Following Other's Footsteps: How Violent Riots Against the Far-Right and Trump Repeats History
On Febuary 1st, there was a riot on Berkley campus protesting the speaking of right wing blogger, Milo Yiannnopoulos. Berkley has history of not only political protests, but of left-leaning sentiments as well. However, they also encouraged debate to encourage free speech as the birth place of the Free Speech Movement going back to the 1960’s. The riot shamed that tradition, with Yiannnopolous going so far as to claim it a victory for proving his belief that liberals were in fact hypocrites and intolerant.
For the Revolution
But the condemnation from Berkley was not made in solidarity. According to the Rolling Stone Article, Berkley Riots: How Free Speech Debate Launched Violent Campus Shutdown, rioters have said that the riots stopping Yiannnopoulos from speaking was their victory because he was denied access. They also believed that freedom of speech was not the issue and it can almost be implied that it has its limits. What the Far-Right blogger was going to be speaking on was dangerous and morally wrong and that trumps the First Amendment or any other consideration.
Assistant –Vice Chancellor Mogulof also said that even some of his faculty had told him to stop the event. When he defended the decision with the Yiannnopoulos’ constitutional right, the faculty member refuted it, “Because he’s wrong”. And this has been conviction that many in opposition to Trump’s presidency and his supporters have been increasingly falling under since his election.
But the question arises, why is this bad? This is a guy preaching racism and far-right political ideas that many, including the rioters, considered fascist. Shouldn’t this be seen as resisting evil? Or how about the now-viral “punch a Nazi” that is currently trending: these actions should be praised as attempts to not repeat mistakes of the past and standing up for what is right! Racism and Fascism don’t deserve to have room to speak or any place in the 21st century, diverse society!
Sounds good: Now here’s the problem with that.
Does freedom of speech have it's limits as to who it applies to?
Leaving the Berkley riots aside, while those who feel strongly resisting Donald Trump are right for doing so, the method they are going about it is wrong. First and put bluntly, they are behaving exactly like the Fascists they hate.
During the Nazis’ rise to power in the 1920’s and 30’s, they also were in conflict with opposing alternative ideas and groups: mainly the Communists. Both sides followed their conviction beyond the point of reason and used brute force and intimidation to shut down the others’ voice. The Nazis’ tool these actions were the Sturmabteilung, also called ‘Brown shirts’, so named because of their distinctive clothes they wore as their gangs rove the streets. They were the predecessors to the dreaded Gestapo and the even more feared, SS.
It was their job to get into fights with their rival counter-parts, beat up and intimidate Jews, and promote Nazism on the street level while Hitler and the higher ups ran things up top. They were largely made up of young boys and men, even outnumbering the official German army by 1933.
This private army believed so strongly in fascism and Nazism that it justified any actions to achieve its success. This included vandalizing Jewish businesses, beating up other political rivals (even fellow pro German groups), and taking part in numerous parades and pageantries extolling the virtues of the Aryan race. The righteousness of their cause was not to be questioned, with no room for debate or dialogue. It is a self-righteous trap that is easy to fall into for those similarly believing they are fighting the just crusade, and that includes liberals.
Back to the 2017 rioters at Berkley, they display the same blind conviction, use of intimidation, and vandalism, even though ethically on the opposite side of what the Brownshirts and Nazism represented. Their actions and some of their comments seem to imply that the rule of law is determined by right and wrong rather than objectivity. If the law, even the sacred Constitution, violates those higher moral principles, then it is to be ignored: history repeating itself be damned because they’re on the side of right and it’s not even relevant to the here and now.
To Be Counted
Berkley damn near wrote the book on protests during the Vietnam War. While intense, the students never initiated the violence with authorities. Nor did they hide their identities to those same authorities. Instead they, and other protestors across the country during that time, accepted the responsibility of their actions. They knew they were breaking the law but believed strongly in their moral conviction and through peaceful means, show its hypocrisy…at least in the beginning.
When protests became more violent by 1968, when there was open conflict with the cops in the streets, like what happened in Chicago of that year, it destroyed their credibility. Would-be and current allies turned against them. No longer were Hippies/anti-war protesters seen as the strange but peaceful youngsters who didn’t want to go to war. Now they were all branded as ‘hooligans’ who believed it was their way or no way, and didn’t use a shred of reasoning, but rather their charged-emotions. This was despite the fact that this was only a minority.
This is what the current riots and any similar, future event threaten to do to any resistance against Trump’s policies and right-wing antics. They are already looking for reasons to ignore the legitimate criticisms. Gift wrapping one, tied with a bow is beyond counter-productive. Hiding behind the screen of 'relevance' to be blissfully ignorant of history only shows those who support the cause as willfully ignorant as the people they are against. And no amount of 'being right' will change that fact and the effect it has on those whose minds they are trying to change.
I have had discussions with Trump supporters and they often look to these actions to justify their position, even in light of the mistakes Trump is making and the holes in their logic. They don’t have to deal with them now because the left is hypocritical with its talk of tolerance and diversity, only wanting their own way, with no other opinions.
Hear No Evil, Speak no Evil
Even as I write this now, part of me realizes that there going to be some who will never listen because they don’t want to. The emotional fury on either side gives validity to the righteousness of their cause and the true ‘heathen’ nature of their adversaries. The language is intentional because this goes beyond politics, freedom of speech and history.
It is about human nature and the truth that human nature doesn’t really want the truth or even what is truly right. It wants what is right that buttresses their lifestyles and choices with almost a religious fury. This was true of the Dark Age rulers, Crusaders and their Muslim enemies, Imperialism, Americans and their Manifest Destiny, and the Nazi brownshirts. Everyone wants to be on the side of right…or rather, wants right to be on their side.
Becoming What You Hate
There is no argument that the feelings people feel towards the current administration are legitimate and allowed. The challenge is going to be in how to shape those convictions into an effective weapon that doesn’t cause collateral damage and strengthen their enemy. Righteousness and the need to feel unquestionably right often blinds the righteous to what they are doing to themselves, their cause, and people they can’t see. No one is the villain in their own mind.
Some like Martin Luther King and even Malcom X, who believed in self-defense, realized that behaving like the people you’re fighting against only continues the cycle and turns you into them. I hope this is not what becomes of the movement over the next four years.