We face the rising force of white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, opponents of immigration, supporters of tougher criminal penalties/incarceration, those who would endanger our healthcare, anti-Islamists, those who seek to reduce our civil rights, and others roiling our country. Thousands of protesters are marching to Boston Common this morning ahead of a ‘free speech’ rally there. Our new president has been fueling this division with guidance from Steve Bannon. Trump is not uniting us as he promised but dividing us. It impacts us in New Jersey, but spreads throughout the country and is viewed with alarm by those abroad.
This division can be loosely categorized as the alt-right vs. the “alt-left.” President Trump during his Tuesday press conference said about Charlottesville, “I do think there’s blame on both sides. What about the alt-left that came charging at the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?” The Republican leader of the House Paul Ryan immediately answered that question, stating, This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
The alt-right is a thing. Essentially it’s a political construct promoted initially by presidential advisor Steve Bannon and Breitbart News designed to gather under one umbrella a variety of hate groups and turn them into a new force – a farther right alternative which spearheaded Trump’s election and continues to support him. We have seen something similar before in the Tea Party.
The “alt-left” is NOT a thing. It is a term created by the alt-right as a foil, an all-purpose cudgel against which they can rail. People on the left who protest do not call themselves alt-left, and there is no such named organization. What we do have on the left are individual groups with a conscience, like Black Lives Matter and Justice for Immigrants, and even the more aggressive group Antifa.
Steve Bannon as he was exiting his White House gig and returning to Breitbart News said, “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.” Later he said, “If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents – on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.” Trump shares many of Bannon’s beliefs and will continue to promote them. However, others in the White House, congress, the media, the corporate world, and Americans writ large do not, and therein lies the battle.
Bannon now plans to use Breitbart News as his tool to strengthen alt-right support and further his agenda. He says, “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. He believes “radical Islam” is the enemy and Judeo-Christian values are the solution. He says the U.S. has too many immigrants and he supports the Wall. He referred to liberals as “Koolaid drinkers” and called members of the Black Lives Matter movement and New Black Panthers “the crazies.” His economic capitalism inveigles against trade policies (“We are at war with China.”) His summary view might be “America First.”
On the other far side of the left equation is the more muscular Antifa (anti-fascists) also at today’s Boston event. “They are autonomous anti-racist groups that monitor and track the activities of local neo-Nazis. They support migrants and refugees and they pressure venues to cancel white power events.” They reject turning to the police or the state to halt the advance of white supremacy. Instead they are willing to take action as we witnessed in Charlottesville. As Cornel West explained after surviving neo-Nazi attacks there, “If it hadn’t been for the antifascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.”
The earliest reported activity of Antifa in NJ was in 2011 when two Antifa activists were arrested after they confronted an annual neo-Nazi conference in Trenton. At that time one of their leaders said, “If the Nazis call us bitch ass faggots, they might not be that far off the mark. But if they conflate those slurs with weakness, the six hospital visits they faced would prove otherwise.” The group has chapters throughout the country but is not particularly active now in NJ.
What we have witnessed in NJ are powerful advocacy and demonstration efforts directed at incumbent Republican representatives who blindly support Trump’s agenda, and the recent rallies honoring those brave individuals who marched against the alt-right groups in Charlottesville. There have also been many excellent advocacy and rally efforts including those in support of immigrants, working families, the environment, healthcare and more. As long as Trump is in office and Bannon is waging his war these efforts must continue. One piece of advice from SNL’s Tina Fey, a UVA graduate: “Stay home from neo-Nazi rallies. Let these morons scream into the empty air. Eat a sheet cake instead.”