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As leftists who write for ideologically diverse publications, we often receive harsh criticism—or total dismissal—from others in our political circles who have determined we are not sufficiently leftist enough. No true leftist could publish in The Post Millennial or (God forbid) Quillette, after all. The extreme polarization of the mainstream ideological spectrum has effectively placed tolerant association in the same category as endorsement or sympathy. Criticism of the in-group is treated even more harshly. That was a consistent theme in the aftermath of the horrific events in Portland, where Journalist Andy Ngo was brutally beaten by Antifa while covering their unchallenged riot in the streets. Our disavowment of Antifa and our absolute support for Ngo’s human right to do his job without the threat of harm somehow meant we couldn’t possibly have been leftists. How could we have been? We didn’t support Antifa’s clearly heroic stance against the fascist bogeyman.
And a bogeyman it was. Mythical, elusive, and completely unreal. If anything was obvious by the end of day June 29th, it was that Antifa and their clapping monkeys had not a single clue what fascism was. Nothing Ngo had ever done could be described as advancing the ideology of fascism or neo-fascism, and yet the allegations had been thickly laid onto his name, many times by influential individuals and unofficial talking heads for the leftist side. Further, anyone who contested the allegations on Ngo’s behalf, ourselves included, were also quickly labelled fascists or fascist sympathizers.
It was a watershed moment for us, and it was at this time that we recognized the dire need for anti-fascism to finally be disassociated from Antifa as an organized movement. As of June 29th, two are officially mutually unintelligible.
Anti-fascism itself is not an amoral concept. It is common sense. One should be against fascism. And just to make it even more clear: Fascism is bad. The issue with Antifa is that they haven’t a clue what actual fascism is. They employ the term to casually slander those they intend to dismiss or, in Ngo’s case, take action against with a sense of moral impunity. Perhaps most concerningly, anyone merely disagreeing with Antifa’s conceptualization of fascism is always labelled a fascist.
It is ironic, considering that the anti-fascist movements of history’s past were incredibly politically diverse. The Italian anti-fascists under Benedetto Croce were nationalists and libertarians who saw Mussolini’s fascist government as threatening the unique intellectual and cultural traditions of the Italian nation. The anti-fascist Résistance of France was made up of nationalists, communists, anarchists, and even high-society liberal bourgeoise who banded together to confront the French far-right and German Nazi occupiers.
The stringent ideological litmus tests that are applied to discussion of Antifa defy both this rich, meaningful history of anti-fascist action, and seek to encourage an environment of fear, control, and authoritarian suppression. The treatment of any criticisms as an act of fascism in and of itself is a dictatorial act which defies all notions of progressivity. It proves they are intellectually and morally bankrupt. Simply, they are mobocratic and fall far closer to the ideology it allegedly exists to combat.
Like Andy, we, too, were called fascists. It mattered not that our ideological stances of the major issues that define place on the political spectrum are absolutely, overwhelmingly progressive. It mattered not that we ourselves had associated with anti-fascist, Marxist, socialist, and anarchist groups in the present and past. It only mattered that we condemned the actions of the group the popular moment.
And, to be clear, what were those actions? The battering and bloodying of a man. A man who was unarmed. A man who had not attacked or threatened anyone. While the left and right on Twitter exchange barbs over Ngo’s status as a journalist, a conservative, or his identity as a gay, Vietnamese, second-generation immigrant. There is one thing that cannot be disputed: He is a human being. At the Portland riot, it matters not what he was doing beyond simply existing in a public space. It was the thoughts of those around him, the political projections and ideological interpretations, which led to fists and objects bearing down on his person with the intention of causing him harm.
This is far from the first time this has happened.
One case of particularly egregious, arbitrary cruelty comes from the same Rose City Antifa responsible for Ngo’s assault. Antifa descended on one of their own, Paul Welch, for simply carrying an American flag. Welch was clubbed in the back of the head and left in a pool of his own blood. But there are far more cases to note. In 2017, two Global News journalists were attacked, their camera equipment destroyed, while filming Antifa in Montreal, Canada. In 2018, Antifa attacked NPR and NBC reporters who were covering their demonstrations against Unite the Right. That same year in Philadelphia, two Latino marines visiting their helicopter unit at Fort Dix were assaulted by Antifa while touring the historic landmarks on Chestnut street.
The list is near-endless. For every legitimate threat, Antifa has attempted to counter in the last five years, two illegitimate attacks by Antifa on absolutely, unquestionably non-fascist entities could be reported.
If this is not something which can be criticized by we as leftists, then we can do nothing else without hypocrisy. We can chirp about human rights no longer. We can take the moral high ground not a single time in the future. Nothing we say anymore has any value beyond simple intellectual masturbation amongst ourselves.
Leftists would assert that Andy Ngo’s life had less value, and that Antifa’s actions were justified, because he was allegedly conservative, and was an intolerant bigot. On Anna Slatz’s Twitter feed, some pointed to the paradox of tolerance. That we must be ‘intolerant of intolerance in order to foster tolerance,’ but here there is an issue. If the definition of intolerance continues to broaden, and we are expected to be intolerant in kind, then at what point have we fostered anything resembling tolerance?
While we disavow Antifa today, we can remember that Antifa used to be a movement that had actual meaning. While the original Antifascistische Aktion developed with the German Communist Party in response to the Nazis in the 1930s, its modern adaptation developed when an influx of skinheads and neo-Nazis overtook the punk rock scene in the West during the ’80s. What initially started as Anti-Racism Action (ARA), a protest movement against actual far-rightists developed into Anti-Fascist Action, or Antifa. If there is one thing that differentiates these movements from the modern manifestation of Antifa, it is resistance to an overt, tangible presence of a correctly identified threat. When the Socialist Worker’s Party battled the National Front in Lewisham, over 500 neo-nazis had taken congress. When the 62 Group took on Oswald Mosley’s fascists in Trafalgar Square, there had been 800 of them gathered.
Today, Antifa stall streets, torment pedestrians, and cause chaos even when no demonstrations to counter are occurring. If there is no one who identifies as a fascist, like in Portland, Antifa will arbitrarily apply that label to whoever they’d like to justify both their existence and violence. This is a strict deviation from the Antifascist organizations which worked to liberate Europe from the Nazis, and kept fascism at bay through the upsurge in the post-WWII era.
As leftists who actually wish to see a greater propagation of the leftist cause, we feel that Antifa needs to reevaluate itself as a movement. Propagating violence against journalists, dissenters of leftist policies, and the arbitrarily applied label of “fascist” does nothing but disenfranchise those who have to defend the entire left while they’re out buying new riot masks and collapsable nightsticks.
Which brings us to a final, solemn reminder—to those on the right who conflate the entire left-wing with Antifa, we finitely assert that the left includes a diversity of opinion and thought and is just as multifaceted as conservatism or libertarianism. Simply, leftist politics are far more mature and developed than some masked sophomoric violent insurrectionists. To Antifa, we say heal thyself! You defy the honorable history of those who came before you, and until you cease engaging in threatening free speech and civil society, we will continue to expose your moral bankruptcy, and draw attention to the cavernous chasm growing between you and the actual left.