One of the great gifts the British writer George Orwell gave us, in addition to his classics 1984 and Animal Farm, was a clear and uncompromising look at dangerous ideologies. In “Orwell and the British Left,” British writer Ian Williams recalls Orwell’s underlining of “the old, true and unpalatable conclusion that a Communist and a Fascist are somewhat nearer to one another than either is to a democrat.” Orwell’s well-observed conclusion nonetheless scandalized many on the left who rallied behind the Marxist phrase “no enemies on the left.”
Sadly, a quarter century after the fall of Communism, too many leftists are still ignoring Orwell and refusing to acknowledge the reality of left-wing brutality. In the wake of Charlottesville, eyewitnesses and reporters agreed that while the violence was instigated by neo-Nazis and white nationalists, it was countered with bloody counterattacks by left-wingers and black-shirted anarchists wearing masks. There was a clear asymmetric outcome to the violence: A white nationalist mowed down protestors with his car, killing a 32-year-old woman.
But that didn’t mean there were no victims of left-wing violence. Antifa — short for “anti-fascist” — protestors came armed with pepper spray, bricks, and clubs. Antifa members believe that racist speech is violence and that they must counter it physically, not just oppose it with rhetoric or better ideas.
As the New York Daily News reported, among antifa’s victims were journalists:
Taylor Lorenz of The Hill was punched in the face by an antifa for recording a fight between the two groups; she tweeted that her assaulter told her not to “snitch, media bitch.” A videographer from Richmond’s WTVR covering a counter-protest got a concussion from head blows with a stick.
In addition, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times tweeted from Charlottesville:
The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding “antifa” beating white nationalists being led out of the park.
Nor is Charlottesville the only place that antifa activists have crossed the line. Peter Beinart has a piece in this month’s Atlantic magazine noting that rioting by antifa forces forced University of California at Berkeley officials to cancel speeches by Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopolous earlier this year.
In April, threats by antifa supporters convinced the Portland, Ore., police department that they couldn’t guarantee security for the annual Rose Festival parade. The parade’s sin? Allowing the local Republican party to have Trump supporters march under the GOP banner in the parade. The parade was canceled, to the delight of many in the hob-nailed boot Left that makes Portland, well, such a special place.
Most antifa violence has been swiftly swept under the rug or underreported by liberals and much of the mainstream media.
But most of this has been swiftly swept under the rug or underreported by liberals and much of the mainstream media. On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held its monthly meeting in Washington. A liberal member introduced a stirring denunciation of the Nazi, KKK and white-nationalist participants in the Charlottesville rally.
But then Commission member Gail Heriot introduced an amendment that would have added the following:
Though we support peaceful protest and note that most of the counter-demonstrators were peaceful, we condemn violence by anyone, including violence by so-called antifa demonstrators.
Heriot, an independent, was supported in her amendment by Peter Kirsanow, a Republican appointee and African American from Cleveland. But they received no other support from the five commission members appointed by Democrats. Chairwoman Catherine Lhamon complained that Heriot’s amendment would “water down” the main resolution, when all it did was make clear that the commission wished to condemn violence of any kind.
Karen Narasaki, another commission member, scoffed at Heriot’s reading of Stolberg’s New York Times observation about the antifa activists in Charlottesville. As she voted against Heriot’s amendment, she noted, “You can’t believe everything you read in the media.” Apparently, the “paper of record” for so many liberals is to be considered bird-cage lining material if it contradicts the left-wing narrative. Heriot’s amendment was voted down 6–2. The original resolution was approved unanimously, as recorded in the “Statement on Charlottesville, Virginia, that the commissioners did adopt.
It’s pathetic that the dogma of “no enemies on the left” so clouds the judgment of the commission set up to protect civil rights.
Some clear-minded experts on extremist violence harbor no such ideological blinkers. Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, categorically told CNN last week:
There is violence on the left. The anti-fascists engage with those they oppose through physical confrontation. And that is a problem. That is an extremist’s tactic. There is also bigotry on the left.
I would only add that if George Orwell were with us today, he would probably say that there is willful blindness on the left.