Today, US politics (and those of close allies) are much like the Upside-Down of Stranger Things: an inversion of how things should be, and a shadowy ghost world where logic goes to be torn apart by terrifying monsters.
Want proof? How often have you heard someone claim that the “real fascists” are anti-fascists? Even after the fascist riot and murder at Charlottesville, Frontpage (8/10/18), the Daily Caller (8/20/18) and Daily Mail (3/26/18) argued just that.
The American Conservative (8/16/17), meanwhile, blared that antifa, the militant anti-fascist movement, is “The Other Evil Political Force.”
And it’s not just right-wing outlets making such claims. Days after that fascist slaying of Heather Heyer, the Washington Post (8/30/17) finger-wagged, “Yes, Antifa Is the Moral Equivalent of Neo-Nazis.” The Chicago Tribune (8/27/17) warned that “The Democratic Silence on Antifa Is Dangerous,” while Chicago’s Daily Herald (9/12/17) said, “Yes, Antifa Is Dangerous—but Not to Fascists.”
Even BBC News (8/14/17) joined in, saying
many conservatives say blame [for violence in Charlottesville] should be shared by Antifa…. Antifa does not shy away from militant protest methods, including the destruction of property and sometimes physical violence…. Much like the far-right, chapters of Antifa are loosely connected and highly secretive.
The article sympathetically cites calls “to label Antifa a terror organization,” and says “Antifa’s roots go back almost as far as Nazis,” an implication of real-world equivalence about as logical as nudge-winking that since a group of firefighters arrived shortly after a fire began, there must be something “arson-y” about them. FAIR (9/13/17) has demonstrated just how often corporate news pushed the antifascist/fascist upside-down equivalence:
Between August 12 and September 12, these papers ran 28 op-eds or editorials condemning the anti-fascist movement known as Antifa, or calling on politicians to do so, and 27 condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists, or calling on politicians—namely Donald Trump—to do so.
The ideological and operational differences between those who want to start a race war and those who want to stop one ought to be galactically obvious. To find out why they’re not—at least to corporate journalists—I spoke with Daryle Lamont Jenkins, the founder of the Nazi-exposing One People’s Project. After he trained participants in anti-fascist investigation at a conference I’d helped organize at the University of Alberta in September, I asked him what corporate journalists got wrong about fascists and anti-fascists. He said:
The biggest thing they get wrong is making it as if it is just between the two sides. Fascism impacts society at large. It doesn’t just hurt activists opposed to them. But because they write otherwise, people generally think that what is going on doesn’t directly impact [them], and they are not harmed.
Jenkins also noted that corporate journalists generally try to avoid addressing the topic of fascism altogether, as with the October 2018 removal of a Viking statue in Philadelphia:
Everyone had an opinion on that, but that same energy was not apparent as neo-Nazis made an annual event over the past 11 years out of something they called the “Leif Erikson Day Celebration” at that statue. Even as they reported on the statue, they mentioned it in passing, and only as a possible reason for it being in the river…. This kind of obtuse reporting—if they report at all—goes on a lot, and it serves no one and nothing except to protect the Nazis.
Jenkins himself has been the target of false-equivalence journalism, as with Michelle Goldberg’s profile headlined “The Public Face of Antifa” in Slate (8/11/17), which maintained that it’s “not easy” to “explain the shadowy group’s violent tactics”—never mind that Antifa is a movement, not a group. Goldberg’s description of a pre-Charlottesville confrontation blends fascists and their enemies as if they were one:
During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, the city’s central plaza became an ideological Star Wars canteen. Burly Christian fundamentalists hoisted signs denouncing Islam a few feet from a publicity-seeking Muslim with an AR-15 slung across his back. Clusters of communists chanted “America was never great!” while Bikers for Trump paraded around in MAGA hats.
The piece later concedes that Antifa is actually “a loose network,” but stresses that these “militant left-wing activists…physically square off against the far right.” (Primed by the subhead’s reference to “the shadowy group’s violent tactics,” most readers will assume that “physically” means “violently”—when most often it just means “physically present” for nonviolent counter-protesting.)
While Goldberg’s piece eventually provides greater nuance, she repeats the extreme-right canard that the real free-speech struggle is between extremists on the right—usually those calling for ethnic cleansing and genocide—and those who oppose them (everyone against ethnic cleansing and genocide). Goldberg confesses that
for many liberals—a category in which I include myself—Antifa’s willingness to use violence and eagerness to shut down right-wing speech seem both morally wrong and strategically obtuse.
Given the abundance of white supremacist violence that corporate media typically underplays or misrepresents, up to and including mass murder (FAIR.org, 3/29/18), Goldberg’s article was strikingly short on examples of Antifa’s “willingness to use violence.”
And it’s not just any speech that Antifa activists oppose: It’s the call for racist violence and murder. There’s a basic pattern to genocides, beginning with speech dehumanizing the eventual victims by comparing them to vermin, claiming they’re sexually deviant, and accusing them of moral, cultural and often intellectual inferiority. Such claims can justify, for instance, widespread imprisonment, and weekly or daily state execution of their population in the streets, or the kidnapping of thousands of their children, or their mass expulsion.
But despite a litany of lies from various prominent personalities about a threat to free speech, the white supremacist voice is growing only louder. In her GQ article, “How Free Speech Warriors Mainstreamed White Supremacists” (5/8/18), Mari Uyehara cites the Anti-Defamation League finding a 258 percent increase in white supremacist propaganda at US colleges between autumn 2016 and autumn 2017, and demonstrates the clear hypocrisy of right-wing so-called “Free Speech Warriors,” who are thunderously silent on attempts to criminalize the speech of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine (New Arab, 8/3/17).
Those FSWs are equally silent now about how the government of Brazil, the world’s sixth-most populous country, is attacking free speech in universities. Amy Erica Smith reports in Vox (10/27/18) that even before the second round of the presidential election, Brazilian police staged (sometimes warrantless) raids at universities across the country to seize “materials belonging to students and professors” that allegedly violated electoral advertising laws, which forbid “publicity in public spaces.” While many seized materials name no candidates, police did confiscate a Universidade Federal Fluminense flag reading “UFF School of Law—Anti-Fascist” and handbills titled “Manifest in Defense of Democracy and Public Universities.” As Smith explains:
For those worrying about Brazilian democracy, these raids are some of the most troubling signs yet of the problems the country faces. They indicate the extremes of Brazilian political polarization: Anti-fascist and pro-democracy speech is now interpreted as illegal advertising in favor of one candidate (Fernando Haddad) and against another (Jair Bolsonaro). In the long run, the politicization of these two terms will hurt support for the idea of democracy, and bolster support for the idea of fascism.
Meanwhile, what is the speech that right-wing extremists and fascists are defending? GQ’s Mari Uyehara gives an example:
In Scotland, Mark “Count Dankula” Meechan was arrested and fined £800 for a YouTube video in which he taught a pug to mimic a Nazi salute to phrases such as “gas the Jews.” His punishment drew outcry from right-wing personalities Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson and Lauren Southern, and “classical liberals” like Dave Rubin, host of the YouTube show the Rubin Report.
US journalists aren’t the only ones taking their eye off the man behind the swastika-patterned curtain. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sunday Edition also confused two entirely unalike forces. The second installment of its 2017–18 season included an evidence-free audio essay by Frances Lee (9/17/17), a US woman who claimed that queer, transgendered people of color are aiming for “supremacy,” saying she rejected the idea that “QTPOCs or any other marginalized groups deserve to dominate society.”
Of course, in Canada, 2017 began with a very real threat to free speech, thought and life: A white supremacist/Christianist terrorist shot and killed six (Muslim) Canadians in Quebec City. CBC ran the Lee audio essay mere weeks after a white supremacist at Charlottesville murdered anti-racist counter-protester Heather Heyer with his car. As the Washington Post (8/17/17) reported, but the CBC did not mention during its pearl-clutching fantasy about “QTPOC supremacy,” many Republican legislators have been pushing to legalize the weaponization of cars to kill protesters.
Although the CBC seemed indifferent to the distinction between pro- and anti-genocide activists, at least some other corporate news venues have taken the Nazi threat seriously. Swedish investigator Patrik Hermansson infiltrated meetings of the Richard Spencer–led Alt-Right Corporation, recording board member Jason Jorjani describing his “final solution” for the United States (New York Times, 9/19/17):
It’s gonna end with the expulsion of the majority of the migrants, including [Muslim] citizens…. It’s gonna end with concentration camps and expulsions and war at the cost of a few hundred million people.
Despite the abundance of evidence about the actual fascist threat, neither Lee nor the CBC presented a molecule of evidence that any “QTPOCs” have the power or the opportunity to establish “QTPOC” supremacy, whatever that would even mean. In fact, the program couldn’t quote a single “QTPOC” who even speaks in those terms. Meanwhile, thousands of heavily armed literal Nazis, supporters of the current president of the United States, have infiltrated the US armed forces (Daily Beast, 12/13/12) and police (The Grio, 5/12/15) in hopes of launching a race war and genocide. Yet Sunday Edition and Frances Lee would have us believe that the greatest threat to North America is Lee’s fantasy arising from her fear of having to “self-police what I say.”
So who’s going to stop these fascists planning racist Ragnarok? According to journalist and self-described anarchist Kim Kelly, it’s unlikely to be corporate news, despite some individual examples of excellent journalism (including in Slate itself, such as Inkoo Kang’s “Antifa Is Clickbait for Conspiracy Theorists,” 11/3/17). In her Medium article, “What the Media Gets Wrong About Antifa: Alt-Right Rallies Are Failing, Thanks to Anarchist Action—So Why Aren’t We Hearing About It?” (8/30/18), Kelly explained that achieving documented victories against fascists may not be as difficult as it seems:
The threat of doxxing by antifa has proven so effective at driving the alt-right underground that even neo-Nazi blowhard Spencer has whined that “Antifa is winning,” a sentiment he expressed back in March, but that seems to hold even more water in the wake of Unite the Right 2.
According to Kelly, anti-fascists are routing white nationalists across the United States (at least those in the streets; it’s a different matter for those in boardrooms, Senate hearings and the Oval Office); their demonstrations are shrinking, while the actions of counter-fascists are growing. So why don’t more people know of this wave of successes? According to Kelly, you can thank
liberal handwringing over the idea that antifa and the black bloc were being rude to and “attacking” journalists…. It is interesting seeing the way that Democrats and progressives react to the specter of militancy.
While armed racists, Islamophobes and antisemites are not invincible, they remain extremely dangerous, as Gregory Bush demonstrated by killing Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones in Kentucky on October 24, and Robert Bowers showed by massacring 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27.
Plenty of journalists have done excellent work exposing the scale and origins of the current Nazi threat and exploding the false equivalence. In the Salon story “Behind Dylann Roof’s Race War: The Highly Motivated Secret White Supremacy Movement Working Toward ‘the Battle of Armageddon’” (6/24/15), Laura Miller interviewed Stuart Wexler, author of America’s Secret Jihad: The Hidden History of Religious Terrorism in the United States. He explained that “‘Christian Identity’ militants” such as the racist mass-murderer Dylann Roof are not simply “lone wolf killings,” but “part of a larger plan” that aims at the white supremacist extermination of African-, Hispanic- and Jewish-Americans. As Wexler explains:
Christian Identity is a religious ideology rooted in the idea that Jews are actually the offspring of Satan…. Minority groups, especially African-Americans, are seen as subhuman, “mud people.”… The idea is that Jews have engaged in this deceptive, cosmic conspiracy to manipulate minorities against whites. And at the end of times, we’re going to get a race war…. Then white Europeans will live in a paradise.
As Wexler notes, the recruiters for these movements don’t usually announce racial extermination as their real goal, so they use anti-tax, anti-government and anti-immigrant grievances as the gateway ideologies to neo-Nazism.
So what about fascism in the White House itself? It seems few corporate journalists will dare to ask about that. “That’s actually an old problem, well before Trump even got there,” says Daryle Lamont Jenkins:
Right-wingers have people scared to address their racism. They perfected the art of denial, and throw temper tantrums that intimidate mainstreamers. What Trump did was to give the biggest hatemongers an even wider field to play in, and who do they hate the most? Antifa, because we don’t play that game. We call them out for who they are, and work to do something about them. Anyone who does that to a conservative is a threat, and they try to make them look like they are the most evil people on the planet.
How does Jenkins respond to reporters and others who claim that “the real fascists are antifa”? “It’s a dodge,” he says:
much like saying the Klan and Nazis were actually leftists. It’s something not rooted in education, obviously, but we have seen that stunt before. Ironically, the Nazi propaganda ministers would paint their enemies as the true aggressors, and not them.
The lesson for counter-fascists is clear: Expect no medals, but rather corporate media condemnation, for attempting what countless soldiers in “the Greatest Generation” sacrificed their lives for: the defeat of fascism.
Featured image by Rolando Aparicio Velasco/Street Sense.