America is witnessing the emergence of a new movement – the anti-fascist action, the antifa – and it would be well-served for its members to think deeply about their vision of tomorrow’s America before they go down their chosen path. Spawned by the newly nourished alt-right, the antifa was founded on noble principles but employs ignoble tactics. They protest against fascism, racism and bigotry, all intolerable evils, while promoting tolerance, inclusiveness, social justice and economic equality. But while professing tolerance, they impair America’s greatest advantages over the repressive totalitarian governments they oppose, our constitutional aces in the hole, our freedoms of assembly, speech, expression and press. They are the first to go in a fascist, authoritarian society and grind the very tools they need to be successful into the unsettled dust of the new American landscape. If they continue on this path, they may reap ends discolored by their own means.
The recent events in Charlottesville, Va., have certainly revealed the darker red, black and white colors of our president, the neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist hues that in part propelled him into the White House. Donald Trump’s tint, though, is not the problem; America’s color is. Trump did not elect himself into office. What turned so many states red was the discontent of millions of Americans who mistakenly saw him as the answer to the inequities they live with in education, wages and advantages. It’s ironic that they voted for someone who personifies elitism. They felt that too many people were jumping the queue, people they always looked down upon because they were poorer than them, and now see ahead of them in line. Their frustration, anger and hatred was the opening Trump squeezed through into Washington, D.C., and now he feels obligated to follow through on the pandering promises he made to them. Whether he is a racist fascist at heart is unknown. In the end, the truth will win the day, be sure of that. But only if the truth in all forms reaches the light of democracy.
The truth though, must come forth in a nonviolent manner to preserve the script playing out on Twitter, in Washington, D.C., on CNN and Fox, and in The Times and Post. Recent violence in Middlebury, Vt., Berkeley, Portland, Ore., and as close as Sacramento are harbingers of change in the tactics of what Trump now calls the alt-left. Progressives and liberals must decide whether they condone the actions of the antifa.
Antifa has stepped over the nonviolent stage of protest so effectively employed by Gandhi and King to change the nations in which it operates. A frustrated Nelson Mandela gave the racist South African government enough time to show its intransigence and true colors before turning to sabotage to press the demands of the oppressed blacks there. Antifa has jumped the gun here. Certainly the time for more aggressive actions may at some point arrive, but are we there yet? As repulsive as the message may be, the KKK and white supremacists have the same right to peacefully assemble and express their views as others. What if their rally cries against Jews and blacks and Muslims had not resulted in violence? What if the anti-fascist protesters had come unarmed and merely voiced their opposition to the ugliness? What if the aggression had been one-sided?
Until recently, violence has been a tactic mostly of the right, and progressives have held the higher moral ground from which they viewed the swarming hatred staining our landscape. Now, members of the antifa have walked down into the swamp, lowering themselves into the muck. Liberals need to decide how low they’re willing to stoop, how fast they want to radicalize and who they want to support.
Freedom of assembly, expression, speech and of the press are more valuable weapons against tyranny than violence. Ballots in boxes are more powerful than bullets on a softball field. Antifa does not have the authority or right to decide who gets to assemble and who gets to speak. Its members have a more important reason to protect these freedoms – because these are the rights that will expose the true colors of the alt-right, the president, and the complicit Republican Party. Let the truth come out into the light of day, and we will all know who we are and are not. Only then will we be able to come together to chart a more humane, equitable and just course into America’s future, with or without an orange haze.
Jim Pesout is a retired high school teacher who lives in Mountain Ranch. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.