If nothing else, the last week has taught the West how not to respond to white nationalism.
The “Unite the Right” conference in Charlottesville touched off rounds of violence that culminated with a white supremacist, 20-year-old James Fields Jr., allegedly driving a car into a crowd and killing Heather Heyer, 32. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has referred to the matter as an act of domestic terrorism.
The tragedy should make Americans redouble their efforts against racial discrimination and political terror of every variety. This means recognizing the most effective forms of opposition. On this score, America has a lot of work to do.
In our mourning, we should realize that the tactics of the more radical antifa activists, which eyewitnesses said included acts of unprovoked violence, are the wrong way to stamp out hatred. Yet it is precisely these tactics that have been promoted to an ever-growing audience. The New York Times recently asked, apparently in earnest, “Is it O.K. to punch a Nazi?”
Of course, using violence to attain political aims is the denotative definition of terrorism irrespective of the political views it is intended to promote or suppress.
Daniel Hannan, a conservative leader and Member of European Parliament, addressed the weakening inhibition against political violence across the transatlantic sphere in a recent video.
“The difference between ‘punch a Nazi’ and shoot a Republican congressman is one of degree, not of category,” he said.
Justifying unprovoked violence to stifle a disfavored viewpoint discards moral arguments and devolves to a debate over timing and tactics. Do the ends justify any means? Is this the best way to advance our agenda?
A Better Way
Thankfully, there is a more successful model on which to draw. If one is respond to Richard Spencer, do it the way Jeffrey Tucker did it.
Tucker, the director of content at the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education, became incensed when he saw Spencer attending the International Students for Life conference in Washington this February.
But Tucker, clearly enraged, used his intellect to expose Spencer as a charlatan, leading a group of fellow libertarians over to Spencer’s table and denounced his racialist ideology.
“Fascists are not welcome at an anti-fascist function,” Tucker said. He couched his objection to the Alt-Right explicitly in terms of human dignity and its corollary, liberty for all.
Spencer, 39, implied the discussion could lead to a physical showdown with Tucker, 53. But Tucker stood his ground. “Liberty opposes everything that you stand for,” he said.
He upheld the principle of universality, the potent notion that one should never wish to grant political authorities any power that they would not wish to see used against oneself. “If you’re willing to use the state to target minorities, there is no reason those minorities shouldn’t target you,” Tucker said.
Spencer had little in the way of substantive response. The video showed precisely how to defeat him and his ideology.
This tactic has been effective in the past. When David Duke’s former employee Jamie Kelso attempted to make converts at the CPAC conference in 2011, people perhaps one-third his age engaged him intellectually and shut him down.
These young men and women were, understandably, less articulate than Tucker. And one of the students said that Americans harbor a continuing “collective guilt over slavery.” But for the most part, these young men and women acquitted themselves well.
When Kelso asked if (presumably legal) Nigerian immigrants in Dublin should get a job instead of unemployed Irishmen, they replied with qualified affirmatives: “If they’re better qualified,” and “if they’re better workers,” then certainly. Why would anyone wish to make a firm less efficient and productive, reducing the GDP, if the immigrants have legally applied and been accepted as part of society?
“It’s not by someone’s color or ethnicity that they make a contribution to society,” a young person standing off-screen said. “It’s by their hard work and commitment.” The response left Kelso stammering. Soon, he fled the scene without convincing a single soul of his racialist views.
Racialists are defending the indefensible. Instead of encouraging the cycle of violence – like some racialists and, yes, like some antifa activists – those who wish to oppose identity politics must oppose it in the two areas they are least capable of responding: the intellect and the heart.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.”
Countering hatred requires us to go beyond blind, unreasoning hatred in kind – much less, hatred-in-anticipation. We must understand the intellectual arguments that motivate the various strands of white nationalists, then counter and defeat them.
Refuting white nationalists intellectually denies them the undeserved mantle of martyrdom. It strips them of their treasured status as a suppressed, samizdat viewpoint. It deprives them of the attraction of being forbidden fruit and relegates them to the bin of misguided or malicious ideologues, where they belong.