Story by: Kevin Dunn & Kevin Ulrich
Since day one of Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency, America has seen a rise in groups adopting once fringe ideologies on both ends of the nation’s left-right political spectrum.
In the wake of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members clashing with members of the far, or “hard” left in Charlottesville three weeks ago — and now anti-right protests in Berkeley on Sunday turning violent — it may be time to take a few steps back and look at how we got to this worrisome point in American political discourse.
Perhaps all this upheaval is occurring because it’s not exactly clear what Trump — a former Democrat who ran as a Republican with fascist tendencies and calls himself a populist but behaves like an anarchist, or even a libertarian in his disdain for government and dismantling of regulatory agencies — really is, politically speaking.
What we do know is that with the president and his policies causing this growth in hate, and the president dominating the national spotlight for good or ill, those calling themselves members of the far left and the alt-right are gaining in popularity, especially among young people.
Some political experts believe the growth of these ideological organizations — and increasing allegiance to groups and individuals outside the mainstream, such as popular presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont — was inevitable.
On Sunday, skirmishes in Berkeley resulted in 14 arrests, according to the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reported that a Trump supporter was chased and beaten by anti-fascist protesters who were dressed all in black and had their faces covered with masks or bandanas. This method of dressing and behaving is known as “black bloc,” aimed at hiding identities while unifying followers’ efforts, according to CNN.
The incidents in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Park occurred one day after a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations in San Francisco against racial bigotry in general and Trump in particular. People there were responding to a planned alt-right rally, which ultimately never materialized. One arrest was made that day, and that was for public drunkenness.
In Berkeley, the next day’s rally planned by alt-right groups was called off due to the increasing tensions between event organizers and roughly 4,000 people gathered against them.
Well before the skirmishes related to protests against a neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, which left 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer dead and several others injured, back in May Willamette Week reported that the Portland, Oregon, metro area “witnessed at least six rallies and marches where some segment of the extreme right and militant leftists have confronted each other in public spaces.”
Randy Blazak, chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime, said Portland was once known for its racist skinhead gangs, which he also said are seeing a resurgence since Trump’s election.
“[Recent violence] is a manifestation of a long-simmering battle between the extreme right and the extreme left in this town,” Blazak told WW’s Aaron Mesh and Corey Pein. “It led Portland to be dubbed ‘Skinhead City’ in the 1990s. Thanks to the sea change of the 2016 election season, it’s back in full force.”
One of the first appearances of a black bloc brigade at work occurred at Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Several Antifa members were among 200 people arrested that day and charged with such crimes as inciting a riot, starting fires, property destruction and physical violence. This and other radical groups are what is called “hard left,” which “run afield of the Democratic Party platform and supports oppressed populations as it protests the amassing of wealth by corporations and elites,” according to CNN.
“Most of the new wave of activists are liberals and progressives, outraged by the excesses of the Trump administration. They are not socialists, or anarchists, or even radicals. Most are Democrats. Many were inspired by Bernie Sanders,” Occidental College political science professor Peter Dreier said in an email to the Pasadena Weekly. “They don’t believe or engage in violence. Some of them go to protest rallies to challenge Nazis, KKKers and white supremacists, but they do so peacefully, recognizing that even bigots have the rights of free speech and the right to assembly.”
Isolated and Weak
Nicole Jensen is an administrator of a far-left Facebook group called Snuggly Wuggly Socialists, which boasts more than 12,500 members.
“As of the last year, the main reason I’m seeing [for the influx of young leftists] is the influence of Bernie Sanders, and from the UK leftist Jeremy Corbyn,” Jensen said of the democratic-socialist presidential candidate and Great Britain’s Labour Party and opposition leader. “I’ve never seen so many new and younger people interested in left-wing politics as I have the past year.”
Nothing happens overnight, but “over the past five years I’ve watched the movement make considerable progress,” Jensen noted. “Again, after Sanders and his campaign I think it made a lot of people realize that it is in fact possible. The number of people interested in and participating in left-wing political circles has dramatically increased.”
It seems today’s youth are reimagining Marxism. The same goes for anarchism. The average person might consider anarchists as little more than people who riot for no political purpose than to spread chaos. This image is primarily due to violence associated with anarchist bombings and other violence committed through the turbulent labor movements of the early 1900s.
Anarchy, as defined in the book “The Politics of Individualism,” by L. Susan Brown, “is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition than a simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organization.”
According to an anti-fascist community member, most of the new generation of leftists began their journey as progressive liberals. Currently, said Trent B., who like many in the anti-fascist community prefers anonymity, “our ranks are laden with former Berniecrats. The radical left certainly spends more time critiquing and attacking liberalism, but that is not to say we have more disdain for them than conservatives. This stems from the reality that liberals are potentially close to being able to embrace leftism and be involved in the process of radically rewriting our society, but rather, choose to stay isolated in weak positions where moderation rather than visionary thinking is considered to be the most important part of someone’s politics.
“I’m not sure exactly what the remedy to liberalism is, but liberalism isn’t helping, and is losing its foothold,” he said.
When discussing the rise of alternate ideologies, one cannot ignore the monolith of modern fascism. The alt-right — the Klan, Nazis, white supremacists — is becoming one of the most popular political youth movements in the world. Following are some excerpts from a quote from white supremacist Robert Whitaker found in the “About Us”’ section on the official website of the alt right, The Mantra:
“… Everybody says the final solution to this race problem is for every white country and only white countries to ‘assimilate,’ i.e., intermarry, with all those nonwhites. What if I said there was this race problem and this race problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of nonblacks were brought into every black country and only into black countries? … But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a Nazi who wants to kill six million Jews. They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white. Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.”
In short, the alt-right is a result of a rising tide of white nationalism, which has a connotation tied directly to fascism, a radical, authoritarian nationalism signified by dictatorial power or some sort of demagogue, harsh suppression of opposition, and control over industry and the economy. Fascist doctrine dictates that democracy is obsolete and mobilization of society under a one-party state is necessary to prepare a nation for war or conflict and to respond to economic difficulties.
Winning Isn’t Enough
Of course, when thinking of anti-fascism, one can’t help but bring up Antifa. This virtual sectarian cult of leftists was founded during the Occupy movement, taking bricks, baseball bats and bottles to the streets to directly fight any embodiments of what the far-left labels as fascist. This amounts to intense protests or large-scale brawls between anarchists clad in all black and neo-Nazis or riot police. Many see Antifa as being too violent to produce any legitimate change.
“Yeah, the violence [of Antifa] is bad for our public image, and we as anti-fascists understand it’s not ideal to use violence, but it’s a tool. When it comes to combating the threat of fascism and the alt-right we can’t afford to think of public opinion. You can’t fly 1,000 fascists from all over the country into Berkeley and march them through our streets. It doesn’t work that way. To be a Nazi today has to mean a world of suffering and pain for them,” said Trent B.
The alt-right, said Jensen, “advocates closed borders and the removal of immigrants. Their goal [is] to preserve the white race… Icons like Milo Yiannopoulos, who is young, charismatic and has a large following of social media fans, are extremely toxic to America’s youth. That’s because he and others like him basically use fear-mongering tactics to inspire intolerance toward marginalized groups, which we’re seeing more and more being demonstrated by young people,” said Jensen.
Conversely, “Hate groups are on the rise and are starting to recruit more and younger people,” she continued. “I was just leaving a gas station and saw a young couple, one with a swastika tattoo on their neck and one with an iron cross on their shoulder. And that is not uncommon, and appears to be almost acceptable.”
It will be interesting to see what happens if Yiannopoulos returns to Berkeley next month, as planned, to spend days in a “tent city” in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, as the Times has reported. Violent protests against Yiannopoulos preceded the recent fracases in February, and he was forced to leave campus under police guard. Also scheduled to appear at Berkeley on Sept. 14 is conservative author and columnist Ben Shapiro.
Bernie Was Right
Have young people become so devoid of hope in their political system that socialism and anarchy on the left and fascism and Nazism on the right — ideologies that American culture has demonized for decades — are now seen as desired alternatives to our own government?
“I agree with their opposition to these hate groups but I don’t agree with their tactics. Nor do I agree with Trump and his followers who claim that the anti-racist counterprotesters are morally equivalent to the Nazis and white supremacists,” said Dreier. “That’s just Trump’s way of diverting attention away from his own culpability for inspiring and enabling this new upsurge of bigotry and hate crimes. The Antifa activists may have excessive machismo and misguided views about how to challenge racists, but they aren’t storing military-style assault weapons.”
One thing that appears certain is when the right becomes so high on power and bereft of morality that it mirrors fascism, the left is going to go as far as possible to draw distinctions between the two.
It also appears that if a Democrat wins the next presidential election, it won’t be enough. Bernie Sanders was correct when he said that we need a cultural and a political revolution. That revolution isn’t necessarily single-payer health care or greater implementation of other socialist ideas. We need people to care about their government. When that happens, then perhaps actual change will occur.