A pacifist minister reflects on the antifa who protected protesters from Charlottesville's armed Nazis

No, I’m afraid that’s what you’d like the argument to be, but that’s not what it is, at all. Symbols, like words, do not exist in a vaccuum. I cannot put photos of guns around, believing them to be symbols of quality engineering, and pretend that to everyone else it isn’t a potential threat of violence. Symbols are frequently co-opted by culture. The same thing happened in the US to the confederate flag - it doesn’t matter that to some it does not stand for bigotry. For most it does, and you cannot simply pretend otherwise.

Not all “sides” of an argument are equal. This isn’t Fox News. you cannot remove the bigotry and hate from Nazi symbolism, and a discussion about whether or not those using it “mean” for it to represent those things is, therefore, a non-starter here.


Isn’t rules lawyering frowned upon?


Speaking as a gun owner myself, and an unabashed liberal, I’d like to take this moment to tell you kindly to fuck off.


Therein lies the problem. If I took a rifle on my shoulder into pretty much any mall, I’m fairly certain I would be almost immediately asked to leave (if not worse) immediately, regardless of what it meant to me, because of what it might mean to others, or because my intent is not immediately clear.

It is selfish to assume that symbols mean only what they do to you and to disregard what they mean to others as a whole. We live in a society with others and that, unfortunately, means that sometimes majority opinion rules, not what we’d personally like a given symbol to mean. This is because symbols, like language, are expressive. This also means that while you can argue that a given symbol doesn’t mean what others believe it to mean, you also can not discount that it means what others believe it to mean, either, because you can’t control the semantics of that meaning.

If you take a symbol that is widely considered a symbol of violence to a protest, you can’t be surprised if people take it to mean such, and arguments to the contrary are, at a bare minimum, offtopic to the discussion here. We’ve had discussions before about “retaking” symbols or words that have bigoted overtones before, mostly ending with a consensus that it’s basically too late to do so in most cases.



Anyway, back to the topic:


…is a very good media piece on the history and purpose of antifa.

And it leads neatly into this, an interesting discussion on Twitter between Tom Ricks and Daniel Rogers, about MLK, Malcolm X, self defence and nonviolence.



This seems relevant:


speaking as another far-left liberal gun owner i second this motion.


We’ll have to disagree on that point. From personal experience and the study of history, I’m of the firm belief that when a bully attacks you the most effective way to make sure it doesn’t happen again is to defend yourself and fight back. Fascists are bullies.




OH! I’m making my US history students read some McGuire this semester. She’s awesome.


I’m going to close my screen and let this one drop. Any of you can take that as a victory, if you wish. But you’ve lost me with these arguments and, in the bigger picture, I think you’ll continue to lose moderates like me. I’ve made that claim here before, and gotten responses like “good riddance.” You are entitled to the sentiment, but if so, you are helping make my point.

I can’t speak for the others, but it’s hard to debate reasonably with someone who conflates fighting back in self-defence with initiating violence. Good luck. As a moderate I have no problem making that simple distinction.


Okay, so I can’t seem to close my screen yet, but I’m getting there…

Conflating? No, but self-defense arguments can be extremely problematic. You can win the legal argument and lose the moral one, or vice-versa, or you can win the day and find the backlash worse than before. Self-defense is also less compelling of a justification if two side both show up to a rally armed and knowing that trouble is likely to happen. I probably find this more murky territory than you do.

Here’s a different angle: even if you were to be entirely justified in violently acting out of self-defense in a given situation, it still may be a strategic error for your cause. I think that is the case here; I think you do not.

I asked my question with a genuine desire for a workable non-violent approach. You haven’t given an answer. You seem to be more interested in following Gandhi to the letter than offering solutions though.

Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions.

Fuck that, I’m not being your martyr.

Have I lost the “moderates”, or did the “moderates” lose me with their victim blaming and failure to act even in a non-violent way? Yes, I have been told by “moderates” that I brought on the violence myself by being openly trans (also called real life test, a compulsory part of treatment for gender dysphoria). I have had little faith in them ever since and it probably has a lot to do with my swing away from social democracy to almost being an anarcho-communist.

Note that my first encounters with Antifa were over a decade ago. If the police and liberals wouldn’t take real world violence seriously then I had to find an alternative. If you don’t like that then maybe you should be doing something to fix the problem instead of telling me that I have lost you as an ally (if you ever were in the first place).


Nothing is clear-cut, and goodness knows that the American media and the president* are certainly quick to equate a tiny number isolated violent incidents originating from the otherwise peaceful left (antifa, BLM; in self-defence or not) with the violence I’m sure you’ll agree is inherent in fascist and white nationalist/supremacist movements. But I stand by the position that if a bully attacks you the most effective way to ensure he hesitates before doing it again is to defend yourself. That also ensures that there will be time afterwards to justify your action as self defence, an opportunity you don’t get to take if you stand by and let the fascists win unopposed (the biggest strategic error in this scenario).

Keep in mind that the initial demonstrations being discussed were those by the fascists, who made it clear that they would show up armed. It’s not unreasonable that a relative handful of counter-demonstrators, knowing the nature of fascists, would also show up armed as a precaution.

The real failure in these situations has been on the part of the local authorities. The mayors should have made it clear that the fascists would not be allowed to bring weapons to their demonstrations, and the police should have arrested any fascist who did. That kind of civil response would have created the kind of ideal situation you described, where a counter-demonstrator showing up armed would be a strategic error.

And again, I consider myself and others regard me as a moderate – in my case a liberal one who’ll always opt for a pacifist solution first and who would rather not live in a society where people feel they have to carry firearms everywhere. But “moderate” does not have to equate to “doormat”, as we have values, too. Opposition to fascism (among other violent forms of authoritarianism) is one of them.





I don’t consider myself a moderate, but I also prefer peaceful solutions. I hate fighting, but I hate being put in hospital even more. The best solutions fix the problem without those happening.


The vast majority of people on the American political left, moderate or not, tend to prefer the peaceful solution and try to avoid ones that involve violence and firearms. The same can’t be said of the American political right – especially not of the white nationalists and fascists crawling up from under the paving stones of history.


I hate to tell you this, but I’m far less concerned about “winning you” or any arguments than I am with my own well being and survival; sorry.

‘Victory’ only happens when every person who is ‘Other’ is safe to live their lives as they see fit without the threat of being harmed, exploited, dehumanized and/or eradicated looming over them.

Perhaps this is just an esoteric discussion of philosophy to you, but to the borderer and myself, it’s all too real, with potentially detrimental consequences.

Consider yourself privileged enough to not have to worry as we do; must be nice.