In Charlottesville there were violent clashes among white nationalists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other such groups and counter-demonstration groups that resulted in the murder of one of the counter-demonstrators by a man who drove a car into a crowd.
One issue raised by these events is the use of violence. It is not that violence is always bad. We hold that the violent aggressors on Normandy Beach were heroes who saved the world from evil incarnate. Delay in violent response to Hitler’s Germany may have cost millions of lives. The issue is not necessarily who was fighting and who was not. One must also consider motivations and activities.
Both white supremacists and antifa came prepared for a street battle. Judging from the behavior of the torch-lit white supremacist mob, which assaulted a peaceful group of unarmed worshippers (counterprotesters), aggression was in their plans. In this case, it is reported that the physical intervention of the Antifa group saved the lives of many of the counterprotesters. On the other hand, Antifa also provoked violence by physically blocking the path to the alt-right marchers’ destination. Both groups appear to have had violence on the agenda.
However, while both had violent agendas, there is a real difference in the reasons for violence. The stated goal of Antifa is to counter fascism by whatever means necessary to avoid the return to power of Nazi, white-supremacist views. The goal of the white supremacists is the subjugation of races and religions and the obliteration of people they consider "subhuman." One is against an evil ideology the other is an evil ideology.
To apply moral equivalence to a group bent on destruction of the rights and existence of other human beings and a group opposed to that view simply because they both include violence in their platforms is inappropriate. It would be like saying that the invaders on Normandy Beach and the Nazi war machine were the same because they both used weapons.
That said, I believe violent protest in a basically lawful society, even against a despicable target, may be counterproductive in stopping that target. There was great power in the nonviolent movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. Those protests called out the conscience of a nation and ended decades of discriminatory laws and practice. I believe that movement was effective because our country is basically lawful and the changes it achieved were inherent in our foundational principles.
In our country, violent opposition of vile ideologues and suppression of their free-speech rights actually seems to open the door for false equivalency arguments and it gives a platform for claims of legitimacy. Ironically, it allows them to take the “oppressed victim” position. The peaceful counterprotests in Boston sent a much stronger message.
After the events in Charlottesville, the term “left” was applied to counterprotesters, and the term “alt-left” was used to describe the counterprotesters who were disposed to violence. The main rally was dubbed "Unite the Right." It was as though this was an issue between our political left and right. The white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, etc., who marched in Charlottesville are not just a little more extreme version of conservative ideology. They represent an ideology unto themselves.
White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis do not belong in the circle of conservativism. Conservatives and progressives alike can join in denying quarter to this ideology. This is not a fight of left vs. right. The fight is between an ideology of equality and respect for all, as in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and an ideology of hatred, racism and discrimination that has led to some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.
While conservativism and progressivism differ on approaches within the ideology of the equality, they are united in condemnation of hatred and bigotry. Let’s not let white supremacy be cast as a left-right division.
Dennis Ahern is a partially retired psychologist and part-time choral conductor in the Ogden area.