This may be the first time in TV history that someone from the Southern Poverty Law Center was booked to argue with the far left instead of the far — and usually not-so-far — right. Good for them for doing it, though. The counterpoints to this Antifa idiocy are more effective here coming from a liberal than from a conservative. If it’s a conservative versus Antifa, that’s standard left/right noise to the average viewer. If it’s the SPLC versus Antifa, that’s a signal that Antifa should be considered a radical outfit. Which, of course, they are.
The most pitiful thing about Bray’s apologetics is how obviously they mirror alt-right and traditional Nazi arguments. We need a muscular response to defend good people from this extreme threat, huffs Bray. That’s what brownshirts said about Bolshevists in 1930s Germany and what the alt-right says about Antifa and Black Lives Matter now. Asked about censorship, Bray insists that Antifa opposes any government efforts to silence speech. Of course they do; that’s the politic line to take for PR purposes when you don’t control the government and are seeking power. A government run by Antifa sympathizers would obviously censor “fascist” speech, however that’s defined, with the same logic they use to justify riots at Berkeley to keep people like Ann Coulter from speaking. The alt-right also styles itself a “free speech” movement because it’s in the same position as Antifa — eager to gain adherents and aware that laying bare its most totalitarian impulses right now would make recruiting harder. Put fascists, whether right-wing or left, in charge of the government and see what happens to freedom of speech.
The other thing Bray has in common with his enemies is needing the public to believe that the threat from the other side is greater than it is. To hear him tell it, the neo-Nazi menace has reached such proportions in America that a national left-wing gang willing to fight it in the streets is urgently needed. In reality, neo-Nazi groups have existed for decades and have enjoyed moments of high visibility — the march through Skokie, the rise of the American Nazi Party under George Lincoln Rockwell in the 60s, and so on. They faded away without help from Antifa. As Richard Cohen notes, Antifa’s existence is actually manna for alt-right groups insofar as it gives them more of a reason to exist and gives mainstream right-wingers a reason to sympathize with them, however grudgingly. If the left is going to try to intimidate the right with paramilitary rabble, turnabout is fair play. That’s the “spiral” Cohen talks about. Heightening the contradictions is good for radicals on both sides, which is why there’ll be more Charlottesvilles.
Maybe many more. In lieu of an exit question, read Ben Sasse wondering just how violent America’s future might be.