His name is Bobby Hutton, or at least that’s the name he gives me. He’s not antifa. He looks and talks like a surfer dude, with long hair and aviator shades, and identifies himself as a political activist. He’s smiling, seemingly entertained by the spectacle. I ask him how he can smile, as if what we’ve just witnessed is all okay. “It’s politics,” he says, shrugging. “Politics is in the street. Always has been, and always will be.” I tell him I’m profiling Joey. “Oh, that’s fun,” he says. I add that I haven’t heard one disturbing, racist thing come out of Joey’s mouth. “I’m familiar with Joey’s presence,” Hutton says. “And you’re right that he stays on this side of white supremacy. But he’s a shit disturber. And if you wanna disturb shit, Berkeley’s always been a good place for that. There aren’t a lot of places in America where you can get this kind of opposition, and Joey knows that. Which is why Joey’s here.”
Hutton claims antifa has “legitimate political beliefs.” I tell him beating people down in the street to suppress their speech doesn’t sound very legitimate or American to me, and that eventually, if this nonsense continues, somebody’s going to get killed, just as someone was in Charlottesville. Violence, he says, still smiling, is “as American as apple pie. Berkeley pie.”
–Matt Labash, A Beating in Berkeley
Here’s my problem. I think the people who showed up in Charlottesville to square off against self-identified neo-Nazis did the world a service, and I applaud them. But when I see antifa showing up at places like UC Berkeley and setting fire to cars and throwing rocks through windows in order to prevent someone like Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking, I think they’ve gone way too far. Milo isn’t a Nazi, and he isn’t an actual threat. He’s a traveling clown looking to offend social justice warriors.
I think that reasonable people can disagree about this. I can’t speak for the individuals who committed these political actions, but the general defense is that the rationale for shutting down someone like Milo has to do with the fact that his kind of commentary emboldens actual fascists. The Berkeley administrators issued a statement in advance that they feared he was going to out undocumented students on campus, and previously he had targeted a transgender student at the University of Milwaukee Wisconsin. Antifa regards this as an instigation to violence, and so they feel justified in shutting it down.
Again, though, this is much easier to understand when you remember that antifa isn’t concerned with free speech or other liberal democratic values.
–from Illing’s Vox interview with Bray
Fandom is an especially fertile lens through which to view such questions, because fandom is premised on shared passion, and that shared passion creates tribal affinities and emotional attachments that obliterate rational thought. (If you want to analyze digging-in-your-heels, against-all-evidence self-justification, look at fan behavior.) We can see the real-world consequences of fandom when we turn to politics. Much of the vomitorious 2016 U.S. election was a clash of fandoms: Bernie fans versus Hillary fans versus Donnie fans. The U.S. is so besotted with celebrity culture that we’ve handed our fate over to perceptions of politics that are the intellectual equivalent of liking or disliking a Kardashian. Fascism doesn’t need the leader principle anymore; it thrives much better in the politics of style and image.
–Matthew Cheney, The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
The black bloc I joined met at Logan Circle, some two miles north of the inauguration parade route. We peered through bandanas to find friends. We gathered in bloc formation behind wood-enforced banners, filled the street, and began to march. The bloc takes care to stay together, move together, and blend together. Within minutes, bottle rockets were shooting skyward and bricks were flying through bank windows. You don’t know who does what in a bloc, you don’t look to find out. If bodies run out of formation to take a rock to a Starbucks window, they melt back to the bloc in as many seconds. Bodies reconciled, kinetic beauty. If that sounds to you like a precondition for mob violence, you’re right. But this is only a problem if you think there are no righteous mobs, or that windows feel pain, or that counter-violence (like punching Richard Spencer) is never valid.
–Natasha Lennard, Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer Got Punched–You Can Thank the Black Bloc
Were Trump to gain entry to the White House, it’s impossible to say whether he would or could follow Reagan’s example and function within the political norms of Washington. His burlesque efforts to appear “presidential” are intended to make that case: His constant promise to practice “the art of the deal” echoes Reagan’s campaign boast of having forged compromises with California’s Democratic legislature while governor. More likely a Trump presidency would be the train wreck largely predicted, an amalgam of the blunderbuss shoot-from-the-hip recklessness of George W. Bush and the randy corruption of Warren Harding, both of whom were easily manipulated by their own top brass. The love child of Hitler and Mussolini Trump is not. He lacks the discipline and zeal to be a successful fascist.
—Frank Rich, What The Donald Shares with The Ronald
Žižek is hardly the only leftist thinker who has believed in the renovating power of violence, but it is hard to think of another one for whom the revolution itself was the acte gratuite. For the revolutionary, Žižek instructs in In Defense of Violence, violence involves “the heroic assumption of the solitude of a sovereign decision.” He becomes the “master” (Žižek’s Hegelian term) because “he is not afraid to die, [he] is ready to risk everything.” True, “democratic materialism furiously rejects” the “infinite universal Truth” that such a figure brings, but that is because “democracy as a rule cannot reach beyond pragmatic utilitarian inertia … a leader is necessary to trigger the enthusiasm for a Cause.” In sum, “without the Hero, there is no Event”—a formula from a video game that Žižek quotes with approval. He grants that “there is definitely something terrifying about this attitude—however, this terror is nothing less than the condition of freedom.”
There is a name for the politics that glorifies risk, decision, and will; that yearns for the hero, the master, and the leader; that prefers death and the infinite to democracy and the pragmatic; that finds the only true freedom in the terror of violence. Its name is not communism. Its name is fascism, and in his most recent work Žižek has inarguably revealed himself as some sort of fascist. He admits as much in Violence, where he quotes the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk on the “re-emerging Left-Fascist whispering at the borders of academia”—”where, I guess, I belong.” There is no need to guess.
–Adam Kirsch, “The Deadly Jester”
“Voters are nervously looking for a new political home as traditional parties have proved oblivious to their needs. The same angry migration from the old parties, to fringes of both left and right, is wrecking Europe, as people flock to Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the U.K., former comedian Beppe Grillo in Italy, Podemos in Spain, the Finn Party in Finland, Syriza in Greece, and all sorts of populist parties in Eastern Europe. Men and women left in the cold by globalization and rising inequality, scared of immigrants often lumped together with foreign terrorists in the media and the popular imagination: This is not the base for the new Western World Fascist Party, but it is a powder keg powerful enough to inflame societies on both sides of the Atlantic. It will not destroy Western democracies, but it may poison them. Witch-hunts, racism, repression, and state surveillance may plague a democracy without morphing it into a fascist dictatorship.”
—Gianni Riotta, “I Know Fascists; Donald Trump is No Fascist”