Author Mark Bray defended a loose collection of leftists known as Antifa for their use of violent tactics in the wake of the deadly white nationalist Charlottesville rally, saying during a discussion Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that such aggression “is a legitimate response to white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence.”
Bray, the author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” discussed the far left’s violent tactics alongside Richard Cohen, president of The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a forum moderated by “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. Pointing to President Donald Trump’s controversial insistence that both the Alt-Left and the Alt-Right were “to blame” for the violence that occurred Aug. 12 at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Todd asked Bray to defend his admiration for the Antifa protesters’ aggressive actions in confronting the white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
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“You seem to be a very small minority here who’s defending the idea of violence, considering that somebody died in Charlottesville,” Todd pointed out to Bray. “Why do you defend confronting them violently?”
“I would contest the notion that I’m that small of a minority,” Bray argued as he equated violent tactics with self-defense. “I think that a lot of people recognize that when pushed, self-defense is a legitimate response to white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence.”
Bray contended that violently confronting white supremacists and neo-Nazis was necessary in order to prevent the far right’s ideology from becoming accepted.
“And we can see that really the way that white supremacy grows, the way that neo-Nazism grows, is by becoming legitimate, becoming established, becoming everyday, family-friendly, wear khakis instead of hoods,” Bray said. “And the way to stop that is what people did in Boston, what people did in Charlottesville. Pull the emergency brake and say, ‘You can’t make this normal.'”
The largely peaceful protest and counter protests that occurred in Boston Saturday were heralded by many officials and media members as a prime example of how the far left and the far right can practice freedom of speech without resorting to acts of violence. Although the events in Boston remained relatively peaceful and witnessed no deaths, some Antifa members who showed up engaged in violent and aggressive scuffles with Boston police officers and other attendees.
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Cohen, however, argued that the thousands of peaceful counterprotesters who showed up in Boston to decry racism and neo-Nazism delivered a far more positive and productive message than the aggressive Antifa members. Cohen even partially agreed with Trump’s assessment of the Charlottesville violence.”
“To some degree, there was a lot of ugliness that the Antifa brought [to Charlottesville], and I think they played into the hands of the white nationalists who say, ‘Look, we are the ones who are embattled,'” Cohen argued. “The answer to bad speech is more speech. We saw that in Boston yesterday.”
“I think it’s a spectacularly bad idea to give one group of people the right to silence another group of people. It’s contrary to our values embodied in the First Amendment,” Cohen said. “It’s likely to lead to a terrible spiral.”
“And so, where does something like that stop?” Cohen continued. “Yesterday in Boston, you know, when we saw thousands and thousands of people peacefully protest — that seemed like a much stronger answer to white supremacy than clubs and guns.”
But Bray remained unconvinced, insisting that “a lot of people are under attack” from the far right’s ideology, saying that these people “need to be able to defend themselves” and use violence, if necessary, because “fascism cannot be defeated through speech.”
“It’s a privileged position to be able to say that you never have to defend yourself from these kinds of monsters,” Bray said. “Anti-fascists see this as a political struggle. They don’t see fascism as a difference of opinion, or as kind of a different perspective to consider. Instead they see fascists as the enemy. And I think that we need to come around to that notion, considering that there is not doubt what they’ve done historically.”
Cohen countered Bray’s arguments and insisted that the issue of wielding political violence during protests is “not an issue of defending yourself.”
“It’s an issue of trying to silence other people,” Cohen said. “No one is saying that, you know, if you’re slugged in the face that you have to sit there and take it. The question here is when white nationalists want to walk down the street, should people stop them? And that’s a very different issue. It’s a peculiar notion of self defense to say that you can censor people.”
Trump even took to Twitter Saturday following the Boston rally to praise the peaceful protesters and counterprotesters alike, saying, “I want to applaud the many protesters in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!”
(photo credit, homepage and article images: NBC News’ “Meet the Press”)