This won’t be the most coherent post I’ve ever written. I’m too angry for that.
Remember the WTO protests in Seattle 18 years ago? Whatever the genuine issues were, all you likely saw about the event on television was images of kids throwing rocks and looting stores.
Without the full context of what was being protested, it was easy to conclude who the bad guys were, wasn’t it? Assholes in masks showed up, thinking they’d send a message to someone. All they did was get dismissed.
Remember the police-brutality protests in Ferguson two years ago? Whatever the issues were, all you likely saw about the event on television was riots, looting, and how much an unarmed kid who was shot and killed deserved to get shot and killed. Very little about the atmosphere that Ferguson’s poor citizens live within, every day. It was easy to conclude who the bad guys were. Assholes showed up, either intending to start a violent confrontation to have some fun, or to discredit the entire protest, or thinking they’d send a message to someone.
Three or four weeks ago, I’d never heard the word “antifa.” Now I know it means “a bunch of very different groups that range from peaceful people who have a clear anti-violent message to people with a long list of unrelated grievances, who’ll show up hoping to get a picture of themselves throwing rocks while shouting about nothing relating to American Nazis.” But not to people who feel a need to defend a President they voted for, who has in turn defended those Nazis. That’s not what they believe.
A lot of them—people who should have a longer memory and an awareness of history—have found it easy to conclude that both entire sides are bad, therefore they don’t have to care about either. Their President is looking out for them, isn’t he?
In many such public confrontations, the ones that the news uses to define an entire category of protester are usually the ones who least represent the central issue. They’re just the handful of assholes who become the visual thumbnail for an entire protest.
But white supremacists and Nazis don’t deserve differentiation. They show up to intimidate, bully, inflict wounds, or kill. It’s people like them who are responsible for the fact that my immediate family is so small. They show up with automatic weapons and riot gear, while advocating genocide of entire races and religions. They want to beat on people they know won’t fight back.
By all means, ridicule anti-fascist protest groups who can’t communicate a clear message, and who indulge themselves with the belief that their incoherent laundry lists of demands, echo-chamber rhetoric, and tunnel-visioned dogma somehow contain the power to persuade the undecided. They’re wasting time and resources, because this problem has already been solved, and some of the many groups they’re protesting already know this.
* * *
Here’s the problem, though. Those assholes who got on the news are the ones who represent the entire issue for the people you might be arguing with on social media. Anyone you’re trying to inform or persuade of what you’re aware of right now is coming back at you with the video of some violent asshole, repeated throughout the day, while a news twinkie repeats the words that ostensibly characterize the entire opposition.
You can say all you like about what Nazis, supremacists, or the Klan believe, represent, or have done. Your friend, acquaintance, or uncle will then What-About you until you realize you’re dealing with someone who feels underserved, frightened, and has undergone some very effective neuro-linguistic programming. They’ve been very effectively distracted by professional scapegoating.
I don’t know how to fight that.