‘You must love Antifa, ya cuck.”
“Will you also condemn Antifa, BLM, and radical Muslims? I’m disappointed in you.”
It’s in reading these desperate social-media messages about violent left-wing protesters that I realized the true purpose of the tiki-torch ectomorph rally in Charlottesville. The “Unite the Right” rally had little to do with “defending” Confederate memorials, or any particular reading of southern history, however misguided. The designated speakers weren’t exactly kids who grew up learning how to give a rebel yell from Paw-Paw. Two of the billed speakers were anti-Semitic podcasters from New York; another fancies himself an American version of France’s Nouvelle Droite. The Robert E. Lee statue was a MacGuffin — or, rather, he was Antifa bait, and the college town that it happened to be in was just a place where Antifa could be expected to swim. The organizers don’t want heritage, they wanted footage.
Really, what they wanted to do was to set a trap for conservatives. The explosive growth of Antifa during the 2016 campaign and since the election of Donald Trump has become a fixture in conservative media. Conservatives had warned that mainstream-media figures were summoning an awful thing into being by cheering on masked left-wingers who punched Nazis. Soon, anyone you wanted to punch would start looking like a Nazi.
Sure enough. Aggressive left-wing “direct action” started falling on conservative speakers on campus. And Antifa played the main role in shutting down speeches by Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. Even if conservatives, of the type that wears loafers and bowties, had become used to holding Yiannopoulos and Coulter at arm’s length, the sight of left-wingers using violence and the threat of worse riots to shut them down caused some rallying effect.
The organizers of Unite the Right wanted to achieve the same thing for themselves. A spectacle would attract Antifa, who would predictably use violence. Some mainstream-media figures would endorse that violence, and some conservatives, they believed, would feel obliged to defend the ActualFascists because, hey, these left-wing mobs are attacking America’s legal and social norms of free speech. In other words, even if the assorted Jew-haters and fashy dorks can’t persuade conservatives to adopt a “no enemies to the right” posture, perhaps Antifa would.
And then one of these MAGA-fascists rammed his Dodge muscle car into peaceful protesters, killing a woman.
That fact scuttled the rally organizers’ talking point that it was Antifa or poor policing that initiated and caused all the violence. And it prevented conservatives from venturing the “both sides” argument that so swiftly blew up in President Trump’s face.
The murder of Heather Heyer was a revelation, and so too was the way that rally co-organizer Christopher Cantwell, met news of her death — by sneering, “The fact that nobody on our side died, I’d go ahead and call that points for us.” At the exact moment Richard Spencer and his friends successfully recaptured the “alt-right” label from the so-called alt-light Gamergaters and other populists, it became stained in blood.
Still, the problem Charlottesville presents for the larger “alt-light” is serious. There seemed to be a real upside to cultivating a reputation as the edgiest and most transgressive political movement going. You’re free of the pieties that come from longer-lived movements. You look authentic, even fresh. And your stock goes up. But there’s an iron law at work here: As soon as anyone identifiably on the right gets the reward of attention for being transgressive, the Neo-Nazis swiftly show up, and the value of transgressive right-wing politics returns to its true value in America, near zero.
It was amusing to see Gavin McInnes disavow the fiasco in Charlottesville. McInnes has cultivated a gang-like aura among his all-male fraternal organization, the Proud Boys. He and his group had dropped out of the rally once he got the vibe that it was going to turn into a “white power” thing. “I remember hearing William F. Buckley had to drum out the Nazis from National Review, and it didn’t sound like a big deal,” McInnes said in his recent video, “But when you do it, you realize how tedious it is.”
Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction.
Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction. The rally organizers came prepared for violence, and they wanted it. They wanted footage of themselves getting punched and maced so that they could use conservative antipathy to Antifa to erode conservative antipathy to ActualFascists. Don’t fall for it.