The Left must disavow Anarchists. Not because of a false equivalency with white supremacists, but because their tactics are completely counterproductive.
What’s the purpose of a rally? Showing politicians a broad base of support for policies? Persuading voters watching from home to join them in pressuring their elected officials? Showing the opposition they won’t be tolerated and can’t win?
While I was so proud to be part of the overwhelming unity in the Rally Against White Supremacy counter-protest on Boston Common Saturday, I fear we failed on the public relations front because Antifa anarchists hijacked the narrative of the rally.
The first rule of politics is: don’t give your opposition ammunition.
Instead of hearing Black Lives Matter speakers, I saw masked vigilantes going directly against the organizers’ wishes to “not engage”. Instead of peace against hate, the story is leftist violence against police. Instead of being the voice of sanity, we gave the opposition their talking points. And rather than squash the alt-right, I fear we handed them a recruiting tool.
Credibility is critical in activism. In a 24 hour news world where everyone has a cell phone camera, activists must be even more PR-conscious than ever.
The vast majority of participants were peaceful.
However, all people at home hear is that the protesters were violent. They don’t differentiate between the different leftist groups.
Organizers of this particular march and rally are not to blame; Antifa has gradually become more and more present at other left rallies in the past year. This time, however, their presence was larger and unmistakable. (And frankly, disrespectful to the organizers.)
But moving forward, leftist organizations should denounce Antifa and ban anyone with a face mask or bandana from their rallies. Along with de-escalation training, they should offer training on how to remove anarchists from their events. If we want to win back this country, we must keep our eye on the big picture goals: persuading swing voters and stopping alt right growth.
If Antifa only became physical when defending non-violent protestors – as was the case in Charlottesville – they would be welcome. However, their philosophy – that 1930’s fascism could have been avoided had people fought them in the streets – misses a key bit of logic. Aside from their overly broad definition of fascism, which also includes police, they overlook how their antagonism and reprehensible behavior – such as throwing urine and rocks at police Saturday – only provides supremacists and the alt-right with a recruitment tool.
Additionally, since many members of Antifa are indeed Anarchists who believe preemptive violence is an acceptable tactic, they can never be counted on to be peaceful at a non-violent peace rally.
If groups on the left have any of the following goals – increasing support for left causes; decreasing alt-right growth; showing public officials a broad base of (sane) support for their issues – then inclusion of Antifa in their groups and events can only serve to undermine them.