This is true as a historical matter, of course, and it’s the key reason why Trump’s Charlottesville comments were tone-deaf. It’s not that he was wrong that the Antifa droogs are bad people. On the contrary, as I write this at 6:30 p.m. ET, Berkeley is bracing for a possible left-wing riot tonight because Ben Shapiro is on campus to politely address some conservative students. Trump’s equivocation about bad people on both sides after a white-nationalist show of strength at a Confederate monument in Virginia grated on many because it implicitly gave short shrift to black Americans who were persecuted by like-minded whites for ages. Antifa and white supremacists are both terrible people, yeah, but the latter has a vastly higher body count in this country. And a president with a fan base among that group has a special responsibility to condemn them lest they take his equivocation as encouragement and get political traction from it, which is how we ended up with that joint resolution in Congress yesterday.
“In yesterday’s meeting, Sen. Scott was very, very clear about the brutal history surrounding the white supremacist movement and their horrific treatment of black and other minority groups,” a Scott spokesman said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and to expect the President’s rhetoric to change based on one 30 minute conversation is unrealistic. Antifa is bad and should be condemned, yes, but white supremacists have been killing and tormenting black Americans for centuries. There is no realistic comparison. Period.”
All of that is straightforward but Scott will still be hissed at for this statement anyway on grounds that it supposedly minimizes the threat from Antifa. Partly that’s a function of partisanship — Antifa is alt-left while white nationalists are alt-right so why isn’t a right-wing senator more concerned with the threat from the other side? He should be Republican first and black second! But partly too it’s a function of the perception that Antifa poses the greater risk of violence right now despite the historical record of white supremacy. The alt-right is capable of domestic terrorism too, as everyone learned when James Fields got behind the wheel in Charlottesville, but usually when the alt-right shows up there’s more chanting and tiki torches being waved around than violence. When Antifa shows up, windows get broken and things get set on fire. They rioted at Berkeley over Milo Yiannopoulos, they may very well riot again tonight over Shapiro, and they’re quite likely to riot when Steve Bannon and Yiannopoulous come to town later this month. Read this harrowing Weekly Standard story (which I’ve linked before) about the leaders of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer showing up to an Antifa rally in San Francisco in hopes of dialogue and ending up lucky to escape with their lives.
Antifa presents another problem that the alt-right doesn’t: Moral license. It’s easy to argue that white supremacists have no right to use violence to advance their cause. Most people find their cause repugnant to begin with. Antifa, however, argues that at base it’s practicing a form of self-defense. No one stood up to white supremacists in Europe, the argument goes, and we ended up with Nazism and World War II. If gangs of idiots in masks dressed in all black are what it takes to beat back the white-supremacist scourge in the U.S. via *actual* beatings, well, extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, as a great man once said. Never mind that Shapiro, the guy who they’re prepared to burn down Berkeley over tonight, is Jewish and was himself the target of endless attacks from alt-righters online last year. And never mind that Antifa has no respect for liberty, properly understood. They get lots of mileage from the fact that they’re willing to face down neo-Nazis on the street but usually they’re preoccupied with shutting down nonviolent right-wing speakers whose politics they loathe, including ones as mainstream as Shapiro. They’re a gang using resistance to fascism as an excuse to punch people whom they dislike. But then, that’s traditional for the far left. Their violence is always supposedly virtuous, for the greater good.
Incidentally, Trump was asked again about Charlottesville today. He’s not backing down from his belief that Antifa is bad — which, as I say, isn’t really in dispute, but whatever:
“Especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the anti-fascist group that clashed with neo-Nazis and white supremacists…
“Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville — a lot of people are saying — in fact, a lot of people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump might have point,” Mr. Trump said. “I said, ‘You’ve got some very bad people on the other side, which is true.’”
Still, Mr. Trump said, he and Mr. Scott had a “great conversation.”
Here’s Scott yesterday agreeing that their chat was a good one. His statement today went on to say that Trump had committed to “diversifying” his staff. We’ll see.