The media firestorm surrounding Trump’s words on the recent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville has left me feeling depressed as to the future of political discourse. To see so much misinformation spread so quickly – and to see such partisanship on the question of political violence – leads me to further question integrity of journalism and the legitimacy of the media in the internet era. Both the violent sides in this conflict should be condemned, so that rational, moderate people on on the right and the left can distance themselves and denounce political violence in all its forms.
So to see how Trump’s words were completely fitting for the situation, we have to look at the sequence of events that led up to the violent riots. It began with the announcement that a statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park was to be removed, after which, a group partly consisting of white supremacists and neo-Nazis applied for a permit to protest the removal. This permit was denied by the city council, until the left-leaning ACLU stepped in and defended the right of the group to protest, regardless of their views. A lawsuit ensued, and the permit was subsequently approved.
Skip to a few weeks later, and around 500 demonstrators show up to protest the statue’s removal. While the local police had arranged for the protesters to enter the park from the rear entrance, they used from many different entrances to the park, requiring the police to relocate. In total around 1000 first responders, were present, stationed between the protesters and a group of counter protesters. This other group consisted of ANTIFA members and other left-wing counter-protesters (I will explain more about ANTIFA after describing the events). While the police were trying to keep the groups separate, the two groups began to fight, as there was no requirement for the protesters to enter the park from any certain entrance.
After the violence had erupted, the police left to don riot gear, and a state of emergency was called. The violence escalated as the two groups (who detest each other) came further into contact. Testament to this are videos of people throwing punches, bricks, and tear gas, as well as using pepper spray. There are videos of police standing and watching, and not intervening in the violence. Journalists on the ground reported that the police largely failed to deal with assaults, and did not respond to the deployment of smoke grenades and pepper spray. After some fighting, the right-wing protesters dispersed, and the left-wing counter protesters began to march throughout the streets. It was at this point, that James Fields, a schizophrenic white supremacist, drove his car into the marching counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring many others.
So now, more on the members of these groups. As I mentioned, the right-wing group of protesters included white supremacists and neo-Nazis. These groups express racist views, and in the past few years have conglomerated into the somewhat unified, somewhat divided alt-right. But it also included people who were unaffiliated with these movements, and who were just opposing the removal of a historical monument. There is a whole separate debate to be had as to the removal of historical monuments to people who owned slaves, but this article is devoted to these particular events.
Participating in the left-wing counter protest were members of the group ANTIFA, who have a violent history, and is considered a terrorist organization by New Jersey. There are numerous pieces of video evidence showing ANTIFA members – organized into a ‘black bloc’ – attacking people with fists, bats, shovels, bike locks, burning cars, breaking windows, and causing mass unrest. ANTIFA has destroyed university campuses while protesting speeches given by right-leaning or even pro-free speech advocates. In any case, the violent actions of ANTIFA are available for all to see. And while ANTIFA claim to be anarchist, their efforts seem to be against the right-wing, and not against government. Again, as with the right-wing protesters, there were plenty of peaceful people, holding signs and protesting racist groups spouting white supremacist rhetoric.
So, all in all, on both sides there are ideological extremists using extreme tactics. There were peaceful people protesting perceived injustice on both sides. Both are collectivist movements, both are politically authoritarian. Both should be condemned, especially James Fields for his act of political terrorism.
Trump had three responses to the events. In the first, he condemned the violence ‘on many sides’. In his second speech (in response to criticism of his first response), he specifically condemned the white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And in his third, and unplanned, speech (which was made during a planned speech on infrastructure) he called out the ‘alt-left’, a term which until now has not been widely used.
In all three speeches, Trump condemned the violence from the right-wing. In the first and third, he condemned the violence from the left-wing. Nothing he said ran counter to the facts, and nothing he said could be construed to be supportive of political violence. His condemnation of the alt-right was completely warranted, as was his condemnation of the alt-left.
The media response to Trump’s comments as ‘weak’ and his supposed failure to specifically criticize the alt-right are slanderous and sensationalist. The extremists on both sides need to be condemned, so that normal moderate people on the left and right can have civil discussions on the real issues. With such important international issues, the US cannot afford to be divided right now.
Here is my conception of the political compass, which I hope will clarify where I consider the alt-left and alt-right to be.