The proximate cause of the violence was the rally staged by alt-right activists centering upon the monuments to Confederate war figures that are in danger of being removed because people find them offensive. Among the leading elements of this group were some truly nasty neo-Nazi/white supremacist types. They came prepared for a riot; indeed, they may have intended to provoke one. Still, marching and speaking and waving signs is their right. If the lessons of Skokie (1977) had been heeded, they could have marched about and done their thing, and they would have been roundly ignored.
That didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because an equally ugly and hateful group, known variously as Antifa, an amorphous movement also occasionally appearing as BLM or anarchists or whatever, decided they couldn’t turn down the invitation to rumble issued by the neo-Nazis. The two groups should have been kept far apart, but this failed to happen. Fights broke out all over. The Antifa were as eager for a brawl as the neo-Nazis, and as well prepared.
The weekend climaxed with an episode of vehicular homicide by one of the neo-Nazis. Two policemen monitoring the events also died in a helicopter accident. In the wake of this terrible weekend, public officials, media figures, and religious leaders all condemned the neo-Nazis among those who organized the event. Only a few spoke against the violence offered by the Antifa; perhaps if one of the neo-Nazis hadn’t run into a crowd with his car, condemnation of both groups would have been given out more even-handedly.
To recap, the proximate cause of the terrible events was the rally. As the organizers of the rally, the alt-right bears a lot of responsibility for this. That said, what made it a riot was the Antifa joining in. They came not merely to protest, but to engage in violence. The alt-right were within their rights to march, and were cooperating with local authorities in how they did it. The fact that the neo-Nazis were spoiling for a fight, too, doesn’t excuse the Antifa’s actions.
So, scoring the weekend, I condemn the neo-Nazis for their hateful and ugly ideology, but I grant them their rights to proclaim it. I also condemn the Antifa for their equally hateful and ugly ideology, and their readiness to use violence. I particularly condemn the gratuitous car attack, as especially heinous.
Now, let’s talk about the enablers of all this. First of all, let’s talk about the alt-right folks who are NOT neo-Nazis or white supremacists. I know some of these folks. We remain friends because of my ability to avoid taking offense. I get tired of people I agree with, and so, I presume, myself, being called “cucks.” I get tired of their nasty sloganeering against Republicans in general. I am disgusted by their wishing that those who disappoint them, such as Sen. John McCain, should die. I am not happy when these young men – they are mostly young and mostly male – condemn us Boomers for messing everything up in our passage through life. What actual political goals they have beyond abusing others I don’t much agree with, either.
Still, they have points to make. Pat Buchanan made them before Donald Trump did, and Buchanan has an honorable record of service in government. Their positions need to be answered, not merely shouted down. And they were one of the key constituencies that defeated Hillary Clinton and elected Donald Trump. Now, an electoral victory is not the same thing as a governing coalition, but still: these people have a right to be heard. They won, in their view.
Yes, they should condemn the neo-Nazis, unreservedly. But they should not be made to apologize for their opinions; rather, they should be asked to articulate them. They are not “a basket of deplorables,” any more than previous Americans who felt we were headed in the wrong direction were “tea-baggers” or “bitter clingers.” If their ideas are wrong, that will be evident the more they articulate them.
On the other hand, we have the OTHER enablers: the Social Justice Warriors, the theorists of intersectionality (which a friend of mine describes as “mind cancer”), the progressive clergy, and the busy-bodies of all sorts who think it is their duty to shame people they disagree with, driving them from the public sphere and making trouble for them with their employers. Some of these people are friends and colleagues of mine, too (hey, I’m a United Methodist elder – I couldn’t get away from them if I wanted to). Again, we remain friends largely because I refuse to be offended (no doubt some of them feel the same way about me); nevertheless, I get tired of walking on eggshells around them, because they get offended so easily. In the end, I find many of their posts on the intertubes wearying and aggravating, and their shaky commitment to legal and democratic norms (“because we’re right, damn it!”) very troubling, but they have a right to be heard, too.
And here’s the thing: the progressives, who want to stand up for all the right things (in their view) and oppose the alt-right and the thugs who hover on the fringe of the alt-right, need to take a look at the thugs who hover on their fringe, and who use their desire to speak out and exercise their rights as a cover for the same kind of intimidation and violence the people on the other extreme appeal to. My memory seems to record more individual acts of violence by white supremacists, but more acts of street violence by the Antifa; still, for my money there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them. They’re all thugs, who like violence and don’t accept the legitimacy of elections or duly constituted authority.
My progressive friends need to disavow the thugs on their fringe and quit making excuses for them, just as much as my alt-right friends need to disavow the thugs on their fringe and quit making excuses for them. In the end, all of those who think there’s something to be won by sucking up to the violent, or who think they’re moral because they’re against all the right things, share responsibility for what happened in Charlottesville.