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Lighting a candle in toxic air.

How Can One Not Be Antifa?


June 5, 2020

Дорогой Борис,

You ask that I explain an article you excerpted for me, describing a lawsuit filed against Antifa by a writer for the online publications Quillette and The Post Millennial.

I am assuming that AP, who reported the story without a byline, has its style guide and lawyer-vetted rulebook. Only that can explain the faux-neutral terms in which the “conservative writer” is described. There is a detailed article on him in Wikipedia, which I read because I had not heard of him until you brought him to my attention. Based on that, I would describe Andy Ngô as a right-wing, pro-fascist media provocateur.

While I can’t really speak intelligently about this US-born child of Vietnamese boat people, as I know nothing of him, I can say two things: I would not call Ngô a “journalist” except in the loosest sense of the word (like Milo Yiannopoulos, he gives gay people—not to mention atheists—a bad name). And the “neutral” reporting by the AP will be the death of credible journalism, if not US democratic institutions themselves.

What is often described as “both-sides journalism” pretends to be neutral, but in fact distorts reality, and betrays journalism’s mission to reliably inform, by equating what is inherently unequal. Examples: Climate change scientists and climate-change deniers getting equal space in reporting; anti-vax activists getting equal space in reporting with public health officials—in spite of very unequal scientific backing for one “side” of each issue. As one British article put it, when “journalism is premised on the idea that the side that relies on expert knowledge is just as reliable (or just as unreliable) as one that disdains it, and that it’s not the media’s job to note such distinctions,” then the whole enterprise evaporates.

Journalism should elucidate, not obfuscate.

Journalism should not be “raising ignorance to the status of knowledge.” This annoys me as much as reporters asking for public opinion on questions that have factual answers: “Is Donald Trump a racist? Is night dark? Let’s ask the man in the street.”

But back to Antifa. Not all of those who deplore fascism are Antifa, but all who are Antifa deplore fascism. The distinction is lost on right-wing, and (sadly) most mainstream, news outlets. And on Der Orangeführer, of course, who is a stranger to nuance and to anything else not named Trump. Tactics used by Antifa include direct action, which can include countervailing violence when confronted by white supremacist, neo-Nazi and fascist violence. Antifa violence can be counterproductive by playing into the “victimhood” narrative of right-wing extremists—they are such snowflakes! In my opinion, and to their credit, when confronted with fascist violence, Antifa will not back down.

I have read this book and found it most illuminating, explaining that Antifa is not a new phenomenon: Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, by Mark Bray (2017). You can read it here. There a C-SPAN interview with Mr. Bray here.

Since “Antifa” is a descriptor and not an actual organization, sort of like “Liberal” or “Conservative,” I have to ask two rhetorical questions: If you’re not Antifa, doesn’t that make you a fascist? Furthermore, weren’t the militaries of the Western allies “Antifa” during World War II?

Твой мирный друг,

LETTER TO BORIS is an occasional feature of this blog in which I try to explain to Boris, to the best of my understanding and ability, American culture, current events and the American language. Boris, a former Russian national, who grew up under the Soviet Union, is real, but Boris is not his name. Also, I do not claim to read, write or speak with competence any language but English.

NB: Дорогой = My dear [friend]; Твой мирный друг = Your peaceful friend. “Der Orangeführer” is my peculiar sobriquet for the 45th president.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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