Observations on Charlottesville

I’m on the road again for a few days, and also have my head down trying to get a big project to the finish line, so I haven’t been keeping a close watch on the news about much of anything (except Bryce Harper’s potentially season-ending injury). So I’m not clear about the sequence of events that went down over the weekend in Charlottesville.

My reaction upon seeing the first picture of the polo-shirted youths marching with the Tiki torches Friday night was, “Where are their sheets and hoods? Did their moms not get them washed and folded in time?” They looked more pathetic than menacing. Tiki torches? What—did they get them at a discount at Pier One? Are they so inept that they don’t know how to make more convincing torches? Where was the ritual cross burning, or has this been dropped from the Klan Scout book? This looked like some kind of Animal House prank gone wrong.

The scene Saturday was plainly different and much worse. The alt-rightists who showed up on Saturday had their fascist flags and were plainly spoiling for some trouble. Then the so-called “Antifa” folks showed up, and things spiraled out of control. It seems the Charlottesville police lost control of the situation, or were unprepared for the potential violence. This is the same excuse the Berkeley PD gave after the Milo riot on February 1. I gather that the police formula for these kinds of disturbances calls for superior numbers, and in Berkeley they thought they were outnumbered by the protestors and would make the riot worse if they tried to intervene. Hence the stand down order on Feb. 1 in Berkeley, and perhaps Charlottesville over the weekend.

But we should pause to make the obvious point that I haven’t seen made anywhere yet. What do Antifa and the alt-right mob have in common? They both hate America. The alt-right mob marched mostly behind some kind of knockoff Nazi or fascist flag, and not the American flag. White, yes, but “nationalists”? They are not trying to “Make America great again” even in the Trumpian sense. They want it to be a different country. Antifa, of course, has no use for the American flag except to burn it. They also want this to be a different country. If they do carry a flag, its likely to be a familiar foreign one. Both groups should be labeled as Un-American. They deserve each other. And perhaps one nice punishment would be for people from both groups to be put in the same holding cells in the local jails.

What obvious thing do these two groups share in common?

The second point to note is the barely concealed glee of many liberals, who wish to use this episode to tar every Trump voter in the country. It bears noting that the Ku Klux Klan is estimated to have once had a membership as high as 4 million people back in the 1920s (virtually all of them Democrats, which is why the Klan nearly took control the Democratic National Convention in 1924), back when the country was only two-fifths of its current population. How large are the ranks of Klan-like groups today? I don’t suppose anyone really knows for sure, but I doubt it is even one-tenth of the level it was in the 1920s—and is probably much less.

Meanwhile, is the Antifa movement growing, or was it also something latent that the Trump era has activated? Peter Beinart, in a new article just out in The Atlantic saying that the Antifa movement is fueling the radical right, thinks it is growing fast. Written before the Charlottesville incident, Beinart notes the successes the Antifa left has had in shutting down conservative speakers on campuses and elsewhere (he points also to the Portland parade that had to be canceled lest the participation of the local Republican Party cause an Antifa-led violent outburst), and warns:

Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

UPDATE: It’s come to this: