After the horrifying violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, many of us were anxiously bracing for the next big alt-right event, scheduled for Boston last weekend — particularly since top conservatives had been explaining all week that a super-violent “alt-left” was at least as much to blame as the Nazis and Confederates for the attack that injured nineteen and killed Heather Heyer. So the Boston result — forty thousand citizens overwhelming the right-wing ralliers, with violence largely avoided — came as a great relief, as did the relative quietude of the right afterward.
After Nazi and Confederate throwbacks rampaged in Charlottesville and one of their number ran down a bunch of counter-demonstrators — a method of attack approved by alt-right trolls, Republican state legislatures, and at least one prominent rightblogger — killing social justice warrior Heyer, the Trump administration and its supporters found themselves caught flat-footed.
Normal people sided against the Nazis and Confederates, but the president, a self-admitted believer in genetic superiority, instead made excuses for the Nazis and Confederates, portraying political violence at Charlottesville and elsewhere as a “both sides” sort of thing in which the “alt-right” is counterweighted by an alleged “alt-left” — which, accounts of left- vs. right-wing violence show, is a typically Trumpian view (i.e., bullshit).
Trump’s remarks led to some rare Republican pushback. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (!) promised an investigation of the Charlottesville violence. Mitt Romney contradicted the president’s “both sides” POV, tweeting, “One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.” Trump’s business and arts councils resigned.
Some of the wimpier conservatives who normally try to play Trump both ways — deploring his grotesqueries while supporting his policies — summoned the courage to say OK, Nazis murdering their enemies in the street is bad. But many kept trying the old both-sides bits: Sure, Nazis are bad, but so are liberals — so see, it all evens out.
“And one more thing: Neither side has a monopoly on hate. Plenty of hate on both the Left and the Right. Grow up. #Charlottesville,” tweeted right-wing broadcaster Joe Walsh. (Later Walsh tweeted, “We lost Heather and two state troopers in a helicopter crash. Sad day,” presumably to show casting agents his range.)
At Fox News, Erick Erickson went further, suggesting the Nazis had been unfairly provoked into acting like Nazis by liberals: “As the left-wing social justice warriors have created mobs across America intent on destroying lives for daring to engage in wrong-think, an equal and opposite white supremacist movement has risen up,” he claimed.
At National Review, Mark Krikorian said “the mainstream left hasn’t denounced the antifas and communists” because they “share an antipathy for American nationalism and agree on the goal of deconstructing the American people — it’s just that the antifas are willing to do the wet work that New York Times [sic] editorial writers are unsuited for.” “Wet work,” for non-spy story fans, means clandestine official murder. The meaning of “paranoia” I presume I don’t need to explain.
Krikorian’s colleague Ramesh Ponnuru denounced Mitt Romney for “defending violent hard-Left protestors.” Man, the New York Times and Mitt Romney — this antifa thing’s bigger than I thought!
Breitbart cried, “GOV. MCAULIFFE IN CHARLOTTESVILLE ‘NO PLACE IN AMERICA’ FOR ALT-RIGHT, REFUSES TO CONDEMN ANTIFA.” Author Raheem Kassam cataloged such alleged antifa outrages as “hard leftists sang songs, re-purposing Lady Gaga’s hit song ‘Paparazzi’ with the words ‘pop a Nazi,’” and claiming it was hypocritical of the Virginia governor to denounce Nazis “when a Bernie Sanders supporter shot at Republican congressmen in June.” (The morally consistent position would have been to shrug “fair’s fair,” I guess.)
Kassam also posted video of himself being ignored by the governor at a press gaggle. “I did think — perhaps foolishly — that he might want to distance himself from violent tactics on both sides,” Kassam harrumphed. “I supposed wrong.” (At this writing, McAuliffe has yet to respond to this Tribune of the People. History’s judgment will be harsh!)
Also both-sidesing to save his life: The American Conservative’s God-botherer Rod Dreher. “Again, I didn’t vote for Trump, but I support some of his policies,” said Dreher for the millionth time. “If the sanctimonious, witch-hunting progressives come for me and my friends, there’s no doubt on whose side I’ll be.” Give me theocracy or give me Trump! Dreher also said, in his now-traditional warning to commenters, “I’m not going to post comments accusing me of blaming the alt-right on leftists. I do no such thing.” The title of his post: “The Left, Feeding the Alt-Right.”
Later, when Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick interviewed Charlottesville residents, including clergy, who said they’d been protected from physical violence by antifa, Dreher characterized it thus: “Dahlia Lithwick asks left-wingers in Charlottesville if the antifa were violent. Surprise! The verdict is: no way!” The title of Dreher’s post: “Legitimizing Left-Wing Violence.”
Dreher was also against the movement to take down Confederate statues — which movement was the proximate cause of the Charlottesville rally, and which has gained energy after Charlottesville as it did after the Charleston massacre in 2015. Dreher lamented that “the Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right protesters in C’ville have made it much harder to defend those monuments and Confederate insignia.” If only they’d kept their white supremacism on the down low! Now what’ll be there to remind black people who’s boss, besides everyday life?
Some pro-Confederate statue conservatives went with the educational angle: At the Federalist, Matthew Boomer said it was “important” to keep a heroic equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee around so we can remember him “not as a hero, but as a man who devoted himself to the wrong ideals and, whatever sort of individual he may have been” — that is, a keeper and torturer of slaves — “found himself on the wrong side of one of the most decisive and morally laden moments in history.”
For some reason Boomer did not also endorse that a sign to that effect be put in front of the statue or, if that were too wordy, one reading HE KEPT AND TORTURED SLAVES. Maybe he hoped the lack of explanation would encourage young people to visit their local library to do research.
Others tried a slippery-slope argument; look, said Breitbart, Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones want to tear down a statue of Bill Clinton, whattaya think about that, libs? (In this case, I endorse the sentiments of @wyatt_privilege.)
Came Saturday, and a fresh batch of Nazifederate types (“The white man is one of the most discriminated against people in this entire country right now”) held a “free speech” rally in Boston Common. But this time there were very few of them, and they found themselves outnumbered by tens of thousands of anti-Nazifederate counter-demonstrators and forced to abandon the field, escorted safely away by police and, LOL, Black Lives Matter volunteers.
There were a few skirmishes (police arrested 27 people, less than 0.1 percent of the crowd), which the brethren sought to amplify, often by posting pictures from entirely different rallies and presenting them as if they were the Boston one. When Boston police commissioner Bill Evans addressed the press after the rally, many mainstream outlets quoted his remark that “99.9 percent of the people were here for the right reason, and that was to fight bigotry and hate”; the Daily Caller headlined, “Boston Police Chief: Our Officers Were Hit With Bottles Of Urine.”
But generally the brethren didn’t have a lot to say after Boston — becalmed, you might say they seemed, or maybe nonplussed.
Maybe it was the huge crowd full-throatedly denouncing, as the president would not, Nazis and Confederates. Maybe it was because, despite the presence of antifa and BLM, the rally did not descend into chaos — and conservatives couldn’t even convincingly pretend it had. (Rightblogger Peter Ingemi, clearly spoiling for violence to report, had to use a bunch of protesters yelling at two guys as the climax of his Boston dispatch; “I missed some violence that took place later,” he assured his readers.)
Maybe it had something to do with events outside the rally, too — like all those high-level defections, or little things like the group of NYPD officers who spoke up for Colin Kaepernick. Or maybe this was just the silence of bullies who suddenly found themselves outnumbered — not by black-clad cartoon anarchists, but by ordinary citizens who have seen what’s been going on in this country and decided there ain’t nothing both-sides about it.
Whatever it is, let’s enjoy it while we can.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 21, 2017