The serene, little university town of Charlottesville may have opened up a wound that will be with us for years to come. It might be more accurate to say reopened — readers who are my age may remember the violence and destruction brought on by the anti-Vietnam War movement and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and its companions (comrades?) on the left. Now we’re seeing it again with the Antifa thugs.
Exploiting the liberal’s “no-enemies-to-the-left” philosophy, radical groups such as SDS and Antifa moved the debate to the far left. We saw them protesting the Iraq war and in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Then along came Black Lives Matter, protecting, they told us, the thousands of innocent black people killed by police every year. Now we have the Antifa movement, protecting free speech-loving Americans from neo-Nazis.
If they are not the same people — at least some of the anti-Vietnam War crowd has probably grown up by now — they adhere to the same philosophy. Call them the radical left, or call them Marxists; both amount to about the same thing and, like Marx, they want to change the world into a workers’ paradise and, when necessary, have no hesitation to use violence where it suits their purposes. Well-organized violence, Leon Trotsky once quipped, may be the shortest distance between two points.
No-enemies-on-the-left liberals like to portray the Antifa movement as composed of descendants of German and Italian anti-fascist forces who battled the Nazis and Italian fascists in the 1920s and 1930s. There may be a few who think that way, but liberals are kidding themselves if they think this crowd is anything other than descendants of Lenin and Stalin. Dartmouth professor Mark Bray, who has written extensively about Antifa — and defends their tactics — recently told The Washington Post, “[Antifa’s] adherents are predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists who believe that physical violence is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective.”
Charlottesville riot police were apparently in a state of confusion when Antifa radicals and neo-Nazis encountered each other in August. Instead of intervening to stop the violence — there were at least 35 people injured — police stood back and watched while the two sides beat each other with sticks and other objects. Well-informed sources in Charlottesville told me that the police resented liberal members of the city council, the mayor and the city manager who told them to stand down. Eventually, the police did move in to end the violence, make arrests and help the injured. Whatever the reason for inaction on the part of the police, the result is a lesson that it will be up to local police to maintain the peace as the Antifa radicals, empowered by their success in Charlottesville, continue their campaign of hatred, violence and terrorism.
There is little question that things will get worse. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently classified Antifa’s activities as “domestic terrorist violence,” and for several months DHS and the FBI have been warning local officials that the likelihood of violence between white supremacists and left-wing radicals is considerable, and advised local authorities to take appropriate action to control it. As radical groups perceive that they are succeeding in spreading violence and mayhem, it is likely that their attacks will become more frequent and more intense.
Until the advent of the smartphone and social media, it was largely up to the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to monitor and attempt to control leftist, violent extremists, and during the heyday of SDS, the FBI had a program, known as Cointelpro, of infiltrating left-wing groups and influencing and disrupting their activities. After it became public, Congress shut it down for fear of being accused of condoning and even promoting anti-free speech actions on the part of the FBI.
Today’s left-wing radicals play a different game. Antifa, like Black Lives Matter and other contemporary movements, is unorganized, amorphous and without an identifiable leader. Like guerrilla fighters, they appear when needed, inflict whatever damage they see fit on their enemies, and disappear back into the woodwork.
The good news is that the Trump administration does not have the anti-police hang-ups so prevalent during the Obama years, and President Trump has made it clear that he is a great fan of law enforcement — all of which will make cooperation between federal and local authorities much more effective than in the recent past. The sooner this happens, the better.
• Alfred S. Regnery is the chairman of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.
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