Antifa is all the buzz these days and the press is chittering with speculation wondering which is worse, the anti-fascist left or the white supremacist movement that has taken such firm hold on so many of the nation's institutions.
This is maddening not only because it promotes yet another false equivalency but also because it overlooks the most salient point about Antifa, namely that it is likely the work not of free genuine protesters and advocates of freedom, but is actually propelled by, and may have been created by, the right wing to discredit the left.
I don't believe for one second that these menacing, masked thugs calling themselves Antifa are anything other than a front group for the white supremacist movement.
OK, I know that sounds all conspiracy theorist and like a left-wing version of a delusional Al Fonzi rant. But, unlike Al, I'm not going to omit or distort information or make stuff up, so bear with me. I confess up front that I can't prove any of this. I am merely postulating a scenario that seems plausible if not probable.
Let's start with this question: Who benefits from the masked marauders who pretend to be protectors of freedom? It isn't those protesting oppression at UC Berkeley and elsewhere. Antifa is the last thing they want.
I've participated in my share of protests and even organized a few, and one of the chief worries of organizers is trying to keep the focus on their particular message: stop the war, fight discrimination, support equal rights for whomever.
When violence intrudes on the message, what do the conflict-addicted media pounce on? That's right: the disruptions. Nary a word is spoken or printed about the original cause. This helps the white supremacist movement, and its mouthpieces in the media and culture like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Steve Bannon.
How does this work? Let's take a trip to the French-English dictionary, a short journey because we stop at "a' as in "agent provocateur." The words mean "inciting agent." In politics, agents provocateurs are people who "try to incite the opponent to do counterproductive or ineffective acts to foster public disdain or provide a pretext for aggression against the opponent," as Wikipedia puts it.
There's nothing new about this. It is a time-honored activity practiced by people from all over the political spectrum. Here in the U.S. we'd like to believe we have too much pride, dignity, and respect for fair play to stoop to such shabby tactics. But the history here of agents provocateurs is long and ugly.
Perhaps the most notorious was COINTELPRO, the counter-intelligence program in the 1960s and 1970s, under which the government infiltrated and undermined the civil rights, anti-war, and other mass movements.
I've seen it myself. When I managed a Sonoma County political campaign in the 1970s, an opponent sent someone to infiltrate our campaign (we spotted him right away). When I ran an anti-PATRIOT Act group in the San Francisco Bay area, the same thing happened. Later, at a ceremony honoring Americans who died in Iraq and urging an end to the war, a bunch of pro-war types stood across the street, slinging insults and trying to lure us into a tussle. They almost succeeded with one of our young protesters, a hothead.
That's the thing about this kind of provocation: There is usually at least one guy (and it always is a guy, not a gal) and often more than one, who "don't take no crap from nobody no how" and who is easily baited into disruptive and even illegal acts, never realizing that he is a fish on a right-wing hook.
The truly aggravating thing about this misdirection, this false equivalency, is that it works.
After the white supremacist movement's murder of a protester in Charlottesville last month, President Trump famously said there are good people on both sides. His white supremacist attorney general, Alabama's Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, has likened protesters to the Ku Klux Klan, and is threatening to "crack down" on them.
The right's television station, Fox, and shills (Coulter et al.) have, predictably, played up Antifa's violence while giving a pass to right-wing violence, hatred, and oppression. Even the responsible media have gotten into the act. CNN and others, for example, are exploring "the rise of the violent left."
This spurious discussion has changed the subject dramatically. Can anyone tell me what the protesters were protesting against? Why were people on the streets in Charlottesville, Berkeley, Ferguson?
Who cares? The only thing that matters is that some protesters seem to have violent tendencies. The likelihood that some of these violent people are in fact agents of the right who are inciting others to lawlessness goes unreported along with the original cause of the demonstrators.
The lesson here is that the next time you tune in to the antics of Antifa—and other acting-out "protesters"—think about it. Who benefits from the disruptions? Is it beyond the pale to consider that those who benefit from the violence are creating or propelling the violence? History says it isn't.
And don't be so quick to say Antifa is worse than the white supremacists. They may very well be the same people. Δ
Bob Cuddy is an award-winning columnist, now retired and living in Arroyo Grande. New Times is trying to figure out who the new contributor to the progressive side of things will be for Rhetoric & Reason. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.