Why White Supremacists and Antifa Need Each Other

by | Aug 28, 2017

Why White Supremacists and Antifa Need Each Other

by | Aug 28, 2017

The celebrated left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky recently told The Washington Examiner that the Antifa is “a major gift to the Right, including the militant right”.

By Antifa, Chomsky was referring to the loose collection of left-wing activist groups that describe themselves as “anti-fascists” or more commonly, just Antifa. The decentralized movement recently gained national publicity for its role protesting against the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, which included a number of overt white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The rally tragically broke into violence and ended with the death of one protester.

On the surface, the quote from Chomsky above could seem absurd. After all, the Antifa’s whole reason for existing is precisely to counter the influence of far right groups.

But one must remember that there can be all the difference in the world between intentions and results. The War on Terror has not ended terrorism; the War on Drugs has not ended the trade in illegal drugs; and the aggressive actions of the anti-fascists are more likely to help the fascists than hinder them.

In his remarks, Chomsky was recognizing this counterintuitive result. Implicitly, he was also pointing out the strange symbiotic relationship that often prevails between groups that are fundamentally opposed to each other’s ends.

The Antifa and the white supremacists may hate each other, but they also need each other. That is because they have a mutual enemy in what may be called the “gray zone”–that great and diverse set of people that rejects the duality and believes that peaceful coexistence is possible and preferable to either violent alternative.

Naturally, both extremes share an intermediate goal of eroding the gray zone. The most effective way to accomplish this is to provoke indiscriminate overreactions that harm peaceful people. This encourages more people to radicalize, choose one of the extremes, and commit further provocations, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Opposites Align

This symbiotic relationship between opposites exists more often than we might suppose. Two recent examples illustrate the point.

The first is the Iran Nuclear Deal, which established additional safeguards and inspections on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. This deal was instrumental in reducing tensions between the US and Iran. It also temporarily brought together some strange forces to oppose it. On the US side, this included hawkish American politicians and commentators that have been consistently skeptical or hostile towards Iran. The opposition also included the conservative hardliners in Iran, the people that are the most concerned about Western intentions. Thus, the most anti-Iranian voices and the most anti-Western voices were united in their opposition to any move towards peace and cooperation.

Another example of this opposites’ symbiosis comes from the explicit strategy pursued by jihadist terrorist groups like ISIS. Indeed, ISIS used the “gray zone” term in a telling article from its official publication, Dabiq.

In the article, as recounted by Dan Sanchez, the ISIS authors celebrate the erosion of the gray zone, writing:

The grayzone is critically endangered, rather on the brink of extinction. Its endangerment began with the blessed operations of September 11th, as these operations manifested two camps before the world for mankind to choose between, a camp of Islam… and a camp of kufr — the crusader coalition.

The authors also cited Osama bin Laden, who thought President George W. Bush’s black-and-white narrative on terrorism was essentially true:

The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.

The primary purpose of indiscriminate terrorist acts is to spark an overreaction that victimizes innocent people, in this case, innocent Muslims. They can then use that overreaction as a source for future recruitment, and the cycle repeats.

Fortunately, the conflict in the US between white supremacists and Antifa has not approached the scale and lethality of the violence perpetrated by jihadist terrorists. But the violence in Charlottesville was a meaningful escalation, and the results do not bode well.

The Case of Charlottesville

The events in Charlottesville were a needless tragedy from any reasonable perspective. But for the white supremacists and the Antifa, the results are likely to be regarded as a success. Consider the following:

  • The white supremacist camp, which was able to draw no more than a few hundred people, was nevertheless able to claim national headlines for days.
  • The lead organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, Jason Kessler, went from being completely unknown to being notorious. (And given that he surrounded himself by the odious ideologies of white nationalism and neo-Nazism, he almost certainly views this as an upgrade.)
  • The Antifa similarly garnered national publicity, including sympathetic or neutral profiles in mainstream publications.
  • The Antifa also benefited from frequently lazy reporting, which treated the entire group of counterprotesters as homogeneous, thereby inflating the Antifa’s numbers significantly.
  • President Trump’s infamous comment denouncing “both sides” was widely circulated in the media, by supporters and critics alike. This had the effect of reinforcing a false dualistic narrative that benefited the white supremacists and the Antifa alike.

The day of the rally already saw several innocent people getting injured and one killed.

In the wake of the rally, the reaction is likely to harm further innocent people, if not in life-threatening ways. Already, there is a growing tendency to assume any rally related to free speech or right-leaning causes is automatically a front for white supremacy or neo-Nazi organizations. This is then used to justify action through the government or by Antifa groups to suppress those rallies, violating the rights of would-be demonstrators.

If it continues, this trend will generate its own negative reaction. Perhaps it will push people into the arms of more extreme and violent elements. Or, perhaps denied the ability to hold a public demonstration, the existing neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups will start expressing their views in more explicitly violent ways.

The point of tracing these effects through is to see that while the population at large is harmed by tragedies like Charlottesville, the extreme groups involved actually benefit. Given this, we should not be surprised to see more aggressive actions and counter-actions planned for the future.

These cycles are self-perpetuating, but they are not unstoppable.

The solution is to reject the initiation of violence in all cases, even against people who are expressing hateful or appalling ideas. Because as Chomsky put it, “When confrontation shifts to the arena of violence, it’s the toughest and most brutal who win – and we know who that is.” It’s not us.

About Eric Schuler

Eric Schuler is a contributor to The Libertarian Institute, with a focus on economics and US foreign policy. Follow his work here and on Twitter.

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