For years the mainstream left has played a clever little game with political violence. While they hold off from ever directly supporting the use of violence for achieving their political aims, they will act as apologists for it. When there were riots in Ferguson or Chicago, assaults at Trump rallies, or any other violence, left wing journalists would begin by disclaiming the use of violence, before moving on to attempting to “empathise” with the “marginalized”, claiming that they were “frustrated” or “desperate”, that anger “spilled over” or “erupted”, and then they would start to “explain” what they clearly believed were valid reasons for that violence to occur in the first place.
Still, when left-wing journalists were called out for their sympathising, they could always retreat to their “but I said violence is wrong” caveats. Now though, since Brexit, and Trump’s victory, and the onwards march of nationalism against globalism, they’re seeing what they thought was their victory lap
The angry, confused left we see in 2017 is desperate, and in that desperation we’re seeing the beginnings of a throwing off of the shackles of even perfunctory denunciations of violence, a move towards finally going all-in on normalizing the use of violence as a valid tool of political discourse. In response to the unprovoked assault on Alt Right leader Richard Spencer a few days ago, the venerable New York Times itself ran a headline which actually featured the words “Is It O.K. to Punch a Nazi?” followed by an article that proceeded to make a fairly obvious case that it was in fact perfectly fine.
Such a brazen statement in a paper that is the embodiment of the progressive establishment marks a defined shift in the attitude if the mainstream left to political violence. The Independent went even further, publishing a piece by Kirsty Major that straight up came out and said “Yes, it is ok to punch a Nazi like Richard Spencer in the face”
. In the face of mounting criticism from normal people though, the Independence realised that being quite so blatant was a bridge too far (for now) and pulled the piece, with Major soon after deleting her Twitter account in the face of mounting public criticism. The Nation, America’s oldest liberal publication, went so far as to publish a piece that not only supported the violence against Spencer, but also the organised far left political violence of the so-called “black bloc”. The execrable Natasha Lennard squealed; “You don’t have to fight neo-Nazis in the street, but you should support those who do”.
Cosseted liberals seem to think that their change of tone will gain them some sort of advantage on the political battlefield, shutting down the dizzying advance of Alt Right ideas and personalities into the mainstream consciousness. I believe however, that they are quite seriously mistaken, and that in the long term they will provide the right with a significant advantage. It’s quite clear that when it comes to street violence, right-wingers are going to be able to dole it out much more effectively once they organise in the way that the left has. The prevalence of veterans, ex law enforcement and other practical minded folk is significantly higher on the right side of the spectrum than it is on the left.
Once mainstream liberals realise their error they will presumably try to reverse course, but the escalation of violence is a process that is extremely hard to reverse, as we’ve seen in civil conflicts from Lebanon to Yugoslavia in recent history. They’re likely to find that this Pandora’s Box is not something easily close once opened.