The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Democrats Need to Name and Isolate Violent Street Activists

As I noted yesterday, Joe Biden has thus far skated on having to identify who in his party and on his own half of the political spectrum is responsible for riots, looting, arson, and other street violence over the past few months. This taps into a broader point I’ve been making for a while now, one that applies equally to radical Muslims, the alt-right, and QAnon, and even goes back to how the American labor movement handled Communists and how Bill Buckley dealt with the Birchers: You defeat dangerous extremist factions — whether on your own side or on the other side of the spectrum — by naming them as a distinct group and isolating them, not by allowing them to gain legitimacy and cover by blending into a broader movement. And the lead role in that process has to take place among their ideological fellow-travelers. The insistence on “there is no Antifa” and on allowing the Black Lives Matter movement (like the Women’s March before it) to blur the lines between its mainstream appeal and its extreme members is a recipe for the growth of the particular forms of extremism taking root there.

Individual members of those groups might be welcome into the broader mainstream movement — this is a democracy, so every mainstream faction will include some sketchy people in the ranks of its ordinary voters — but only once they see that doing so separates them from the radicals and weakens them. The typical defense of Biden is to argue that Republicans have struggled with this of late on account of Donald Trump’s inability to do just that, and his tendency to embrace conspiracy theories (such as Birtherism) and to amplify on Twitter the voices of all sorts of disreputable people. But then, if “it’s okay because Trump does it” is your defense, what exactly is your argument for your candidate? And more to the point, the time to quarantine the virus of extremism is before its spread in your own community becomes impossible to contain.

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