When is Violence at a Protest OK?
If you've so much as glanced at social media in the last two weeks, then you've likely seen people critiquing the violence of groups like neo-Nazis and Antifa, as well as Trump's initially semi-flaccid and vague remarks on the topic, trying their best to decide who's the biggest asshole in this threeway bout of utter douchebaggery.
Before we go any further, allow me to address the people who read the title of this article and immediately yelled “Never! Violence is never ok in any protest, ever, for any reason!” While it's unlikely that this particular group even saw their way fit to open this link and read this far, I feel that it's worth stating that you should read this piece in it's entirety before you decide that I'm a dickhead. You can even feel free to start ascending your soapbax while you read it, just so long as you read it to completion. There. Now that that's out of the way, let's continue.
Between every unique brand of armchair pundit online aiming to prove their piety by decrying political violence in each and every circumstance, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone sorting through the ethical nuance of that violence. And, yes. I just raised the idea of ethical violence. Fight me.
The easiest way to consolidate this idea with the mental contradiction that develops between human compulsion toward aggression and the proven efficacy of peaceful protests is to use Nazis themselves. Upon learning about the unfathomable atrocities of the Holocaust, most kids are left scratching their heads about why the citizens (who far outnumbered their oppressors) didn't just rise up and fight them in 1940s Germany. This is an easy question for a naive child, with no understanding of systemic abuse and control that leads the slow charge to totalitarianism, to raise. That's because, right or wrong, violence is a quick and concise resolution that lives within the confines of the human spirit. We've evolved to the point that we largely abhor the act as a society, but not past the point of it entering our consciousness as a compulsory solution to an imminent threat. After all, if the powerless only have numbers against a machine of wealth, propaganda, and weaponry, the options for an uprising are pretty limited.
Don't get me wrong. Any act of physical aggression is a god awful opening approach to social change. This fast forwards us to Antifa.
Antifa is the shortened name for a group of anarchist protesters that's short for anti-fascist. The right wing is fond of calling them commies, but their views are much more philosophically aligned with anarchy. This name makes it seem like a no brainer when it comes to whether or not to support them. After all, most Americans are anti-fascist. But Antifa manages to fuck up this slow, underhanded pitch toward mass support by leading with destruction in circumstance that don't call for it. Famously, they were accused of trying to make an anti-capitalist statement by smashing the windows of a Starbucks during a protest of the inauguration of Donald Trump. Their act swung the spotlight away from hundreds of thousands of disillusioned voters, and put it squarely onto the patched hoodies of about 20 turds, thus deracinating any and all salient and reasonable points being raised in the face of a highly contested election. The acts of that day were completely wrong and debased the whole grievance of the masses to a childish tantrum. It gave every Trump supporter the golden opportunity to focus on a handful of idiots instead of listening to people who were calling for the abolition of the affront to democracy that is the electoral college. Antifa managed to gift wrap their opponents talking points in this case. They also managed to make a framejob pretty easy for a clever opponent. Like that cop's wife in Massachusetts who tagged her own house to make it look like BLM robbed the place, all you need to do is smash a bank window while wearing all black, and people will connect their own dots. It was a shortsighted and foolish act of aggression on the part of Antifa.
What happened on August 12th, however, was wildly different. This was the day that neo-fascists marched on Charlottesville, and one such bigoted prick used his car to injure 19 people, and kill counter-protester Heather Heyer.
The footage of the car driving through the crowd shows a number of Antifa members smashing the hell out of the thing before the vehicle reverses and tears away from the mob. One of my conservative friends posted the video, asking me “Since when do peaceful protesters carry bats?”
Though it's easy to condemn Antifa for their past acts of violence (largely against property, but still), this was no such circumstance, and the wrong side is very clear in this particular case. Destroying the car of a Nazi who diverted from the roadway to ram his car into a group of lawful protesters is a defensive response. It's incumbent upon every American to see the difference between the aggressor and defender in every individual situation, no matter who's side we would generally take. If a group of hillbillies in MAGA hats had dragged that guy through his window and bashed the piss out of him before he could kill anyone else, my response wouldn't be to clutch my pearls and gasp “That pro Trump contingent is so violent!” It would be more akin to a hopeful “Hey, look! They finally made a good decision!”
This circles back to the idea of 'peaceful protesters' bringing weapons to rally against a hate group. It may be biased because of my Texas citizenship, but the idea of going up against a group of hate-fueled Nazis with no defense aside from my mushy flesh is wholly foreign to me. The irony of the fact that the aforementioned friend is a huge proponent of carrying a firearm for self defense only supports the notion that he's fully aware of the concept of being armed, even while you come in peace. It's just an idea that's against his preferred narrative. This kind of judgment clouding is a sin that we're all guilty of from time to time, and need to move away from in a thrust of intellectual honesty.
The idea that violence can have an ethical basis should really only be supported by the idea of defending the innocent. If a cop shoots a guy who's holding a knife to a six-year-old girls throat, he's likely to be cited for his heroism. And rightly so. His act is still violent, but it's in the defense of a deserving citizen. Now, if that same cop was caught shooting an unarmed man in the back, then he would be 100% wrong in that circumstance. This doesn't mean that he was wrong in the first scenario, but he should definitely be held accountable for the second one. The same is true for a bunch of people taking apart a Dodge Challenger with bats so that it moves backwards instead of forwards. If these same people attacked persons or property in the name of chaotic protest, then they would be wrong in doing so. But this does not mean that they weren't right to defend others against dying at the hands of a madman. Handing a Nazi a fucking Pepsi so that they'll stop killing people just isn't an option. Conservatives love to say that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Well, sometimes the only thing that stops a fascist with a car is a group with bats.