Countering Violent Anarchists


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Especially on the West Coast, it seems, violence-prone anarchists are notorious for hijacking peaceful demonstrations. Rarely do they organize their own demonstrations and openly call for people to fight the police or rampage through commercial districts. Instead, they hide under the cover of nonviolent marches, throw rocks and other objects to provoke the police, engage in street fighting, and then blame the police.

This pattern poses a real threat to prospects for progressive change. Witness the law-and-order campaigns of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and the rise of the Right in the 1980s. How to deal with that threat is a pressing concern.

Arguing with violence-prone anarchists is a waste of time, as is the case with any other true believer. It just reinforces their beliefs. The more they argue their case, it hardens.

The most effective response was demonstrated Saturday, August 19 in Boston. When white nationalists rallied in the Boston Common, a much larger, life-affirming, non-violent demonstration countered them. Rather than dwelling on “if it bleeds, it leads” violence, the media coverage made a positive point.

Nevertheless, it’s helpful to understand the arguments of the violent anarchists, if only for those instances when one is engaged with someone who is uninformed or has an open mind. “The Rise of the Violent Left” by Peter Beinart in the September issue of The Atlantic helps provide clarity, as does a weak two-part Democracy Now program in which a proponent of the antifascist “antifa,” Mark Bray, makes a case for violence. On Democracy Now, Bray does not dispute Beinart’s reporting of the facts and offers no logical refutation of Beinart’s argument.

Bray argues that neo-fascists in the United States pose such a serious threat that anti-fascists are entitled to assume the power of the State and, by any means necessary, forcefully prevent neo-fascists from meeting or appearing in public. They want to “nip fascism in the bud.” That violence is justified, they say, because the State has no legitimacy and can justifiably be ignored or attacked.

Beinart points out the obvious contradiction. Anti-authoritarians end up being supremely authoritarian. They claim the authority to apply physical force to suppress noxious expressions of opinion so those seeds will not flower into a full-blown threat.

Bray repeatedly cites European history to justify his violence. But he neglects several points. Fascism in the United States has been suppressed without vigilante violence. Violent street-fighting here led to Nixon and Reagan. The anti-fascists in Europe, I believe, did not display a massive commitment to the kind of nonviolence shown in Boston Saturday. And the mainstream reaction to Charlottesville demonstrates that fascism is not the threat projected by Bray and the antifa — unless the anarchists provoke so much violence that the forces of repression are strengthened.

Cornel West told Democracy Now that in Charlottesville antifa defended him and 20 other antifascists, many of whom were clergy, and saved their lives. I have not seen solid reporting on that situation and suspect that he exaggerated the threat.

But even if he is correct, two facts are clear. The use of physical force to restrain violent people is justified. But that is not the antifa strategy. Antifa does not limit itself to using violence to defend against active physical threats.They affirm preventive violence.

Second, if West and his cohort had responded to any such threat with Kingian nonviolence and lost their lives, many more neo-fascists would be in jail facing long prison terms, those deaths would have strengthened the anti-fascist movement manyfold, and the “both sides” argument would have had even less credibility.

Nonviolent peace forces can help protect demonstrators. We need to develop new ways to do that absent massive demonstrations like Boston. But ultimately, the willingness to endure a physical attack or even risk one’s life is required.

Like young men in some Fight Club who so enjoy the adrenalin rush, the violent neo-fascists and the violent anti-fascists feed on each other. The best antidote to their madness is a massive outpouring of love.


Wade Hudson, an activist, organizer, and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, publishes

3 thoughts on “Countering Violent Anarchists

  1. Not really true that violent street fighting gave us Nixon and Reagan.
    Nixon played off of the riots that swept America in the middle and late 60s and the much lesser violence of some of the hippie radicals, but of course the Weather people did not emerge until after Nixon was elected. The black violence meme was largely a dog whistle to mobilize the exodus of white racists, most of whom were in the South, from the Democratic Party to the beginnings of the present constellation of what is the GOP. It was not the violence, but the racism.
    Violence on Carter’s shift leading to the Reagan presidency? Fanciful. You might say that the Berkeley Free Speech movement and civil rights demonstrations led to Reagan being governor, but that would also be an exaggeration and simplification.

  2. I think the essay is heads up… but would be better without the comments, about “the right wing and Nixon and well as white nationalists on the Boston commons.” dilutes the premise. The commons peaceful protest was for free speech… My recommendations to everybody who writes… put the piece down and reflex for in order to severely weaken the writer’s point. My thoughts are and I think most will agree that there is a bias in the essay.
    Regarding justification of violence, I quote, Reinhart Niebuhr, who said “War is a lessor evil over greater evil. ” essentially, the weakness of human frailty. The best we can realistically do is to attempt to minimize it. And war and peace ultimately begins with each individual. Usually, it is irrational because our primitive emotional brain hijacked our cognitive modern brain. The goal for each of us is to recognize that once emotions are peaked in the Bell curve… Prevention is difficult. The goal is to recognize escalating emotions, the earlier the rise, the better. A super tough job. MLK and Gandhi great leaders mastered this.

  3. The fact that Nazis can be successfully punched in a street brawl may make us feel a little safer…But it shouldn’t. The street brawling we have witnessed in Charlotte and Berkeley is pure theater, with no victory or ground gained in the real world. Anti-fascist protesters and leaders could be legitimately be defended without an aggressive Antifa–which represents leftist and anarchist views that are anathema to most anti-fascists… In fact, Antifa is accomplishing nothing except successfully playing into the hands of the extreme Right. They might as well be working for them. Maybe some of them are.
    As for the 1930s-Europe models for Antifa, Communist and anarchist toughs who fought the fascists in the streets–that didn’t end well, we might recall. Neither will this, for much the same reasons.

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