A Double Standard on Violence
William Tanner ('21)-
Antifa is an ever-growing threat to free speech and student safety on college campuses, yet W&L students have not heard a word about the threat that this repugnant group represents. If free speech is to be fostered at this great University, then a group that has routinely committed political violence needs to be called out for its actions by the administration, especially because the administration has called out right wing groups on multiple occasions.
W&L students received at least two emails about Charlottesville and its fallout over the summer, which did a great job of calling out the evil perpetrated by fascists and radical right-wingers in Charlottesville. However, there was not a single sentence, much less an email, denouncing the equally violent actions that Antifa carried out on campuses for over a year at that point. One incident was given priority over a year-long, campaign of systematic attacks on conservatives across the nation’s campuses. The far right was responsible for one attack and their actions were heinous and inexcusable. But it is important to remember what Antifa has done: it has set fire to Berkley and its on campus businesses, attacked conservative students in the streets, hurled bricks and firebombs at police, and verbally or electronically harassed students that had any dissenting opinion, no matter how reasonable. In short, these are the actions of a fascist organization that could easily be confused with a group like Mussolini’s Blackshirts. Conservative students at free speech events recall being attacked by uniformed Antifa members who sprayed them with poison spray, beat them with bats and sticks, and then retreated into a rapid crowd that even the police could not contain. Those actions are the actions of thugs, not “peaceful protestors”. At this moment it is important to remember the wise words of Ronald Reagan: “If fascism ever comes to America, it will come in the form of liberalism.” The widespread elimination of free speech caused by Antifa, such as when Antifa thugs shut down the Free Speech Week at UC Berkeley, proved that maxim. For that reason, if the administration is going to rebuke the rabid right, it also needs decry the actions and ideology of the violent left. What makes W&L special is the amazing sense of community present on campus. That sense of community cannot remain if the actions of a group that professes allegiance to an ideology responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people (authoritarian communism) is given a free pass. I am not saying I think President Dudley is a supporter of Antifa, he seems like an honorable man that would be appalled by political violence in the name of any ideology. However, his emails have two intentional, crucial, and inexcusable omissions- they neither mention the well-documented threat Antifa poses to free speech, nor make a statement that Antifa will not be tolerated on campus. Imagine for a moment that it was a radical right-wing group that had been burning down stores and buildings in California. Or a white nationalist group that was responsible for shutting down free speech events. Or a rightist militia had called for a violent overthrow of the federal government on November 4th that many believed was a clear and present danger to public safety (which Antifa called for on that date). Or what if it was white supremacist militia member that attempted to assassinate members of Congress (the attempted murder of Majority Whip Steve Scalise by Black Lives Matter and Antifa member James Hodgkinson)? The emails describing how W&L will not tolerate the hate espoused by those groups would have come swiftly and made clear the administration’s position that those groups would not be tolerated in our community. And rightly so; those actions are all deplorable and cannot coexist with the values of a civilized society such as ours. Yet those actions were not called out over the summer, presumably because they were crimes committed by Antifa, a leftist group. Given that Antifa’s vile and hateful actions have been classified as “domestic terrorist violence” by the government, it seems reasonable to expect that they should have been called out for their actions just like the other terrorist groups present at Charlottesville were, especially because their modus operandi is to target conservative students on college campus. W&L seems like a particularly enticing target for such a group, so the administration should have made it clear that Antifa is not welcome here.
As I stated earlier, W&L is special because of the tremendous sense of community present on campus. That community can only be fostered if all forms of political violence are definitively declared unacceptable on this campus. Just because some groups seem less bad than Nazis, the ultimate bad guys of the 20th Century, doesn’t mean that their actions are any less reprehensible or dangerous to the ideals of free speech and representative democracy set forth in the Constitution- beating up people because they have an opposing viewpoint and throwing rocks and fireworks at police officers is always wrong. Even more importantly, free speech is at risk of being lost on college campuses if administrations across the nation do not unequivocally state that Antifa has no place in a civilized society because of its history of shutting down any attempt of presenting opposing viewpoints. Hearing those viewpoints is what allows civil debate to progress. Shutting down one side only emboldens the other- modern society is laudable in that it has banished the KKK and Nazis from the bounds of society, but it needs to also recognize the threat that Antifa poses to the values civilized society holds sacred. We are blessed that neither group has a presence on campus, but if that is to remain true then the terrorist groups on both sides must be denounced in the strongest possible terms. So far, that denunciation has unfortunately not been directed towards Antifa.