“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right? I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it”
– President Trump
I have been seeing this assertion that the so-called “Anti-fa” is a direct left wing equivalent of the “Alt-Right” as far as a propensity for violence in op-eds and comment sections of the media as well as social media. I know that in Berkeley the “Anti-fa” showed up outside an event that featured Milo Yiannopoulos and there were violent attacks and acts of vandalism from the group. Antifa activists vandalized property and committed violence on Inauguration Day in Washington. Their actions have been relatively isolated, focused on disrupting white “Alt-Right” rallies and mostly not instigating trouble on their own.
An account of the violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville by Jason Williams brings to question the accusation that the counter protesters provoked the violence on Friday…
On Friday night, hundreds of white supremacists and neo-fascists had a torchlight march across the University of Virginia’s campus, a place to which they had not been invited. They openly chanted fascist slogans like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”.
When they reached a much smaller group of counter-protesters gathered around a statue of Thomas Jefferson, they surrounded them, hurled verbal abuse and then commenced beating them with lit torches and fists, and using pepper spray on them. Some protesters told me they had been sprayed with lighter fluid while naked flames burned all around them. Some of the people trapped around the statue responded with fists and pepper spray, but their actions, and their posture, was entirely defensive from the start. The “alt-right”, on the other hand, came prepared for violence, and they were spoiling for it.
Here is a description of events that took place on Saturday…
It was basically impossible to miss the antifa for the group of us who were on the steps of Emancipation Park in an effort to block the Nazis and alt-righters from entering. Soon after we got to the steps and linked arms, a group of white supremacists—I’m guessing somewhere between 20-45 of them—came up with their shields and batons and bats and shoved through us. We tried not to break the line, but they got through some of us—it was terrifying, to say the least—shoving forcefully with their shields and knocking a few folks over. We strengthened our resolve and committed to not break the line again. Some of the anarchists and anti-fascist folks came up to us and asked why we let them through and asked what they could do to help. Rev. Osagyefo Sekou talked with them for a bit, explaining what we were doing and our stance and asking them to not provoke the Nazis. They agreed quickly and stood right in front of us, offering their help and protection.
Less than 10 minutes later, a much larger group of the Nazi alt-righters come barreling up. My memory is again murky on the details. (I was frankly focused on not bolting from the scene and/or not soiling myself—I know hyperbole is common in recounting stories like these, but I was legitimately very worried for my well-being and safety, so I was trying to remember the training I had acquired as well as, for resolve, to remember why I was standing there.) But it had to have been at least 100 of them this go around. I recall feeling like I was going to pass out and was thankful that I was locked arms with folks so that I wouldn’t fall to the ground before getting beaten. I knew that the five anarchists and antifa in front of us and the 20 or so of us were no match for the 100-plus of them, but at this point I wasn’t letting go.
At that point, more of the anarchists and antifa milling nearby saw the huge mob of the Nazis approach and stepped in. They were about 200-300 feet away from us and stepped between us (the clergy and faith leaders) and the Nazis. This enraged the Nazis, who indeed quickly responded violently. At this point, Sekou made a call that it was unsafe—it had gotten very violent very fast—and told us to disperse quickly.
While one obviously can’t objectively say what a kind of alternate reality or “sliding doors”–type situation would have been, one can hypothesize or theorize. Based on what was happening all around, the looks on their faces, the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so. On Democracy Now, Cornel West, who was also in the line with us, said that he felt that the antifa saved his life. I didn’t roll my eyes at that statement or see it as an exaggeration—I saw it as a very reasonable hypothesis based on the facts we had.
I am sure that accounts of events of last weekend in Charlottesville will slowly come out, giving a more clear picture of events. I am not one to condone violence, but, if the “Anti-fa” was, indeed, protecting peaceful protesters against a violent, angry mob, I can only say I am glad they came to these people’s aid.
With these accounts, I would say calling both these groups, Alt-Right and Anti-fa, the same would be a false equivalency.