Antifa And The Alt-Right
As I commit to gather my thoughts and write about the horrid events that transpired in Charlottesville this weekend past, I struggle to find a place to begin. In outlining the portrait in my mind, my quill feels desiccated, my spirit deflated, and my movements slow. And I don’t think my symptoms are merely those of a psychosomatic kind—those that are born of and exist only in the mind, only later to be appropriated by emotions, manifestations, and limbs. In writing about the events that took place, my thoughts, and the very words within which they’re captured, are uncharacteristically unforthcoming. I hope only that they might stumble into a semblance of context and maybe, for my own good, clarify what exactly went wrong.
One glimpse of the footage captured on that stiflingly sunny and picturesque Virginia afternoon was enough to imprint upon my mind an ineffaceable scar. Because of the shrewd and intimate recordings of the student protestors on the streets, the world and I were able to witness one of the most distressing and unforgettable scenes in American life of the past five years. After a day of incivility and tumult, the climactic tragedy, such as it was, was the image of James Alex Fields driving his vehicle down a crowded street (one packed with pedestrians and innocent life) before he struck a woman, detached her from the bounds of gravity and flung her into the air, and then reversed in haste with now a bumper and now a nation torn asunder.
How exactly did this end come to be? By what means was it precipitated? The former is quite beyond answering; one would need to delve clinically into the psyche of a murderer. The answer to the latter, however, is within reach. The context and the incendiary factors are as follows. Six weeks ago, a group of white-supremacists gathered in Charlottesville so they might, as is their wont, demonstrate in a public park. At that time, these racist malcontents were in fact legally protesting the Charlottesville city council’s decision to rename the park in which they now stood. Once “Lee Park”, the park’s name had been changed recently to become “Emancipation Park”. The white-supremacists saw this in this new “Emancipation Park” a spurious and newfangled attempt to erase from our heritage our history. As one might well imagine, the park was originally and eponymously named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, whose visage if not whose essence still adorns the park. He’s memorialized there with a proud and imposing statue. The once decorated West Point graduate and instructor sits at attention upon his horse, the unwearied Traveller, like a green, oxidized, equine effigy. Visually, the General is striking. Politically, he is schismatic. City officials and the student community wanted him taken down.
Charging these historical obscurantists with needlessly expunging from our history an important part, the white-supremacists were incensed. During the intervening weeks, the white-supremacists reconvened and decided to focus their efforts in what they dubbed to be a “Unite the Right” rally. Far from being anything recognizably politically “right”, as far as traditional conservatism is implied, the rally was fashioned by the Alt-Right. The Alt-Right is a novel, execrable group of dissidents and provocateurs. Born online, bred in the depths of comment sections of 4chan, Reddit, and Twitter, and nourished and goaded by the radicals of the left, the Alt-Right matured into a noxious adolescence. It’s given us such exemplary intellectuals as Milo Yiannopoulos, Allum Bokhari, and Richard Spencer, who—with unabashed virulence—have managed to consolidate a strong following of like-minded discontents. On this occasion, the “Unite the Right” rally was organized by another member of the Alt-Right, the white-nationalist Jason Kessler. On Friday night, with legitimate municipal permits and proper allowances in hand, Kessler and his Alt-Right fellow travelers held a vigil on the University of Virginia’s campus lawn. After what must’ve been a round of edifying and enlightening speeches, the gathered men began to chant “white lives matter”, “blood and soil”, and “you will not replace us”. As they did this, they illuminated the torrid night sky with their small torches, while they themselves remained benighted.
You will not replace us. What an ugly yet atavistic thing for a civilized man to say. Its message is double: it’s both lament and command. Likely, so long as we’ve had the function of speech and the hostility toward the “other”, it’s a line that’s existed so long as humans have crossed borders. In a word, it’s pre-political and certainly pre-historic. It’s an ancient example of in-group solidarity and out-group hostility. One might’ve hoped that modern or even Medieval society had overcome such base solipsism, ethnicism, and racism which are traits themselves more becoming of brutes than of men.
It’s necessary to at least briefly deconstruct to whom this line is intended. The “you” in the Alt-Right’s understanding, is he who is non-white, not of Northern European extraction, and typically not anything except Christian or some derivative therein. The Alt-Right movement has become the last bastion of the racist white male’s discontent, but race wasn’t always its central tenet. Like a bacillus, it incorporated itself quietly and insidiously into the group’s thought. As stated, originally the movement began in odd and inflammatory corners of the internet. The group saw in itself a much-needed rebuke to former President George W. Bush’s agenda in particular and neo-conservatism (an attribution, more often than not, misunderstood, but taken here to mean that which it typically does) in general. In time, however, this ambiguous catch-all group quickly yielded to and then embraced to a white-nationalistic ethos.
Richard Spencer, to whom I made an earlier and passing reference, is perhaps more than anyone else responsible for this evolution. He neologized the term Alt-Right and churned the operative gears in motion to set it down an irremediably racist path. Himself an ardent and unapologetic white-nationalist, he recruited many like-minded, usually disaffected young men, into his growing ilk. He relished the notoriety and his popularity steadily rose. He championed the idea of a “homeland” for the dispossessed white race and for “peaceful ethnic cleansing”—the first, and I think, only term that is a literal euphemism within a euphemism. Befitting his screeds, he has not surprisingly refused to denounce Adolf Hitler and has continued to relentlessly asperse Jews. Under Spencer’s leadership, the group has become a fundamentally racially-motivated, “identitarian”, white-nationalist movement that favors ethnicity over equality and skin over all. Ethnocentrism, in the Alt-Right’s imbecilic collective mind, triumphs over egalitarianism. The white American male’s progress and potentiality have been enfeebled by ethnic inclusivity. Modern society has been sullied by miscegenation and, as a consequence, it has decayed. The remedy is Aryan purity. America, in Spencer’s mind, was built by the white European man for the white European man, not to be usurped by some lesser race. In understanding Spencer’s philosophical and political worldview, I think affixing the three letters “neo” to Nazi is a quite unnecessary step.
Combatting Spencer and his misanthropic Alt-Right are the “Antifa” or Anti-Fascist demonstrators. Again, as before, there is much to be desired in the use of these names. Anti-Fascists, contrary to popular believe, are anything but. Like the Squadristi of Mussolini’s Italy, these radical leftist protestors don black garb and ski masks. They brandish sticks, tear gas, and cudgels with which they intimidate or assault those who stand in their way. Free speech, to them, is anathema, for speech is equivalent to action. Words are spears and intimations are arrows. Following that logic, anyone who speaks ill, ignorantly, repugnantly, or simply against the grain is in fact inciting violence. Such a person—simply speaking, mind you, his or her piece—must as a matter of moral imperative be silenced, bludgeoned, and made to disappear. Naturally, they find nothing palatable in the thought of the Alt-Right. Neither do I, but that certainly doesn’t rescind from the latter its unalienable right of expression.
Charlottesville witnessed the meeting of these two groups: the abhorrent and base white-nationalists and the vile and sanctimonious Anti-Fascists. What America witnessed was her people at their worst, punching, throwing, and spewing hate on the streets of a most cherished university. She witnessed mutually-reinforcing rationalizations for violence. With the settling of the dust, one woman died, others were injured, and now no one is comfortably at ease nor peacefully the same. This factionalism, this fighting, and these poisonous ideologies cannot be our path.