One of the least safe places to be in Berkeley, California, is in the vicinity of someone holding a “No Hate” sign.
So-called anti-fascist, or antifa, activists bearing shields emblazoned with those words assaulted any of the handful of beleaguered Trump supporters they could get their hands on at a small political rally over the weekend. All in the cause, mind you, of demonstrating their supposed opposition to hatefulness.
Too many people were willing to perfume antifa in the wake of Charlottesville, where it clashed with Nazi thugs who caused, and deserved, a wave of national revulsion. But Berkeley demonstrates once again the true nature of this left-wing movement, which is thuggish in its tactics and totalitarian in its sensibility. Anyone who at this point makes excuses for antifa — or worse, justifies it — is participating in its moral rot.
The antifa goons showed up in force at Berkeley at what had been a small “anti-Marxist” rally of Trump supporters at a public park. Antifa wore its usual fascistic garb of black masks and body armor. They overwhelmed the police who had been trying to maintain order and, holding aloft smoke-spewing flares, chanted, “Whose park? Our park!”
They then treated suspected Trump supporters with all the decorousness of torch-wielding medieval villagers who believed they had stumbled upon a witch. A leader of a pro-Trump group had to run from a mob that pepper-sprayed and beat him, until he was taken into police custody for his own protection. The targets weren’t Nazis bearing Nazi regalia, but supporters of the duly-elected president of the United States. Or people who were guilty of the offense of committing journalism — a reporter was beaten by the antifa cadres.
Antifa benefited enormously from the horrific events in Charlottesville. It became Nazis versus the people standing up to the Nazis, and in that formulation the people standing up to the Nazis always win. There can be no moral equivalence, we were told, between Nazis and their opponents. But that depends on who the opponents are — there is a vast difference between peaceful counterprotesters and violent thugs, even if they are marching on the same side.
There was certainly moral equivalence between Hitler and Stalin. Likewise, bully-boy fascists spoiling for a fight and black-clad leftists looking to beat them up exist on the same moral plane. They both thrill to violence and benefit from the attention that comes from it. They both reject civility and the rule of law that make a democratic society possible. They both are profoundly illiberal.
All this was lost in the reaction to Charlottesville. Liberal commentators spread memes comparing antifa to American GIs who stormed the beaches at Normandy. The comparison would be apt if the 1st Infantry Division got together to spend an afternoon beating up fellow Americans rather than giving its last measure of devotion to breaching Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
There is a cottage industry in excuse-making for antifa. Mark Bray of Dartmouth College says in the Washington Post that its activists are characterized by “their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly,” i.e., assault people and shut down uncongenial speech as they deem necessary. Todd Gitlin of Columbia University writes in the New York Times that antifa is “not squeamish about its means” — but he is clearly squeamish about describing it frankly.
There will always be thugs who enjoy breaking things and hurting people. The real scandal is that otherwise respectable people are willing to look the other way or explain away the violence, so long as its perpetrators are on their side. They are just as cowardly as the mask-wearing antifa thugs who are brave enough to punch and kick people, but not to show their faces.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2017 King Features Syndicate