Thoughts On Charlottesville and False Equivalence
August 17, 2017

Many people are criticizing President Trump’s response to the events that took place in Charlottesville last Saturday because he criticized the violence on all sides, with “false equivalence” being the favorite buzzword of the moment.

From the New York Times:

But there is one stark difference between the violence on the two sides: The police said that James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio drove his car into a crowd and killed at least one person, Heather Heyer. Mr. Fields was charged with second-degree murder.

Comparing Antifa to Mr. Fields’s act is like “comparing a propeller plane to a C-130 transport,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

“Using the fact that some counterprotesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president,” Professor Levin said.

Antifa and black bloc — the far left of today — engaging in street brawls and property damage, while reprehensible, is “not domestic terrorism,” said J. J. MacNab, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Similar episodes of extreme violence certainly exist on the left: the recent congressional baseball shooting in Virginia, or the bombing of the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters.

And the Washington Post has an article titled, Sorry conservatives. There’s no equivalence between the extreme right and the extreme left.

And while it’s true that violence from the right and violence from the left aren’t necessarily equal, though the difference between attempted murder and assault by some on the left and assault and murder by some on the right isn’t as stark as some would have us believe, it’s childish to blame one side over the other simply because we find their ideology; Nazism, racism, white supremacy, etc; noxious. Notice how the New York Times throws out the meaningless canard of “domestic terrorism” when discussing James Fields allegedly driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, but simply calls the “street brawls and property damage” of the radical left “reprehensible.” No, both are examples of criminal acts perpetrated by morally deranged individuals.

If we define terrorism as engaging in violence against innocent civilians for political ends then there is no difference between Fields driving his car into a crowd and Antifa beating people with or without weapons. Both are intended to intimidate people of opposing ideologies through the use of violence, but Linda Qiu writing in the New York Times is using the term “domestic terrorism” in the meaningless sense of, “Political violence which I personally disagree with.”

The ACLU correctly defended the right of the Alt-Right, Nazis, racists, and fascists to gather in Emancipation Park and have a peaceful rally after the city tried to shut them down.

And here’s Glenn Greenwald defending the ACLU’s position and explaining why it’s important to defend the right of everyone to peacefully assemble and march, whatever their views may be.

The ACLU is primarily a legal organization. That means they defend people’s rights in court, under principles of law. One of the governing tools of courts is precedent: the application of prior rulings to current cases. If the ACLU allows the state to suppress the free speech rights of white nationalists or neo-Nazi groups – by refusing to defend such groups when the state tries to censor them or by allowing them to have inadequate representation – then the ACLU’s ability to defend the free speech rights of groups and people that you like will be severely compromised.

It’s easy to be dismissive of this serious aspect of the debate if you’re some white American or non-Muslim American whose free speech is very unlikely to be depicted as “material support for terrorism” or otherwise criminalized. But if you’re someone who cares about the free speech attacks on radical leftists, Muslims, and other marginalized groups, and tries to defend those rights in court, then you’re going to be genuinely afraid of allowing anti-free speech precedents to become entrenched that will then be used against you when it’s time to defend free speech rights. The ACLU is not defending white supremacist groups but instead is defending a principle — one that it must defend if it is going to be successful in defending free speech rights for people you support.

The point being that even people whose views are disgusting, Nazis for example, have the right to peacefully gather without others using violence against them. In other words, a person being a Nazi is not grounds for using violence against them in and of itself. And while it’s absolutely true that plenty of Nazis showed up to Charlottesville with the intent to engage in violence and plenty of the counter-protesters were justifiably defending themselves if they engaged in any kind of violence at all, the reverse is also true. Mitt Romney’s virtue signaling aside, it’s irrelevant that one side was bigoted and the other side was not, because members of both sides engaged in aggressive violence against members of the other. Violence in the name of equality and inclusiveness is still violence and still immoral and should be condemned as such.

It should be made clear that while all Nazis, racists, white supremacists, or what have you should be condemned for their idiotic ideology even if they did not engage in violence, not all of the counter-protesters engaged in violence and should be free of any criticism for trying to peacefully protest terrible people. Those counter-protesters who did engage in violence, however, should be condemned as strongly as any of the Nazis.

For the same reason we don’t say one serial killer is better than another because their methods might have been less inhumane, we shouldn’t really spend much time assigning higher morality to people who assault other people with their fists or with bats than people who run other people over with their car. Both are assaulting other people and both can lead to death so this “false equivalence” talking point is merely an attempt to take partisan potshots at a president that some people won’t like no matter what he does or says.

In a better world we’d have a presidency that was so limited in its powers that it wouldn’t make a difference if the person inhabiting the office actually was a Nazi, and we wouldn’t be so insecure as to need the president to say exactly what we want them to say to validate our feelings. I personally think Trump was absolutely right in his initial statement when he said:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.

I agree with Trump here, but, president or not, he speaks only for himself. Perhaps part of our problem is that we’ve outsourced our personal morality to the worst sort of people: Politicians.