Last night, Fox News analysts Charles Krauthammer and Laura Ingraham got into a heated discussion of Donald Trump’s “official” reaction to last week’s violent clash in Charlottesville. Actually, the president delivered three official comments.
The first came on Saturday. It was delivered in the context of a press conference on changes to the Veterans Administration and was much longer than the clip most news outlets ran. You can read it in its entirety here, but the germ of it follows:
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. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.
The repeated phrase on many sides is what stuck in the craws of liberals and many on the Right who felt the president should have singled out the white supremacists present for special condemnation.
Trump did just that on Monday when he read this statement:
Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.
Liberals were still miffed that it took him two days to identify the “true culprit,” but better late than never.
Except that on Tuesday he delivered a third statement that many in the media viewed as a return to his “on many sides” argument. Addressing reporters in an impromptu press conference at Trump Tower, the president said:
What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands?
That was all the ammunition the angry Left and right-leaning “traditionalists” in the media needed. When Laura Ingraham opined last night that Trump had allowed the media to “trap” him into talking about the unrest instead of infrastructure, as had been his plan, Charles Krauthammer shot back:
To critique what he did today on the grounds that it distracts from the agenda … is a cop out. What Trump did today was a moral disgrace. He reverted back to Saturday.
A video of the ensuing dustup follows. In it, Krauthammer says repeatedly that Trump failed to do what his predecessors in the Oval Office have done historically whenever neo-Nazis in America have reared their ugly heads. And that’s to condemn them unequivocally and without reservation or qualification.
The only problem with this prescription is that circumstances have changed since Trump assumed power. Some might argue it’s because of him, but the fact is a new “cancer” has emerged that morally centered Americans have every reason to fear as much as they do the return of Nazism. An article titled “The Rise of the Violent Left” provides a glimpse of this group. The unlikely author is diehard liberal Peter Beinart, who writes:
Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. …
In the late ’80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action, on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than fascism. According to Mark Bray, the author of the forthcoming Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, these activists toured with popular alternative bands in the ’90s, trying to ensure that neo-Nazis did not recruit their fans. In 2002, they disrupted a speech by the head of the World Church of the Creator, a white-supremacist group in Pennsylvania; 25 people were arrested in the resulting brawl.
By the 2000s, as the internet facilitated more transatlantic dialogue, some American activists had adopted the name antifa. But even on the militant left, the movement didn’t occupy the spotlight. To most left-wing activists during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama years, deregulated global capitalism seemed like a greater threat than fascism.
Trump has changed that. For antifa, the result has been explosive growth. According to NYC Antifa, the group’s Twitter following nearly quadrupled in the first three weeks of January alone. (By summer, it exceeded 15,000.) Trump’s rise has also bred a new sympathy for antifa among some on the mainstream left. “Suddenly,” noted the antifa-aligned journal It’s Going Down, “anarchists and antifa, who have been demonized and sidelined by the wider Left have been hearing from liberals and Leftists, ‘you’ve been right all along.’”
We’re not talking here about irate PTA moms, who organize demonstrations (after securing permits) in a local park. We’re talking about a vigilante group that, at its most benign, is given to using slingshots to launch urine- and feces-filled balloons at riot police or hurling Molotov cocktails and rocks. That’s what they did at Berkeley in April to squelch a planned speech by “the enemy” — in this instance conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. After losing that battle, members of antifa expressed interest in combat training and acquiring firearms.
When Charles Krauthammer reads a colleague the riot act, citing past presidential protocol on events like Charlottesville, he sounds naive. Antifa may not be bigoted toward the groups singled out by the skinheads. That doesn’t mean antifa isn’t dangerous and deserving of being called out for its role in the violence last Saturday.