A more intelligent one would immediately recognize that the so-called antifa and the white-nationalist clowns are two sides of the same very sad little coin, basically a life-action game of Dungeons and Dragons with silly politics and no sense of adult responsibility.
Here’s a thought for the self-proclaimed antifa: You’re a bunch of idiot children, obviously. But you’re also a bunch of aspiring street-fighters who glorify political violence and dismiss liberal notions of free speech and property rights as so much outmoded bourgeois window-dressing standing in the way of what promises to be a glorious future.
You’re wearing black shirts.
Are you entirely sure you’re the anti-fascists?
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.