Since the election of Donald Trump last year, we’ve heard a lot about violent acts committed by the ‘far’ left at protests in the United States and, usually as an afterthought, in Europe. This is something that most media once again pointed to after a small number of May Day rallies, in the U.S. and throughout the world, resulted in some property destruction and a few arrests.
As is usual in right wing outlets, these problems were presented as something terrifyingly new, rather than a long-running phenomenon that long predates their hero’s ascension to the Oval Office. Antifa (anti-fascist) groups and black bloc tactics have been in public view in North America since at least the 1990s and are fairly easily contained by authorities, who may or may not have used informers and undercover officers to penetrate many of these ad hoc groups.
We do know from court documents that Washington, D.C. police infiltrated organizations involved in the protests on the day of Trump’s inauguration, and, although there is no proof that they agitated for property destruction or other unrest, they did use the information gleaned to arrest activists who were there during the planning stages, regardless of whether there was any evidence they were guilty of a crime.
As reported by The Washington Post, according to a motion filed by an attorney for Marisa Matthews of Pittsburgh, who faces a felony rioting charge that could result in years in prison, “People now fear that if they attend a protest where someone they don’t know destroys property, then regardless of innocence they will be charged with felonies.”
Meanwhile, almost unnoticed by most media, another odd coalition is forming on the right. At many recent Pro-Trump, ‘Free Speech’ rallies, the ‘security’ has included biker gangs, Oath Keepers and a variety of new groups including the trollish Kekistanis and Proud Boys.
They may have been denied the media spotlight by more sensational Neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer and Matthew Heimbach, but the so-called ‘Alt-Light’ are opening the white nationalist flood gates to a much wider public than organizations like Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker’s Party ever could, including some gay men (other members of the LGBTQ community seem less welcome).
These self-proclaimed American patriots and defenders of Western culture have traveled to places like UC Berkeley, long a bastion of liberal values, to stir up trouble, and, more recently, to provoke and occasionally fight mostly young anti-fascists.
What’s most disturbing is that many of these ‘activists’ are middle aged men spoiling for a fight with much younger people. This was on full display in Boston on May 14th, when a middle aged Proud Boy punched a young woman, who was not dressed all in black and whose face was uncovered, meaning she was probably not Antifa, for slapping his hand away when he tried to offer her a Pepsi in jest.
While the argument can be made that some Antifa are over the top in their reaction to these strange new phenomena, against the current backdrop of nativist sentiment, which can even be felt here in Canada, their actions can at least be explained, if not always excused.
The behavior of some on the right is harder to make sense of. After watching many hours of live stream footage, most of it posted by sympathizers with these right wing groups, it does appear that police go much easier on them than on their opposition.
This kid glove treatment given to them by authorities was visible once again in Portland on June 4th when police used concussion grenades to move 400 to 500 Antifa from a counter protest to another free speech rally. Patriot Prayer, the group who organized the gathering, decided to go ahead with it, despite the killing a week before of 2 people after a similar demonstration by Jeremy Christian, a vocal white nationalist who was harassing two young women on one of the city’s light rail trains.
As recently reported by the Socialist Worker, “At another “free speech” rally on April 29 — the one attended by Christian, wielding a baseball bat — far-right demonstrators were shielded from left-wing protesters by police as they marched in southeast Portland. At the end of the march, the city spent taxpayer money to buy bus tickets for all the right-wingers to get back the march’s starting location.”
In a live stream from an April 27 rally at UC Berkeley in defense of Ann Coulter’s right to preach hatred, large numbers of cos-playing activists, with their makeshift shields, customized MAGA helmets and other padding, were not accosted by Antifa activists who appeared to have grown wise to their provocations.
Gavin McInnes, a Canadian like this writer and an immigrant himself, read the canceled speech by the skeletal author of ‘In Trump We Trust’, which discussed refugees by offering such nuggets of wisdom as, “When Donald Trump merely proposed that we not import people whose religion teaches them to kill us, the media called him racist.”
Although they may prefer other terms, nothing describes people like Coulter, McInnes and fellow Canadian, Lauren Southern, better than ‘con artist’. Southern was recently arrested in Italy trying to stop refugees from reaching that country as part of her wider mission to be followed by cameras and drooling fanboys.
Even more troubling is McInnes’ latest idea, the Proud Boys, a group that seems to mix fraternity and gang culture with just a small dollop of Skinhead, visible in the black and yellow Fred Perry shirts they’ve been assigned as a uniform.
It is in a sense a phenomenon that McInnes, an effete millionaire adored by pick up artists and other reprobates, likely doesn’t have the capacity to control. Just like the mostly fictional celluloid gang culture they seek to emulate, Proud Boys get ‘jumped’ into the group as the second degree of their ‘initiation’.
As they are beaten by their Proud Boy brothers they need to scream out the names of five cereal brands or the pounding continues. Stranger still, and potentially dangerous, is the newly announced ‘fourth degree’.
As reported by Will Sommer, whose piece on Right Richter provided much of the background on the group for this story, and offers an excellent overview of their activities, according to McInnes, the fourth degree is achieved when a Proud Boy is involved in, “a major fight for the cause. You get beat up, kick the crap out of an Antifa.”
As we’ve seen at Berkeley and elsewhere, there are quite a few of these greying adolescents looking to earn their ‘Fourth’.
One of their heroes, Kyle Chapman, 41, who earned a typically literal monicker, ‘Based Stickman’ in memes that show him fighting Antifa protesters, has been named leader of the Proud Boy’s militia, ‘The Fraternal Order of the Alt Right Knights’. This, unfortunately, is not a joke, or it is, and it’s just not funny.
Chapman routinely calls out the left for its supposed violence. Countering this, The Smoking Gun recently gave us some insight into Based Stickman’s own criminal history, as “a thrice-convicted felon who has served three separate prison terms, jumped bail, twice violated parole, used cocaine, LSD and meth… (and was) described by his own lawyer as having, “severe psychological problems.” In the end he comes off as more sad and pathetic than anything else, but the documents do make one wonder about throwing stones in glass houses.
No one has ever been murdered by Antifa in North America to my knowledge, yet people who can be described as white nationalists are, as a group, already racking up a body count with two dead in Portland and another in Maryland. A week after the incident in Portland, in Columbus, Ohio, a woman of Somali descent was beaten for defending another Muslim woman from a verbal attack.
The man who allegedly assaulted Rahma Warsame was later released from police custody without being charged, according to her, he had shouted, “You all will be shipped back to Africa.”
The idea that the left, even at its extremes, surpasses the right in terms of violence is a myth propagated as much by the center as it is by the right. Until the mainstream press begins to cover rightwing violence with the same seriousness it does the vandalism of the tiny minority of the left that uses black bloc tactics, we will need to rely on our own media to shine a light on the growing danger represented by the so-called Alt-Light, weird and unpleasant a task as it is.
* As I was finishing this article, James Hodgkinson, a man with a history of domestic violence who was somehow allowed access to firearms, opened fire on a Republican Congressional baseball practice, hitting Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who remains in hospital in critical condition.
Rather than taking the usual tack of blaming mental illness for Hodgkinson’s actions, as is almost always the case when white rightwingers engage in violence, some in the press decided to highlight the fact that he volunteered for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 campaign. Nor did they spend too much time on the fact that he was obsessed with the unproven narrative of Russian interference in the same election, a story corporate media have been hammering away at for months, creating mass hysteria in the process.
Because the left is the only force able to offer a compelling critique of the corrupted system represented by both of the United States’ major political parties, expect the false equivalencies and smears to continue.