At his campaign-style rally last night in Phoenix, Arizona, Donald Trump devoted, according to the Washington Post, “more than sixteen minutes to re-litigating his response to the horror in Charlottesville.” The president reread the statement he’d made the day a woman was mowed down and killed by a neo-Nazi at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but left out the part that generated all the criticism: that there was hatred and bigotry “on many sides.”
There’s only one way to look at Trump’s “both sides” argument, which he doubled down on at a Trump Tower press conference last week: fractal wrongness, by which I mean the state of being wrong at every conceivable scale.
After refusing to engage a reporter about whether or not the “alt-right”—a euphemism for those (like white nationalists) who borrow from white supremacist ideologies while evading white supremacist labels—had a hand in organizing the rally, Trump went on to employ what will perhaps go down in history as one of the most absurd false equivalencies ever uttered in a public forum. He declared that those who counter-protested the alt-right white supremacists and neo-Nazis were the “alt-left,” and that they were as bad and as blameworthy as those they opposed.
These are the type of conclusions you come to (or agree with) when you possess a fundamental ignorance regarding the sociohistorical context that’s emboldened the alt-right white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of why it’s vital to condemn and confront these types of people in the strongest ways possible.
First, the “alt-left” isn’t really a thing. It’s being used purely as a pejorative to create a false equivalency between literal white supremacists and neo-Nazis and those groups who agree with “radical” ideas like eschewing status quoism and defying oppressive ideas like racism, anti-Semitism, fascism, and white supremacy through direct action. Unlike those who self-identify as the “alt-right,” no group or movement actually self-identifies as the alt-left. Trump used this disingenuous label in an attempt to put fascists and anti-fascists on the same moral plane.
To be clear, Antifa is an anti-fascism movement that exists to challenge far-right ideologies that seek to normalize ideas, social attitudes, and political policies that perpetuate or exacerbate sociopolitical conditions for marginalized communities. Believing the only “reasonable” way to counter fascists is strictly through “civil discourse” and “peaceful engagement” is a romanticized idea often posited by those not directly targeted by intimidating behaviors or rhetoric that is both odious and alienating. Black liberation activist Kwame Ture best spoke to the laughable nature of moral suasion when he said: “In order for non-violence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.”
The socialized sense of entitlement and superiority evident in the assembly of those alt-right white supremacist and neo-Nazi protestors deserves no platform for the mere fact that domestic terrorism shouldn’t be tolerated in any way, shape, or form—ever.
And make no mistake, thousands of disillusioned white people assembling for no other reason than to explicitly express views that deny the humanity of select marginalized groups, to make intimidating demands grafting delusional ideas of entitlement over the well-being of select marginalized groups, to demonstrate carrying torches and using threatening hate speech and hate symbols including literal Nazi flags, and to incite lethal acts of terrorism is domestic terrorism.
I know this is a difficult thing to accept for all those who idealize free speech as being equal to a nifty carte blanche card that magically exempts free speech enthusiasts from any and all social consequences.
To suggest Antifa is somehow in the same stratosphere as the hate groups they oppose reveals an incredibly shallow understanding of why direct action against fascism is necessary. The same can be said of those who seek to equate Black Lives Matter (a reference to the actual group as well as shorthand for a network of Black liberation groups) with the injustices they confront, something that’s been debunked more times than Trump has labeled anything “fake news.”
It should come as no surprise, however, that the same people trying to compare those who fight injustice with those who harbor it tend to be the same ones who assert “reverse racism” is a thing. People who do this don’t understand what racism entails, despite it being carefully explained time and time again why claiming “reverse racism” exists makes about as much sense as a glass hammer.
While it’s infuriating that the president would even hint at such a false equivalency, at this point it’s impossible to be disappointed or to expect much else from Trump. After all, we’re dealing with someone operating with reasoning skills that led him to stare directly at the sun during an eclipse without protective eyewear—thrice.
“I’m not in any way disempowered by the neo-fascist sensibilities of Donald Trump,” Harvard Divinity School Professor of Philosophy Cornel West told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week regarding the gravity of these events and Trump’s lack of moral credibility.
I’ve been seeing it all my life in a variety of different places. I’m more emboldened by the folk who are waking up and shattering the silence, shattering the complacency, shattering the kind of distance and detachment from engagement in struggle around love and justice. And I don’t care whether you’re secular, agnostic, atheistic, Christian like myself, Muslim, Buddhist like bell hooks—we can go on and on. We can come together. We can make a difference. This is the moment for that.