The Atlantic published an interesting piece a few days ago titled “The Rise of the Violent Left.” The focus of the piece is the gathering support for Antifa movements across the country but especially in the northwest. Author Peter Beinart spends a lot of time walking readers through some the recent clashes that have involved Antifa: the cancellation of Portland’s annual Rose Festival, the shutting down of a speech by Milo Yiannopoulis at Berkeley, etc.
All of this will be familiar to Hot Air readers, but Beinart goes on to make an interesting point about the nature of these protests. Since Antifa members are mostly anarchists who believe in taking things into their own hands, they are necessarily stepping into territory reserved for democratically elected governments:
What’s eroding in Portland is the quality Max Weber considered essential to a functioning state: a monopoly on legitimate violence. As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifascists don’t want the government to stop white supremacists from gathering. They want to do so themselves, rendering the government impotent…
Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation. Unlike the politicians they revile, the men and women of antifa cannot be voted out of office. Generally, they don’t even disclose their names.
Antifa’s perceived legitimacy is inversely correlated with the government’s. Which is why, in the Trump era, the movement is growing like never before. As the president derides and subverts liberal-democratic norms, progressives face a choice. They can recommit to the rules of fair play, and try to limit the president’s corrosive effect, though they will often fail. Or they can, in revulsion or fear or righteous rage, try to deny racists and Trump supporters their political rights. From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.
The line I’ve highlighted above could apply not just to the Black Bloc anti-fascists rioting in Portland but to many of the student-led protest movements trying to shut down free speech and free assembly on campuses. This is the underlying point conservatives have been seeking to make by showing up at these institutions despite the threats directed at them: Antifa and the far left cannot be allowed to decide who gets to exercise civil rights.
That ought to be obvious to everyone, but in liberal bastions like Portland, or Evergreen State College, or Berkeley, authorities tend to stand down and let the far left use the heckler’s veto. And that means the extreme left is de facto in charge of these spaces, even though no one elected them to anything.
The appropriate response to these violent thugs should be to crack down on them. The recent arrest of three Antifa members in the northwest is a start. However, police noted that they were unable to identify who was responsible for multiple stabbing at the same rally because the offenders wore masks and because those involved refused to cooperate with law enforcement. So Antifa not only committed multiple violent felonies, including an attack on a local news crew, they mostly got away with it. That ought to worry everyone who cares about civil rights, not just people on the right.