the imaginative conservative logo

In one, horrible way there really was no difference between those on the Right and those on the Left who sought to provoke violence in Charlottesville: Their consciences were clear, and they believed that violence was justified…

Conflict comes in all sizes and flavors. Some are huge like wars between countries and some are very small, like fights on the playground. There are conflicts within families and between different families and certainly among friends and lovers. Some conflicts are quickly forgotten and others fester for generations. But all conflicts are the same in the two myths that both sides invariably employ to justify themselves and prove the rightness of their cause.

The first myth, more often asserted by those on both extremes of the political spectrum, is that the conflict is a struggle of absolute good against absolute evil. Or, at least, that the evil on one side is so enormous and egregious that it justifies any actions taken by the other side in the conflict. In their minds, the conflict is black and white, and there is no room for nuance or any allowance for shades of gray, as this would be a betrayal of their cause. Most countries have used this myth to great effect at one time or another. For example, because our enemies in World War II were so loathsome and so utterly devoid of any redeeming characteristics, some of the tactics we employed—such as the firebombing of Dresden and other civilian population centers—were rendered far more palatable and excusable. When the enemy is seen as implacably evil, it becomes far easier to inflict evil upon them; one-dimensional enemies give us a free pass to inflict unrestrained violence upon them.

But the second myth is no better and perhaps even more dangerous because it appears to be more even-handed and fair: that both sides are equally to blame. What today we usually term moral equivalence. If there is one thing more absurd than the notion that one side is ever completely to blame for a conflict, it is the sillier notion that blame can ever be equally apportioned. We see this every day as we go about our lives and come into conflict with others. Sometimes we are more to blame and sometimes less, but it is truly a rare thing when culpability is a 50-50 proposition. To use another World War II example, it is stunning when people suggest that the Internment Camps for Japanese-Americans were as bad as the Nazi Concentration Camps and therefore we have no moral standing to condemn the latter.

So, we come to the current controversy surrounding the tragic altercations in Charlottesville. Much of the mainstream media is outraged at President Trump’s comments, insisting that he has placed the KKK and neo-Nazi groups on the same moral plane as those groups that opposed them. And in fairness to the media, President Trump’s initial statement fell far short of what needed to be said about white supremacist groups. On the second day, of course, he did come out with a clear and unequivocal statement condemning those right-wing extremist groups, but by then it was too late to assuage the fury of his critics. Then on the third day, as if to further exacerbate the situation, he seemed to retreat to his earlier statement, again condemning both sides for the violence.

As in all of life, timing is crucial in politics. Weave together President Trump’s three statements, place his strong condemnation of the neo-Nazis and the KKK first, and follow it with his expression of sorrow for the dead and injured, and then end with his criticism of all those, on both sides who provoked violence, and the vast majority of Americans would have supported him. Most Americans have nothing but scorn for racist groups like the KKK, but most Americans also have a loathing for any group, regardless of where they fall along the political spectrum and no matter how aggrieved they feel, who provoke violence. Many will rightly argue that BLM (Black Lives Matter) cannot fairly be equated with the KKK. They will reasonably argue that the violence generated by certain individuals within the BLM movement, while deplorable, pales in comparison to the violence and hatred perpetuated by the KKK and other white supremacist groups. But BLM, nonetheless, needs to be called out for those within its organization who are themselves racist and agitate for violence. And in one way at least, although many will disagree with what I say, those on the so-called alt-left who advocate violence are exactly like the KKK—the lives of innocent people are merely fodder to fuel their ultimate objective. This ruthless willingness to exploit innocents to further their cause is a quality all extremists share.

I reached this conclusion not this week, but way back in 1971. In that year I was a young, idealistic university student, and also in that year there was an uprising of prisoners at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. Negotiation was tried and failed, and an exasperated Governor Rockefeller finally approved an attack. All told, 43 men lost their lives. The killings shocked most of the world, and being easily outraged in those days, I traveled up to New York City to join a demonstration against what I saw as the reckless government slaughter of the inmates and hostages. The atmosphere was tense. The demonstrators grew in number, and their restlessness also increased as the minutes ticked by. A friend and I engaged some of the police in pleasant conversation, with several of them reassuring us that we shouldn’t worry—that they had orders to be careful and not harm any of the demonstrators. I had one particularly delightful conversation with one police officer who confided to me how wearing that blue uniform really helped him get dates. We laughed together and shared stories of all sorts. But every 20 minutes or so, the line of police at the barricades would rotate—it is always easier to bash the heads of the faceless and nameless, rather than someone with whom you had just been discussing dating rituals.

At the same time, some self-proclaimed Maoists in the crowd started to chant, “Kill the Pigs, Kill the Pigs” and called on the demonstrators to charge the barricade. Some demonstrators took up the call and started to push up against the barricades. I was appalled—and scared. I got into an argument with a passionate young Maoist about the tactics she was advocating, but she dismissed me for my naiveté. She explained that provoking the police was necessary to ignite the “revolution” America needed. Quoting her idol, Mao, she called on all of us to join her. If the police could be provoked into spilling some innocent blood, it was well worth it in her calculus. I angrily told her that most of the people here had come to peacefully protest the Attica killings, but she just shook her head condescendingly, turned away, and went back to urging the demonstrators to attack. I went back to the Rutgers campus later that night and wondered how anyone could be so committed to any cause that she could think spilling innocent blood justifiable.

In this one, horrible way there really was no difference between those on the Right and those on the Left who sought to provoke violence in Charlottesville: Their consciences were clear, and they believed that violence was justified. So yes, the beliefs and the history of the KKK and the neo-Nazis are far more deplorable than the beliefs and history of BLM members and others who also resorted to violence in Charlottesville, but their similar disregard for life and law makes them members of the same brotherhood of killers. That brotherhood was best explained by a former high-level Nazi after the war. During his interrogation, he was asked which political groups were the greatest threat to the Nazi regime. He laughed and said for propaganda purposes that the Nazis always attacked the Communists, but that it was really those who advocated for democracy that were the real threat. The Communists, he explained, in a psychological sense, were really no different from the Nazis; they were true believers, they knew they were absolutely right, and they were completely willing to sacrifice their lives and the lives of others for a greater cause. He confided that the moderates were the true threat because they could never be moved very far in either direction, whereas a left-wing fanatic could easily be turned into a right-wing fanatic—they already had the right fascist state of mind. That perhaps is the final sad irony of Charlottesville that the media refuses to see: Some within the antifa movement are fascist too.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThe Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
31 replies to this post
  1. It doesn’t matter what Trump said before or after, the mere fact that he had the courage to point out that the left wing has its own violent, extremist groups was never going to be tolerated by the media.

  2. One more thing – the left wing needs to have a thorough moral examination. Its crimes and sins need to be exposed. I think THAT is what really drove the press crazy this week, Trump dared to poke an accusing finger at their own deluded sense of moral superiority.

  3. Some keen insights here about how innocents are used to further the revolution. Internet is being used to even greater effect than the 60s, when the instigators could not message their useful idiots so selectively.

    If only someone could get smoking gun evidence that one and the same person/group is controlling both alt-left and alt-right, that might help to wake up those who would be involved in either.

    • You’re very right, Sue. The Internet has compounded this problem and made it much easier to manipulate and instigate. As for a “smoking gun”–I don’t think such a thing is very effective in convincing “true believers” that they’ve been duped.

  4. The liberal/left media appear to believe that it was acceptable for antifa to perpetrate violence because it was against those unspeakably evil neo-nazis – an example of the first myth mentioned by Mussomeli.

    • I agree some of the mainstream media sadly believe that it was justified violance. But I also suspect that many others were appalled by the violence perpetrated by the Left, but were afraid to say it because they feared being accused of endorsing “moral equivalency.”

  5. Excellent points. It needs to be addressed the responsibility weak kneed politicians’ who fail in their instructions to police to maintain order. Those responsible for destruction of public and private property need to be identified and legally and financially penalized. The few shall not dictate the common good.

  6. Overall, I agree with much of what was written in the article above. I think BLM got overly criticized but that wasn’t the main point of the article.

    There is one more myth that should be exposed. That one’s conscience is an infallible judge for whether one is morally innocent or guilty. Those who use violence in order to force their way on others in a democracy have no regard for either their victims or democracy. And in assaulting democracy, they are assaulting far more people than the number of people physically attack. To use force to get one’s way in a democracy is nothing more than a call for the end of democracy and the start of authoritarianism. In addition, it embraces moral relativity and discards absolute values. The use of force to get one’s way in a democracy assumes a gang mentality where what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. In all of this we see the moral guilt of those who use unprovoked violence to force their way on others.

    I am writing all of this as a leftist who is deeply disturbed by the growing presence of violent leftist groups like antifa. It is certainly a strong departure from how some leftists, like Martin Luther King Jr., worked for social justice. If only they would see their own guilt and have remorse for the suffering they inflict on others. And even in practical terms, if only they would remember that antifa failed to stop the Nazis in Germany from gaining power.

    • The left wing needs to own up to its own evil. Communism and abortion are just two examples. They kill innocents by the millions, and in a form of insanity, they still demand to be treated as moral superiors.

      • Eric,
        What you have always failed to notice is that the Left is not a monolith. In fact, Communism is not a monolith. So asking the Left to own up to some of the things you mention is impossible for not all on the Left agreed with Lenin and Bolshevism–which became known as communism.

        As for the abortion, yes, I agree that it is evil and we need to own up to that.

        But some conservatives need to own up to their support for horrors that neoliberal capitalism and American Imperialism has brought. And some patriotic Americans need to own up to the fact that white supremacy played an vitally important role in the founding of our nation. After all, we got the land by ethnically cleansing Native Americans from it and twice we enslaved Blacks. The first time was through slavery and the second time occurred during Jim Crow because of how laws were enforced on Blacks and how prison labor was used.

        In short, none of us can afford to pray like the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying.

        • Yes, but no group is a monolith, but all groups have to deal with their less savory members. Perhaps it is a religious thing, but the left wing, being mainly secular, cannot bring itself to examine its own guilty conscience. And many of us dislike being lectured at by people whose own hands are far from clean.

        • Anyway, before I go off on an extended rant of my own (which happens to be one of my sins) and since you seem to be one of the few members of the left wing who is also religious, then we can agree that since everyone sins to one degree or another, that would include our founders. But where conservatives disagree is that, they also had uncommon virtues as well, and those need to be celebrated. That’s what the left wing doesn’t see. You can’t just point fingers and accuse accuse accuse all the time. You gotta give credit where it’s due. And thr people doing the accusing today might ask themselves how they will be judged in 100 years.

          • Eric,
            It isn’t being the left that keeps my fellow leftists from seeing what conservatives can bring to the table, it is tribalism. And that tribalism is growing in conservatism, liberalism and the left.

            Martin Luther King Jr was a leftist. And yet he sought to combine the best of each side when formulating an approach to a problem. One of my favorite people to read is Noam Chomsky. And though he can be critical of some conservatives, he has publicly stated contributions made by conservatives. And he has sometimes been careful not to confuse some of the actions of the Republican Party with conservatism.

  7. There are basically two political sides in the arena. One desires liberty. The other wants to direct government for its own purposes, Traditionally, the latter has been identified with the Right. But, somehow, with Hitler placed on the Right, Stalin, who was traditionally further to the Right than Hitler, has been placed on the Left, and his rule has actually been referred to as a dictatorship of the Left. Of course, if words mean anything, this is a contradiction in terms. So the rioters against free speech in Charlottesville are designated as the Left, according to taste. What the other group consists of has certainly not been clarified by the media, which would be the last place to look for clarification. I don’t look for clarification by any group, however. By abandoning the word Liberal, the Liberals have abandoned much of the field to the enemy. I’ll quote Chesterton once more: “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.”

  8. Yep, I said the same thing. If only Trump had reversed his two speeches. Give the one on Monday on Saturday and vice versa. His Saturday speech was the right one at the wrong time, that’s all.

  9. BLM claim to be something new, but their rhetoric, funding, and associations identify them as socialists. Socialism is at least as socially destructive as Nazism (indeed, Nazism is a form of socialism), and its history is just as horrific, and if anything even more violent and bloody, than the KKK and the Nazis (original and neo) combined. BLM should not be compared to the KKK or neo-Nazi groups, but to the so-called Alt Right: a new presentation of an old menace. Our society and media has done a good job of vilifying Nazis and anathematizing Nazism, but has failed to equivalently anathematize socialism. For example, a politician who calls himself a socialist has been in congress for decades (many others are socialists in all but name) and, but for a conspiracy between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, probably would have won the Democratic presidential nomination and, quite possibly, the presidential election. Needless to say, there is no Republican running as the Nazi or Klan candidate. Similarly, President Obama met with the leadership of BLM in the White House; one can only imagine the media’s reaction were President Trump to extend a similar invitation to Richard Spencer. The President was on the right track in condemning violence “on all sides” after the events in Charlottesville, but failed to explain His reasoning. Whenever such violence erupts in the future (which is sadly inevitable), President Trump must explain that Antifa, BLM and other violent leftist groups are socialist organizations that are the equivalent of Nazis and the Klan as threats to our constitutional rights, democracy and social peace; that Bernie Sanders is the equivalent of David Duke. Congress should convene hearings to investigate how these violent socialist groups were formed and are funded, how they are related to one another and to the Democratic Party and its sitting officials, candidates, and the PACs and donors that they all have in common. Then, the attorney general should consider indicting both their leaders and their financial supporters under federal racketeering laws.

  10. Joe: Many thanks for your as-ever thoughtful commentary.

    I will go further, however, and declare my deep suspicions about the authenticity of the Unite the Right movement. Organizer Jason Kessler was until quite recently an Occupy/Obama Bro; Michael Yon among others has published pictures of OtR demonstrators carrying recently-unboxed Nazi flags; and a short order cook from iconic Berkeley campus greasy spoon Top Dog travelled all the way across country to unleash his inner crypto-Nazi.

    …I think not.

    I smell agents provocateurs at work, and their MO fits last summer’s DNC shenanigans and some of the anti-Trump rent-a-crowd actions seen earlier this year…

  11. So true. Your last paragraph is brilliant, and I don’t understand how it is possible not to see that nazism, or fascism, etc. is not only an ideology, but also a mindset, the one you described so accurately. Nazis were evil even before the war, before the extermination of the Jews, and even before Hitler came to power. Mob violence, intimidation of your opponents, etc. that is exactly what the self-branded “antifa” are doing. Thin line between the two.

    As I wrote in some comments in other places, President Trump was so much truer to his role than the media pundits lecturing and shaming him. (When I am writing “I don’t understand”, it is of course a figure. They just don’t care but to advance their own agenda). Concentrating on the KKK et. al. in Charlottesville would have been giving a free pass to political violence, provided you could accuse your opponent of racism. Trump was here a lone defender of the rule of law, against mob lynching.

    • Thank you, Hildebrand. You’re right that it is the mindset that matters far more than the political inclinations. There is a frightening meeting of the minds between those on both extremes:same temperament and same sense of insecurity. The fear of being labeled racist is particularly troublesome. Many good people fear that label so much they will be silent rather than risk the condemnation. But another sad irony is that being reluctant to criticize someone because of their race is itself a kind of racism.

  12. Curt; secular can mean several things. One is simply the mundane business of government, like fixing potholes and running the sewage system. That’s what government is for. Then there’s secular as in hostile to religion. That’s what people mean by the secular left.

    My opinion of king has definitely gone downhill. What he left us with is a mess. Personally, I have more respect for Donna Summer and Whitney Houston. They actually united people with their talent. King just led to welfare dependency and envy and resentment vs white guilt. Not a good combination.

    This isn’t about race, really, but ideology. Ever since the secular left went on its head chopping orgy of blood starting in 1789, the world has gotten worse. God was rejected and secular Man became his own god.

    And so I say to the left – which is your God? The Actual, real God of Christianity, or the secular “god” of left wing ideology?

  13. If taken within the context of who Donald Trump is, a high profile, no nonsense New York City businessman, his comments were straight to the point. Politically incorrect? Yes, thank God he doesn’t care about the liberal nonsense of political correctness. If the Antifa/BLM people had stayed away and let the small group of KKK/neo-nazis have their say for a short time, and the media had paid no attention to it, nothing would have happened. When you combine a liberal media that won’t cover anything objectively with rabid liberal activists (aka communist agitators) you already have a dangerous situation looking to start something. If the KKK/neo-nazis hadn’t shown up that day, but instead a group from a local senior center showed up just to have a nice day in the park, the Antifa/BLM would have still started something even if was just to get on the local news. It is very important to identify what we are dealing with and your article pointed that out perfectly; “She explained that provoking the police was necessary to ignite the “revolution” America needed.” as what she said is exactly what these groups are all about. Obama set the stage for a racial civil war to take place and a lot of the pieces are in place to get one started. If the Special Olympics had been there that day instead of the few KKK/neo-nazis that were there, Antifa/BLM would have still started something. They have to start something because that is their cause, creating civil unrest wherever they are and wherever they go. It is all about the grand Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist revolution which is about revenge and nothing more.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: