It has been ten days since The Atlantic, a flagship liberal publication since it's founding in 1857 in Boston, was purchased by Laurene Powell Jobs for an undisclosed sum on July 29th. The first issue since this purchase will be lead by a major editorial from their Contributing Editor Peter Beinart. That particular 2200 word screed has already appeared on the Atlantic's website and been boosted on social media at some cost. This can only be seen in context as a declaration of new editorial line, policy and intent. It can be read, if one cares to read the cobbled fact-lite hack job that is, as the new worst editorial to pass muster at a major publication in my recent memory. The previous winner is not even a runner-up, they are an also-ran.
I loath to insult other professionals on issues of craft unless their actual practice is either completely barbaric, fails to disclose their own hidden connections to the material, or is just plain sloppy. In the grand scheme of sloppy messes, Beinart's missive is the logical equivalent of medical waste on broken roller skates at a chili cook off.
Beinart's piece, which is provocatively titled The Rise of the Violent Left, uses cherry-picked half told or largely inaccurate historical anecdotes to lead his would be intellectual victims to his conclusion that “What’s eroding in Portland is the quality Max Weber considered essential to a functioning state: a monopoly on legitimate violence” and therefore “The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.”
This translates roughly to “The State needs to violently repress anti-fascists because they are fascists.” He spends his entire article using incomplete and de-contextualized history snippets to lead the reader through the first quote to the second.
Beinart's framing of Anti-fascist activists in both a present and a historical context make it apparent he never left his office. I know for an absolute fact that the research tools, contacts, social access, phone numbers and already done leg work are at the Atlantic's disposal. He could have had four of five people provide him with different annotated bibliographies. When he discusses a historical event, he seems to forget that some readers were physically present at said event. I personally have been involved in anti-fascist politics for more than two decades. I was there, Beinart was not, and he is dead wrong.
Beinart misuses the term Antifa repeatedly. He refers to Antifa in terms of “Antifa is.” No, Antifa is not. Antifa are or they are not. Antifa is a plural descriptive of people with shared politics not an organization. There are many organizations that are conciously and outspokenly antifacist. Some antifascist activists engage in some well-known tactics on occasion. “Antifa is” creates a monolithic organization where none actual exists. If he does not know enough to use singular and plural in the correct context he is not qualified to draw a single conclusion from his limited, carefully currated dataset. Antifascism is an ideology. Antifa is a plural descriptor of Anti-fascist activists engaged in street action. Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), Anti-Racist Action (ARA), The General Defense Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW-GDC), Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH), Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement (HARM) and the Torch Network are anti-fascist organizations. That is just to name a few with strong brand recognition. All of the above have existed for more than 5 years. All but one has existed for more than 20 years. Overlooking that makes Beinart literally too lazy to use Google.
Since I've come out and said that I've been participating in Anti-Fascist street actions for a very long time, I can say that Beinart is dead wrong in characterizing the recent post-inauguration (which is an inaccurate time measurement) wave of activity as being the work of young people in need of guidance. “From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.” and “Antifa’s power is growing. And how the rest of the activist left responds will help define its moral character in the Trump age.”
I'm not the only person who has been doing this for more than 20 years. Beinart thinks he is playing adult role model to his barrista trying to work themselves through Georgetown or the server fetching him his avocado toast that in DC costs more than some of my utility bills, but he is not. Now, today, there are active anti-fascists, wearing masks, fighting fascists directly and they are nurses, schoolteachers, carpenters, auto mechanics, vet-techs, legal secretaries, welders, full-time moms, social workers, domestic violence counselors, and filmmakers. At least two that he could have interviewed are grandparents and I'm not the only editor. I did not have to look outside my state for that list of professions and unlike Beinart I can tell when nouns are singular and when they are plural. He thinks we are not old, wealthy or smart enough to read the Atlantic, and therefore won't spit in his food. Actually, some of us might be the people working on his brakes or giving his relatives their in-hospital care. I'd say we are his neighbors, but editors of big magazines based in DC only have contacts and servants. These facts are not something he had no way of knowing, these are facts I am sure he has access to.
Beinart references a historical “brawl” in Pennsylvania against the World Church of the Creator in 2002 that resulted in 25 arrests. I was there and he was not. That was not a brawl. That was an all day all city street fight that followed a police riot in York, Pennsylvania. One of those arrested was an 8 year old girl. She was lying on the ground with her arm broken. Her arm was broken because a nazi, who was not immediately arrested, drove a truck through a crowd of protestors. This was followed by a baton charge by the police who beat the girl, beat and arrested her family members, beat and arrested the medics that were treating her and anyone else who got in the way. I was 30 feet away when it happened. I was somewhat distracted by the grenade launcher pointed at my face from inches away. It was attached to a national guardsmen who was crying because he knew he was doing a bad thing. This is the monopoly of state violence that Beinart has called for.
Beinart describes the secrecy under which anti-fascist activists operate. He fails to place that in the context of the fact that we are targeted for outright murder and our killers rarely if ever go to jail. One of the same medics that was beaten and arrested in York survived an arson attack on his home by the Aryan Nations 4 years earlier. It came complete with a burning cross. It happened one month after two other anti-fascist activists were lured into the desert outside of Las Vegas and shot to death. It was in response to civil disobedience that happened at an Aryan Nations parade in Idaho on the same day that one of them was buried. I remember, I was at the funeral. Had Beinart used Lexus-Nexis he would have found the New York Times front section article. He would know that it was a criminal conspiracy that left 38 separate and distinct sets of boot prints at the crime scene. Only one neo-nazi has ever been convicted for the crime. This is the rule of law Beinart harkens unto.
I have been to close to 1000 anti-fascist actions, protests and events. I stopped counting at 500 in 2001. I have been to them in big cities and small towns in 19 states. I've been there alongside small town activists who are fighting Klansmen because the latter's stated intention is to gas them, their children and put their corpses in an oven. Beinart is correct in when he says “Antifascists call such actions defensive.” We are defending our lives and our homes in our own communities against people who have clear, uncompromising, and clearly announced intentions of actual genocide and whose intellectual fore-bearers carried out actual genocide. My ancestors fought in the war against that as infantry. Military service has always been a quicker path to citizenship for immigrants.
If Beinart wanted to discuss or even examine the nuance that is the three way fight between the repressive forces of the state, the fascists, and anti-fascists defending their actual communities, he could have looked no further than his primary geographic focus, which was Portland. While adorning his article with a masked protestor burning a blue lives matter flag which the fascists were flying, he failed to mention the documented fascists in executive positions in the Portland Police Department. Captain Kruger, recently in charge of the vice squad, has been documented pepper spraying reporters, beating protestors, spray painting nazi graffiti, playing hitler speeches in his patrol car as a sergeant, and place memorial plaques to fallen SS soldiers on public property. Attempts to discipline him have resulted in his winning lawsuits. This is not newsworthy nor does it provide context for Beinart, but burning things look cool and jazz up his fact lite editorial.
I have only referenced some history, and there is so much more as Beinart noted in his opening paragraphs with “Since 1907, Portland, Oregon, has hosted an annual Rose Festival. Since 2007, the festival had included a parade down 82nd Avenue. Since 2013, the Republican Party of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, had taken part.” The fascists are in the middle of a wholesale takeover of the Republican party. Steve Bannon's booze swollen face is seen staring dizzily around the White House every day. The Right Wing Christian Secretary of Education's brother is trying to craft war policy and owns the largest private army in the world. Somehow historical context in the present tense eludes Beinart.
Beinart notes that anti-fascism has a long history as well “Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain.” Anti-fascists did not battle in the streets of Spain. That was a full scale civil war. It lasted three years. More than half a million died. More than half a million people fled. Nearly a quarter of a million people were executed by garrotte in the 40 year dictatorship that followed. Picaso painted one of his most famous paintings depicting the terror of nazis bombing civilians.
This was not a street brawl. Americans went there to fight fascists, along with people from 45 other countries. Some of the greatest writers of the interwar years, like George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway were there. Orwell was shot and wounded in the neck while fighting in the trenches. Atlantic Editor Beinart would have known that if he had been awake in his High School English class.
The clear purpose, other than factual misleading of the reader, was to create a moral equivalency between an eliminationist political movement and grassroots organizations of community self defense. He goes so far as to suggest that hate crimes are caused by fascists being denied their right to organize for genocide.
“When antifascists forced the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, Trump supporters responded with a “March for Free Speech.” Among those who attended was Jeremy Christian, a burly ex-con draped in an American flag, who uttered racial slurs and made Nazi salutes. A few weeks later, on May 25, a man believed to be Christian was filmed calling antifa “a bunch of punk bitches.”
The next day, Christian boarded a light-rail train and began yelling that “colored people” were ruining the city. He fixed his attention on two teenage girls, one African American and the other wearing a hijab, and told them “to go back to Saudi Arabia” or “kill themselves.” As the girls retreated to the back of the train, three men interposed themselves between Christian and his targets. “Please,” one said, “get off this train.” Christian stabbed all three. One bled to death on the train. One was declared dead at a local hospital. One survived.
The cycle continued.”
This is where he ignored George Orwell's plea at the end of his Politics and the English Language “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” Obviously he slurped up Orwell's 1984 in middle school because dystopian Stalinism is easy for a small imagination driving a perpetually pre-teen intellect. That is where his historical grounding began and ended.
Perhaps this is what allows him to barbarously equate a man who gives nazi salutes and stabs people with the literal people he stabbed and the people who put themselves in danger to keep him from building or joining an army to commit more racist murder. Beinart calls it a cycle as though self-defense begets racist murder committed on public transit in broad daylight.
The actual context of the editorial was to announce an a new management editorial course change to the center-right. Other publications were clearly signaled. The Nation was chastised for a lukewarm article it published on the same topic. What it really said was “This is the new establishment line: law and order” Despite racists in the police forces, despite open murder on the streets, the legitimate monopoly of violence will fall on those that dare defend themselves. This is the beltway establishment's boundaries signaling on what is to be tolerated within the political class “And how the rest of the activist left responds will help define its moral character in the Trump age.”