I would presume that practically all of my readers are well aware of the events that went down in Charlottesville, Virginia US on the 11-12th of August this year (2017). As we all know, a plethora of far-right political groups gathered together to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate commander Robert Edward Lee in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. Included in this “Unite the Right” rally were neo-Nazis, KKK, neo-Confederates, and various far-right militia groups (which were armed with semi-automatic weapons), amongst other white nationalists, white supremacists and other members of the far-right (or alt-right). A large group of counter-protesters also turned up, consisting of clergy, anti-racism activists, students and concerned locals, and also wide range of left-wing groups, including socialists, communists and members of Antifa (who I will discuss in some detail shortly).
Unsurprisingly, violence broke out between protestors and counter-protestors. People were beaten up, attacked with clubs, sprayed with chemicals, and a number of people were hit by a car which drove through a crowd and hit another car, which then killed a young lady by the name of Heather D. Heyer. Heyer was herself counter-protesting the rally, whilst the driver of the car that caused the death was a young neo-Nazi by the name of James Alex Fields.
Much has been said regarding President Trump’s response to the riots. In his first press conference Trump referred only to “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides…”, without specifically calling out the various far-right groups that initiated the rally. Particularly, Trump was grilled for failing to name neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacist groups and identify them as the guilty parties.
I would like to talk about this a bit, as I feel that many people missed some of the subtlety here. We did indeed have a legitimate right to call out Trump regarding his response to the riots. He was however half-right about one thing; that is, there was indeed violence on both sides. It does indeed appear that violence was initiated both by far-right protestors and far-left counter-protestors (who we can identify as Antifa). However, Trump did indeed make a false-equivalence between the far-right groups involved in the rally, and the various counter-protestors. Likewise, Trump also expressed sympathy for the inspiration of the rally itself, and argued that not all the right-wing protestors were Nazis.
One can (and should) simultaneously call out Trump for his response, and also acknowledge that Antifa groups around the world have initiated and participated in political violence. White supremacists are a real problem in many countries, particularly the US. A great deal of murders and acts of domestic terrorism occur with regularity in the US, and most of them fail to hit the news here in Australia. Likewise, Antifa groups have violence as part of their core foundational philosophy, and they continue to initiate and escalate violent clashes in many countries around the world. Trump did indeed attempt to deflect blame away from the alt-right, and should indeed be held accountable for his motives here. Likewise however, there are many on the left who have attempted to downplay or deny the guilt born by Antifa for the appalling behaviour seen in Charlottesville, amongst other crimes.
Video footage from the riots clearly show different examples of both right wing groups initiating violence against counter-protestors, and counter-protestors initiating violence against right wing groups. Likewise, testimony from those present also shows that violence was enacted by both protestors and counter-protestors. An African-American man was beaten with poles, a metal pipe and wooden slabs (all by white supremacists), and Antifa members charged at protestors with clubs and used chemical sprays. Video footage of the vehicular attack clearly shows the car in question accelerating suddenly into the crowd of counter-protestors[i]. To say the whole affair was ugly would be putting it in the mildest of terms.
Having noted all of this, we should recognise that it is indeed a false-equivalence to talk about those involved in the “Unite the Right” rally and those who counter-protested it as if they are equal in their bigotry, hate and violence. Whilst there was indeed violence on both sides, they weren’t morally equal in what they stood for, why they were there, and what they were protesting against.
The far-right rallying groups involved literal neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klan, as well as other equally extreme white supremacist and white nationalist groups, along with militia groups, who were armed to the teeth. The very reason for their protest was the planned removal of a statue of a war commander who literarily fought against the US government to try and retain slavery. So, there is no question that the rallying groups themselves stood for racism, hatred, bigotry and violence, and they were united by their desire to retain the memory of a man who committed treason in an attempt to uphold chattel slavery. The counter-protestors were protesting against them, against National Socialism, against the KKK, against racism, anti-Semitism and the romanticism of pro-slavery war traitors. They were standing up against fascism, hate and injustice. So, just to be clear, lets restate that:
One side was made up of Nazis and racists who wanted to remember someone who fought for slavery; the other side wanted to protest against racism, against bigotry.
So, let us not humour any ideas that both sides were equal.
Regarding the alt-right, I have largely been holding my tongue on this matter for some time, not due to conflicting opinions on my part, but rather due to how close to home it hits. I have some immediate family and other friends that are directly involved in the alt-right. I do not define these individuals on the basis of their opinions and online behaviour. Hence, I see their strengths as human beings as well, whilst I utterly abhor many of the opinions they express and the way they go about deliberately baiting and taunting people online. I struggle to find words strong enough to express my disgust of both the opinions of the far-right (or alt-right), and the manner in which they conduct themselves.
At times when I have not been able to retain my own awareness of the inner peace that is indicative of my true nature, my heart has literarily broken when I have seen the things that the alt-right write. It is hard to know where to start in responding to the opinions and attitudes of the alt-right. One can legitimately question if there is actually any point in attempting to directly engage with them, as they seem so extreme, so completely immune to reasonable discussion, and so completely intent on merely inflaming and bating those that disagree with them (rather than actually engaging them), that one wonders whether there is anything we could say or do that would help. One has to hope however that the inherent humanity within such individuals can somehow shine through and bring about space in which they can consider opinions other than those they already hold, and weigh up opposing arguments and evidence.
My current opinion regarding the political situation in most modern Western countries is that whilst the left certainly does have many real problems and blind spots of its own, the right seems to be far more extreme in its aberrations, and there are far more serious consequences as a result. That is, there are real problems in even the moderate left, and our Universities are filled with radical leftists, Marxists, radical feminists and gender theorists and so forth, giving the alt-right legitimate opponents on the other side to react against. The moderate left on the other hand appears to be quite centrist, in aiming to balance economic and environmental concerns, trying to balance the freedom of individuals to own private property and be rewarded for their effort and brilliance with a concern for the suffering of those that are unwell (whether physically or mentally), and/or struggle to make ends meet. The moderate, mainstream left appears to me to stand for real progress, real moral and ethical clarity, justice, equality and prosperity. It doesn’t always succeed in balancing these things, but at least its heart appears to be in the right place.
There is a moderate right that seems to simply have different opinions on the practical results of policy to that of the moderate left, though they may share the ultimate ideals of the left. Such conservatives seem to be open to real discussion and debate, capable of and willing to compare opinions, and behave with civility. The far right (or alt-right) on the other hand seems to have no compassion at all for those that suffer, no desire for justice and equality, no willingness (or capacity) to engage with those on the other side of the spectrum, and compare beliefs, arguments and evidence, or behave with decency and decorum. Rather, in its rants about political correctness, the alt-right appears to have thrown common decency out the window. In it’s crusade against the far-left, the alt-right appears to stand against everything good, and stand for all that is bad.
Many far-right groups make the extraordinary claim that today it is white, heterosexual, Christian men that are the victims of the racism, sexism and discrimination on the basis of sexuality, and religion. Of course, I’m not really sure where to start in responding to such claims. I’m not even sure if such claims are worthy of responding to, or whether people that make such claims would hear any argument to the contrary.
Obviously, there are real examples whereby activists for just causes go too far. Such cases do not however make the original oppressor the overall victim of a new oppression. There are examples whereby racial justice activists lose sight of the big picture. There are examples whereby LGBT activists have gone too far. There are cases whereby radical feminists have left behind legitimate causes worthy of fighting for, and attempted to portray all men as being animals. Likewise, Christians are actually persecuted in many parts of the world today (such as Egypt). Again, whilst there are some cases whereby for example LGBT activists have deliberately bated Christians in order to attract publicity for their cause, Christians are largely simply losing privilege in the West, rather than suffering direct discrimination or persecution. To claim that white, straight, Christian men are today victims of discrimination in Western countries is just absurd.
The far-right doesn’t differentiate between the moderate left (or even moderate conservatives) and full-blown communists. They use a black and white approach to politics; if it isn’t full-blown, unregulated capitalism, its communism. Hence, I have seen far-right groups claim that the left are to blame for the rise of modern neo-Nazis and KKK groups. As such, some in the far-right have blamed the Charlottesville affair as a whole on the left. Again, such claims are simply absurd, and downright ugly.
Regarding Antifa, we do indeed have a real problem here. Of course, Antifa isn’t simply one organisation, one group. Rather, it is more of a method, a philosophy, and there are countless regional groups (or chapters) to it. They are a string of groups, held together by a common thread. All such groups however are united by their belief that violence against the right is wholly justifiable and absolutely necessary. As such, they have on many occasions initiated violence against peaceful protestors, launched random attacks on conservatives in the streets (such as against Andrew Bolt[ii]), caused significant property damage, and instigated and retaliated against violence in clashes such as the one at Charlottesville.
The mainstream left must be absolutely clear in explicitly disavowing ourselves from Antifa. We should encourage police and government measures designed to restrict their potential for violence[iii]. Antifa do not not help our causes, and they only widen the gap between the left and the right, moving us further away from real political and social progress. In this manner, Trump (and others on the far-right) were indeed correct that there were many on the left that refused to acknowledge the role that Antifa had to play in the Charlottesville riots.
As one example, feminist Laurie Penny was recently part of a weekly panel on Q&A, which is aired on the ABC in Australia. When quizzed by host Tony Jones regarding the part that Antifa had to play in the riots, Penny completely denied that Antifa were violent and had any responsibility for the brawls[iv] (although, in her defense I would mention that she did make a legitimate point about the severity of Antifa violence by comparison to white supremacist violence). This is despite the fact that Antifa websites themselves explicitly state that violence against the right is part of their mandate.
Antifa are responding to hate with hate, violence with violence. This only perpetuates the cycle of suffering. We must be able to look violence in the face and show peace, look at hate and show love, look at racism and show justice and equality. We must stop the cycle now and create new norms, new standards and ideals. Obviously I am not suggesting passivism. Rather, I am stating that we should stand up with peace, for peace, speak out when necessary, but never forget the positive side of the spectrum that we are actively standing for, rather than what we are against.
Whilst it is true that the far-right considers anybody and everybody to their left to be communists (including moderate and centrist conservatives – who they label “Cuckservatives”), many people in the far-left (and intimately involved in Antifa groups) are actually full-blown communists. The left needs to remember this, and just as we don’t want Nazis and fascists to run modern Western countries, neither do we want to descend into full-blown communism, as the consequences of that are also well known. One can legitimately state that Antifa are basically communist thugs. It is a disturbing reality that in 2017 in America Nazis and communists are going to war on our streets. Obviously, we don’t want to go to back to 1941 at the the Russian Front.
Perhaps the one good thing I should say in the defense of Antifa is that they actually protected some peaceful protestors (such as members of clergy) from charging far-right groups during the Charlottesville riots. For this, we should acknowledge them. However, this only just goes to show how the police completely failed in their mandate to keep the peace. Given the toxic mix of far-right hate and militant groups who were armed to the teeth, and Antifa who likewise deliberately provoked violence, it is a miracle that more people weren’t hurt or even killed.
It really shows the full ridiculous implications of open-carry laws, to literally have Nazis in the US in 2017 with semi-automatic rifles marching outside a Jewish synagogue[v]. The local council/government never should have allowed this event in the first place. It so easily could have escalated into a massacre, with Nazis and militant groups opening fire on counter-protesters, with police then opening fire upon such groups.
Getting back to the topic that inspired the rally in the first place, it occurred to me that the statues of Confederate soldiers are the equivalent of modern Germany having statues commemorating Nazi leaders. The same thing also occurred to a number of other writers, and I would recommend that my readers follow some of these links, as many relevant points have been made on this topic[vi]. Donald Trump has on a number of occasions expressed his sympathy for protestors, tweeting “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it…”[vii]. He seemed to have no awareness that these monuments are a testimony to unspeakable injustices that occurred in the past, and a monument to those that attempted to uphold them.
Chattel slavery of African people is one of the single most evil episodes in Western history. It would perhaps be more appropriate to have slavery memorials and segregation memorials than public statues of confederate generals. The monuments in question were created as part of a revisionist movement within America that sought to sweep its history of slavery under the carpet, and re-write the American civil war as simply a disagreement about the autonomy of states. We should perhaps remember that immediately following the abolition of slavery, new laws denoting segregation were enacted. America’s ugly history of racism did not end with the abolition of slavery; rather one chapter ended and a new one begun.
Trump has likewise defended some of the protesters from the “Unite the Right” rally, arguing that they weren’t all Nazis, and they had a legitimate reason to be protesting. In response I would refer my readers to a video message from Arnold Schwarzenegger[viii].
We can and should differentiate between peaceful and violent counter-protesters, as they had legitimate things to protest against. However, I don’t believe that much can be made in terms of differentiation between the various groups involved in the “Unite the Right” rally itself. That is, I don’t believe that moderate, reasonable conservatives would have been marching alongside Nazis and KKK in seeking to uphold the memory of a pro-slavery traitor. Rather, reasonable conservatives were outraged by Trump’s response to the riots, criticising him for failing to call out the hatred of the various far-right groups that founded the rally itself.
On the other hand, there were moderate, reasonable, progressives counter-protesting the rally, unfortunately alongside Antifa thugs. It wasn’t like the counter-protest was organised to promote communism and instigate violence against the right. Rather, the counter protest was against Nazis, against the KKK and against those that wanted to celebrate America’s ugly past.
I have seen far-right writers conflate our ancestors that fought against slavery with those that fought for it, as if both were part of a collective white history that needs to be equally recognised. This is of course absurd. Nationalists have a history of seeking to downplay, defend of deny the injustices that their ancestors have committed against others. Many Americans are in denial about the reality of the US civil war, believing that it wasn’t so much fought over slavery as much as the autonomy of individual states. Some white nationalists deny or defend the atrocities committed against indigenous American Indians. Some white nationalists likewise deny or defend the atrocities committed against Australian aboriginals. Likewise, neo-Nazis deny the holocaust, and Japanese nationalists downplay or deny the atrocities committed by Japan during WW2 etc.
This is much the same as how conservative followers of various world religions often deny the flaws within their faiths. People become attached to sense of identity, and feel a need to defend it, lest they become diminished or even annihilated. Nationalists subconsciously feel that if they concede the mistakes of their ancestors that they themselves are threatened, that they become less.
Our true identity cannot be found in the color of our skin, nor our racial heritage, nor religious or political beliefs. Rather, we all share the same true identity as Spirit, infinite consciousness, and an awareness of this will unite all beings into the one family. Despite this unity however, we are all different in our outward expression, and there is room in this vast universe for an infinite array of diversity. Whilst we can recognise that racial history does not define who we are, we can recognise that certain racial and cultural groups do carry trans-generational trauma from gross injustices that have occurred in the past, and we should indeed express our sympathy towards them, and work toward healing such traumas.
We do not become less by conceding the great injustices that our ancestors have committed against others. We do not become less by conceding the legitimate weaknesses of our society and culture. I for one am extremely grateful to have been born into a free, democratic nation in an age of modern science and medicine. However, my appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices made by many of my ancestors does not mean that I must downplay, defend or deny the many mistakes of my ancestors.
Likewise, acknowledging my own weaknesses as a person and the many mistakes I have made over my life does not take away from my joy in the now. Rather, if anything, acknowledging the mistakes of the past is an important part of recognising that such mistakes do not define the true being. Finding identity as pure awareness naturally means that we are open and honest about our failings in our outward expression. Just as we offer compassion and grace to others, we likewise offer it towards ourselves.
Those beings that express such hatred and lack of compassion towards others reveal their lack of awareness of the true Self, therefore showing that there appears to be a hole inside themselves where they don’t experience the natural fulfilment that is their birthright. In finding true inner peace we naturally show love and empathy towards others. This however is not the end of human life and the drama of our physical play, but rather the beginning of a new phase, in which we remember that we are not the characters, but the actors, the dreamers and not the dream figures.
[i] I have seen examples of far-right media attempting to defend James Alex Fields, arguing that he was merely terrified by the crowds of counter-protestors, and that he was simply driving away to protect himself. I will concede that the manner in which he drove his car into another car (which then hit Heather D. Heyer) was quite bizarre. He did however also hit a number of other people in the process, who were injured but not killed by the impact. One way or another however, I must state that I feel that any attempts made to defend James Alex Fields are driven primarily by political bias, attempting to deflect the blame onto the hands of counter-protestors.
[ii] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/is-melbourne-too-dangerous-for-conservatives-behind-the-leftwing-antifa-movement-that-attacked-andrew-bolt-20170608-gwnb6h.html. Just to be clear, from the first moment that I encountered the work of Andrew Bolt there was no question that I could not believe the appalling things he was saying. However, the attack against him was simply not on. It doesn’t help make the world a better place in any way, and it doesn’t do anything to stand against Bolt’s opinions. If anything, it only gives further fuel to the far-right, convincing them that they are right, making them more and more entrenched in their convictions.
[iii] Such as the recent Victorian laws restricting face-coverings at protests: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/masked-rioters-face-jail-under-new-laws/news-story/89162793d98d080584d2f1104c97f28e.