Auburn, Alabama is nicknamed “the loveliest village on the plains.” But ugliness threatened to descend on it last Tuesday when outsiders came looking for a fight. Thankfully, residents and Auburn University students refused to oblige, much to their honor and wisdom.
The occasion was a speech on campus by white-nationalist provocateur Richard Spencer. Spencer’s representatives had booked the space ahead of time, but the university tried to rescind. Spencer intended to deliver the speech anyway, but a federal court settled the matter by forcing the school to fulfill the contract on First Amendment grounds.
In a stroke of brilliance, student groups, including AU’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, organized a music concert for students to attend as a peaceful protest, and generally encouraged all to be civil. This creative and constructive response proudly stands in stark contrast to the screaming fits and vandalism that has met right-wing speakers on other campuses throughout the country. Through its cool, rational, and moral leadership in the affair, the AU Young Americans for Liberty distinguished itself as a true representative of the spirit of classical liberalism.
However, outside groups also came into town, with decidedly non-peaceful intentions. It was the usual suspects: leftist agitators including Antifa and rightist pro-Trump activists ready to confront them.
The Washington Post inaccurately reported that “violence erupted,” only to later edit their story, admitting that they had grossly exaggerated what happened. There was only one momentary exchange of fisticuffs between two out-of-towners that was immediately broken up by local police.
Militants on both the left and the right are probably disappointed that significant political violence didn’t actually erupt in Auburn, as it has three times this year in Berkeley, California. Each Berkeley brouhaha has been more violent than the last, with Marxists pepper spraying, swarming, and beating nationalists, and nationalists punching and clubbing their assailants in response.
Both sides are itching for a fight. With the left, this is manifest in the fact that they are typically the ones to strike first. They self-righteously posture as “anti-fascists” (thus, “Antifa”), yet they employ the decidedly fascist tactic of using violence to try to silence their political enemies.
But many on the right are looking for trouble as well. They claim to merely be asserting their right to free speech and protecting that right through self-defense. And for many, that claim is genuine. But for the militants among them, it’s far more than that.
Many on the populist, nationalist right clearly relish the prospect of mixing it up with the left, or in the case of chest-puffing Internet Warriors, of goading others into doing so on their behalf. They make this quite explicit in their proclamations on social media, blogs, and comment threads. They exhibit, not just a resolute “guardian” mentality, but a pugnacious “warrior” mindset.
Many self-styled “patriots” believe that a civil war is coming: indeed, that the early stages are already upon us. The truest-believers among them seek to accelerate that conflict, so that it can be decided in their favor all the sooner. Some even believe that massacres will be necessary. To show that I’m not being paranoid or making things up, this is how an “anti-communist” activist on Facebook responded to my previous article on this topic:
“Oh and I don’t think this is possible to resolve without violence. The left is so unbelievably radicalized. I tried to talk with them and after trying to speak to them for almost 12 hours, one person actually engaged me while everyone else just screamed Nazi at me. They, by and large, are incapable of reason. When reason fails, what other options do we have? I would prefer secession, but I think we all know that the parasites won’t let us leave peacefully. It’s going to end in war one way or another. I fear we may even need to conduct mass exterminations of the left. They’ve become almost a difference species to us. How do you deal with that kind of gap? They’re literally a Satanic horde of barbarians driven to psychotic behavior.”
In other words, “They unreasonably call us Nazis, therefore we must behave like Nazis.”
If you know where to look, or if you write an article that rustles the right jimmies, you can find, or be found by, comments approaching this level of savagery all around the internet: the self-righteous warmongering, the rhetoric of dehumanization, the recourse to extermination.
As Christian individualist Will Grigg wisely warned shortly before his recent passing, this kind of thinking is fomented by political street violence: even the low-level, posturing, somewhat silly clashes we’ve seen thus far:
“…through political cosplay people can become habituated into thinking in eliminationist terms: The “other side” is not merely gravely mistaken, but irreducibly evil, and since reason is unavailing the only option that remains is slaughter.”
For still other radicalized nationalists, not just leftists, but other “less-than-American” demographic groups (especially Muslims) are also to be expelled or exterminated en masse.
Rules for Radicals
Many militant nationalists welcome and encourage these left/right face-offs in the streets, because they want matters to be brought to a head. They hope the successive brawls will continue to escalate, culminating in the outbreak of a full-on civil war that will decide the issue once and for all.
But they face the fundamental problem that besets all extremists in times of relative civil peace: they are a numerically tiny fringe. They can only hope to launch and win such a climactic war if they can induce large numbers of moderates to join the fight. The standard way militant extremist fringes have dealt with this problem has been to precipitate and/or instigate political violence in a bid to swell their ranks by radicalizing moderates.
When sympathizers see pictures of men and women draped in American flag apparel and MAGA hats with pepper spray in their eyes and blood in their noses after having been brutalized by leftist hoodlums, it incites them to lend their own muscle to the next flashpoint. Each battle, if sufficiently sensationalized, serves as a recruitment drive for the next. This explains the otherwise bizarre phenomenon of a right-wing agitator at Berkeley gleefully grinning on camera after having been beaten up, obviously ecstatic over having his bloodied face broadcast far and wide.
Each Battle of Berkeley recruited for the next. Now rightwing firebrand Ann Coulter is threatening to defy her dis-invitation from UC Berkeley and show up to give a speech there next week. Not only veterans, but viewers of the previous Battles of Berkeley, both left and right, might be eager to join Round Four.
Not only does sensational conflict provide militant extremists with more allies, but it wins them more followers. As conditions become more warlike, the leadership of political movements tends to fall into the hands of the most antipathy-driven and aggressively violent factions.
For example, after the Arab Spring protest movement in Syria was militarized by US shipments of weapons, supplies, and money, leadership of the resistance was quickly seized by Al Nusra (Syrian Al Qaeda) and ISIS.
This “vanguard effect,” as we might call it, is almost certainly why Antifa is so eager to incite and instigate clashes as well. The militant right and the militant left feed off of each other in a symbiosis of savagery.
Thus a writer for a major white-nationalist web site, in an article about the recent events in Auburn, seemed to be just as disappointed as the strife-mongering Washington Post over the anticlimactic way it panned out, again thanks to the leadership of AU’s Young Americans for Liberty. He expressed frustration that not enough libertarians were entering the fray, either in word or in deed. After enumerating a litany of national grievances against the left, he whined that:
“Each of these should be enough to make a real friend of liberty grab a stick and join the fight against the antifa.”
Yeah, Well They Started It
For many of the right-populist demonstrators in Berkeley, letting the left throw the first punch has been a matter of principle. But many of their militant allies and supporters have no moral compunctions against initiating violence against Marxists like the Antifa, as their online discourse indicates.
Just as the militant left shares memes about sucker-punching Nazis WWII-style, simply for believing in Nazism, the militant right has its own memes about throwing Communists from helicopters Pinochet-style, simply for believing in Communism. For pretend-militants, this is only 4chan-style dark humor. But for the many actual militants, it is a laughing expression of a deadly-serious belief.
Both sides speciously rationalize such violence as preemptive or defensive on the grounds that their political enemies have already initiated violence by supporting rights-violating policies. Such a breezy renunciation of the principles of free speech/thought and proportional defense/justice is nothing but civil war propaganda masquerading as moral philosophy.
So, for the “Helicopter Right,” letting the left lash out first is clearly not a matter a principle. For them, it is a cynical strategy of war. Unlike their less-disciplined leftist counterparts, the militant right realizes that such restraint gives them a plausible claim to the moral high ground, which in turn aids recruitment by contributing to the perception that their cause is just. If the militant right ever takes the lead of a force with real heft, the moral high ground would rapidly become more strategically costly than beneficial. Once that happens, don’t expect them to observe such non-aggression-principle “niceties” indefinitely.
Accelerate the Crisis
Throughout history, sowing conflict and precipitating crisis are how fringe militant political movements have gained prominence and power out of proportion to their numerical size. In calmer times, their extremist ideas are considered noxious. But if they incite or instigate strife, they can make moderates more open to extremism by triggering intense intra-group collectivism and inter-group hostility.
Thus interwar Austrian Marxists staged false-flag attacks in order to “sharpen the contradictions” between capital and labor and to accelerate the great class war in which they would be the vanguard of the unified proletariat in the final struggle against the bourgeoisie.
Similarly, the express purpose of ISIS’s terrorist attacks is to “dwindle the gray zone” between the West and the Muslim world and accelerate the great holy war in which they would be the vanguard of the unified “Camp of Islam” in the final struggle against the “Crusader Camp.”
The populist, nationalist, militant right basically agrees with both the commies and the jihadis. Like their champion in the White House Steve Bannon, they too believe that a climactic battle is coming, and that Marxists and Muslims will be among their mortal enemies in that inevitable Ragnarök. They only differ over whose will be the last tribe standing.
Now Bannon seems to be on the outs, and so the direct influence of his worldview on Trump has seemingly dwindled. Instead of populist-nationalist mayhem with a complementary dose of establishment-globalism, Trump is now continuing the long presidential tradition of afflicting the world with establishment-globalist mayhem with a complementary dose of populist-nationalism.
For Bannon’s fellow “winter is coming” nationalists, their felt loss of influence in Washington will make street action all the more crucial in hastening the final reckoning with the left and the left’s constituents. So we can expect the militant right to be even more focused on sowing civil strife.
The Case for De-Escalation
The ideas of the militant left are vile, and just as dangerous as those of the militant right. I don’t counsel against physically fighting the left out of any kind of sympathy with their causes. Quite the opposite really. I surely have more beliefs in common with “Based Stickman,” the Alt-Right Leonidas who loves Ron Paul and preaches self-defense and restraint on the battlefield, than I do with “Moldylocks,” the Antifa Joan of Arc and self-styled scalp-hunter. The same would probably be true about any left/right pair of Berkeley belligerents picked at random.
I only dwell on the dynamics of the nationalist right, because, tragically, more liberty-minded people have been drawn to that militant-collectivist camp than to the militant-collectivist camp of the socialist left. If there is any hope of reversing this dangerous escalation of political street violence — of nipping it in the bud while it is still in its incipient stages — it will involve right-leaning professed liberty-lovers stepping away from the brink of civil turmoil, which always lifts up anti-liberty militant factions, including that ultimate anti-liberty faction, the state.
The Deep State, and perhaps the Donald himself, would just love to use mass civil unrest as an excuse to grant itself emergency powers. And sufficient civil strife will frighten the broader American public enough that they would be eager to accept that excuse. Escalating political violence could elevate tensions to the point that it would only take a single sensational terror attack to bring us to the martial-law tipping point. People tire of Nazi comparisons, but the Weimar collapse is an indispensably vivid illustration of a highly predictable pattern: nationalist-communist political violence, Reichstag Fire, Reichstag Fire Decree, the death of German liberty. Look it up.
To actual liberty-loving veterans of the Battle of Berkeley, some of your militant-nationalist allies might actually welcome such a development, especially with Trump in office, but would you? Do you really think such a state will only crush the freedoms of your political enemies, and not eventually come for your own?
As American freedom is snatched away completely by enemies wielding a public mandate and military-grade weapons, as opposed to a widely-reviled gaggle of ragamuffins wielding trash cans and flagpoles, will you take comfort that, at the beginning of it all, at least you stood up to those damn dirty lefties, and that they were the ones who started it anyway?
There are countless ways to promote liberty, but civil strife is not one of them. And it’s never too early to de-escalate. The Non-Battle of Auburn, and not any of the Battles of Berkeley, demonstrated how to truly champion liberty.