The ‘both sides do it’ lie

“You don't hand matches to an arsonist and you don't give power to an angry left-wing mob, and that's what the Democrats are.”

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Image Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With U.S. midterm elections coming on Tuesday, Nov. 6, it’s notable that the amount of coverage on all the major American cable news networks of the upcoming vote has been closer to a presidential contest than any midterm in memory.

Under normal circumstances, these off year elections usually energize one of the two major American political parties more than the other, depending on which controls the White House. A recent, oft-cited example of this phenomenon was in 2010, when the rise of the Tea Party movement and Republican gerrymandering cost Democrats the House of Representatives, although many now argue that the latter had much more of an effect than the former on the actual outcome.

Throughout this past summer, there was a lot of talk about a ‘blue wave’ that would put Democrats in charge of the lower house and even, in some hopeful corners, the Senate, where more Democratic incumbents are facing re-election than Republicans.

At the same time, the left wing of the party seemed to be growing on the strength of its policy ideas, forcing even some corporatist Democrats to reluctantly campaign on Medicare for All and other progressive social programs that, if enacted, would make the lives of American workers much less stressful. Then the polarizing Kavanaugh hearings happened, leading many in both parties to think that their bases had been energized by what became an embarrassing spectacle, especially for the aged Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee.

It wasn’t just the testimony of one brave woman, or the public breakdown of one petulant, spoiled man who was still rewarded with an appointment to the highest court in the land, it was also the voices of victims of sexual violence who confronted lawmakers in the halls of Congress and at airports in order to tell their stories in the hope that it might spur some Senate Republicans to vote against a judge who had already shown himself unfit for the country’s Supreme Court.

Rather than being cheered for representing what is best about democracy in practice, the accountability of elected representatives to citizens, these survivors were accused of being an ‘angry mob’ in right wing media and by Republicans from the president on down, who seem to have seen this as a winning strategy for the midterms.

Despite the right wing finger wagging, this tactic of public confrontation hasn’t been abandoned by the left, with Ted Cruz and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel just the latest to be called out in public by ordinary citizens.

Proud of their violence

The reaction of many on the American right to these acts of public shaming shows that, intentionally or not, they’ve become masters of projection, literally accusing peaceful protesters and those confronting lawmakers on issues that they care about of being violent. Worse, always at the ready to appear balanced, even at the expense of the truth, there has been much hand-wringing on mainstream outlets like CNN about ‘civility’ and denunciations of ‘both sides’ for very different behavior.

To see a prominent example of the absurdity of these arguments, one need only look at the self-proclaimed ‘fraternal order’ the Proud Boys, who were involved in two high profile incidents, one in New York that will be discussed here and one in Portland, just days apart, for examples of real, rather than imagined, political violence.

As one of the few alt-right adjacent gangs or ‘organizations’ not tarnished by the events in Charlottesville the summer before last (though Jason Kessler, the organizer of the event has been described as a ‘former’ Proud Boy) this group of perpetual adolescents has been getting more and more attention and approval from the mainstream right.

This respectability is only possible if one ignores the uniquely twisted mentality that underpins the group and seems to have its origins in the misogynistic world of ‘men’s rights’. The idea for members, who literally have a uniform, is to rise in the organization by degrees, the most coveted one being the highest so far, the 4th, bestowed on those who have engaged in street fighting with leftists, especially the small minority of anti-fascists using Black Block tactics.

The founder of the group, Gavin McInnes, has used his platform to repeatedly call for violence against those he deems opponents, once saying, “Fighting solves everything. We need more violence from the Trump people. Trump supporters: choke a mother——. Choke a bitch. Choke a tranny. Get your fingers around the windpipe.”

On Oct. 12, members of the New York branch of this band of miscreants made their way to the tony Republican Metropolitan Club in the city where McInnes had been invited to speak.

The Proud Boy in chief was there to re-enact a political murder that took place on Oct. 12, 1960 when Japanese socialist Inejiro Asanuma was murdered with a sword during a debate on live television. Adding insult to injury, McInnes, who seems not to have matured since he was in charge of Vice Magaizine’s cruel “Dos and Don’ts” section, reportedly thought it would be funny to play the murderer with ‘Asian’ looking eyes drawn on glasses as a prop.

What followed when McInnes’ followers exited the venue was a one-sided street fight, as Proud Boys and other reactionaries who joined them, began to attack counter-protesters gathered outside who they accused of throwing a bottle at them. According to multiple reports, police did not respond quickly and seemed to side with the Proud Boys when they did, something that many in other confrontations in Portland and elsewhere have claimed. Demonstrating this bias, the only people arrested in the immediate aftermath of the fight were 3 counter protesters, although 9 Proud Boys now face charges after video of the incident caused a public outcry.

Interestingly, those arrested so far have all been in their mid to late 30s, hardly indicative of the ‘conservative youth movement’ many on the right like to claim the Proud Boys as.

In a statement released the next day, the Metropolitan Republican Club defended their decision to have McInnes speak, “We do invite speakers to the Club with differing political points of view – some we agree with and some which we do not. But we are staunch supporters of the 1st Amendment. We want to foster civil discussion, but never endorse violence. Gavin’s talk on Friday night, while at times politically incorrect and a bit edgy, was certainly not inciting violence.”

McInnes often claims his organization is not racist but is instead dedicated to celebrating ‘Western civilization’, something he seems to have a pretty superficial understanding of. Putting aside the indigenous genocides, slavery and colonization that are part and parcel of this history, the Proud Boys founder and his ilk, who are vocally anti-Muslim, should celebrate Islamic scholars for being the driving force behind the preservation of ancient knowledge that fueled the Renaissance and later, the Enlightenment that they want to lay claim to.

Were it not for these scholars, the philosophy and scientific achievements of ancient Greece and Rome (along with those of many other more ancient cultures that preceded and influenced them) might have been lost, but such basic history is lost on McInnes and his bigoted followers.

Some commentators argue that it’s best not to write about groups like the Proud Boys because it may aid them in their efforts at growing through recruitment. There is some truth in this, but it’s important to draw a clear line when it comes to people like McInnes, who has not only called for violence against the left but also against the most vulnerable communities  both here in Canada and the United States.

Showing the potential danger presented by reactionaries like McInnes, who use their platforms to celebrate the worst aspects of Trumpism, at least 10 pipe bombs sent through the mail were discovered over the past few days targeting the likes of CNN, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Maxine Waters and even Robert Deniro and George Soros. The one thing that all of these people, none of whom were injured, have in common is being critical of Trump.

While it is too soon to lay blame for these outrages, it hasn’t stopped many on the right from dismissing these potential tragedies as ‘false flags’. Hopefully, the guilty party or parties will soon face justice, regardless of their political beliefs, and this is a key difference between the left and reactionary groups like the Proud Boys: there are lines, both rhetorical and physical that the vast majority of progressives will not cross.

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