Are Social Justice Warriors and Antifa just a partisan distraction?

I’ll say up front that I don’t think so, but Sunday Bloomberg View columnist Noah Smith wrote a tweetstorm arguing in the affirmative. I’ll respond to some of his points below:

He’s admitting it does happen but only offering two examples. That’s a bit unfair since, as you’ll see, one of his main arguments is that the right is paying too much attention to a tiny minority of far-left students. That argument is harder to make if you consider the large number of examples of SJWs acting badly, a list which goes way beyond Evergreen State and Reed College.

Again, I think Smith is actually operating on the opposite of the Availability Heuristic, i.e. because he can only recall two examples, this must not be that common. As for who he has encountered in his campus life over the past 12 years, that’s not necessarily relevant since the SJW stuff has really become more militant in the last 3 years. Maybe he hasn’t encountered it yet but there are plenty of examples on a weekly basis that strongly suggests plenty of other people are encountering it.

Progressive professors radicalizing students may not be the norm but it does happen. In fact, it at least arguably played a role in one of the two examples Smith listed. At Evergreen State College, Professor Naima Lowe was involved in attacks on Bret Weinstein and his wife. And there are other examples. Remember Professor Melissa Click at Mizzou?

It’s a fair point (and also a great movie line) but let’s not forget that some protesting students in the 60s really did get out of hand. You had the Weather Underground planting bombs and engaging in guerrilla warfare against the government. They were small in number but I don’t think anyone would say they weren’t worth watching carefully.

It’s a good idea. Universities should try it more often. But good luck getting conservatives hired when far-left students are more interested in seeing any remaining conservatives fired.

And this is where Smith veers into complete nonsense. I’ve written hundreds of articles about SJW behavior on college campuses. I can, therefore, speak as an authority on my motives (and those of other right-wing writers I know). My interest is not creating a distraction to protect Trump. In fact, coverage of this topic precedes Trump’s election by a year or two. In any case, I have been publicly critical of Trump many times before and after the election, including to his reaction after the Charlottesville march (I did not think there were good people in the Tiki torch parade and said so). I write about this topic because it is a new, left-wing insurgency that is illiberal, radical, sometimes violent, and which presents a genuine threat if it’s allowed to grow and prosper.

Again, I don’t think Noah Smith has paid much attention to Antifa. They are not a boogeyman invented by the right as a distraction. They are an extremist group which has been involved in starting riots, making threats, and serious vandalism (as much as $1 million in damage in Portland alone). This is a group that grants itself the right to commit violence against others and which has, in fact, become violent numerous times in the past year.

Finally, as a matter of fact, it’s worth noting that both sides were violent in Charlottesville. That was the reporting from both NBC and the BBC who had reporters on the scene. It’s true that only one side resorted to deadly violence. I’m not trying to minimize that. But left-wing violence is a real threat. As Politico reported in September, there was official concern about Antifa using “domestic terrorist violence” against their enemies.

Federal authorities have been warning state and local officials since early 2016 that leftist extremists known as “antifa” had become increasingly confrontational and dangerous, so much so that the Department of Homeland Security formally classified their activities as “domestic terrorist violence,” according to interviews and confidential law enforcement documents obtained by POLITICO…

Previously unreported documents disclose that by April 2016, authorities believed that “anarchist extremists” were the primary instigators of violence at public rallies against a range of targets. They were blamed by authorities for attacks on the police, government and political institutions, along with symbols of “the capitalist system,” racism, social injustice and fascism, according to a confidential 2016 joint intelligence assessment by DHS and the FBI.

These groups are not a convenient political prop created by the right as a distraction. They are today’s far left extremists and, just like the far left extremists of yesteryear, they need to be watched closely. It’s still possible these groups could subside in time, but it’s also possible they could continue to grow and become more normalized. That’s especially the case if writers like Noah Smith continue to sidestep the problem.

Jazz Shaw Jun 22, 2021 6:01 PM ET