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Charlie Sykes
The Bulwark Presents
Morning Shots with Charlie Sykes

The Left’s Antifa Problem

July 2, 2019
The Left’s Antifa Problem
Unidentified Rose City Antifa members beat up Andy Ngo, a Portland-based journalist, on June 29, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. (Moriah Ratner/Getty Images)

Few things animate progressive outrage more than the suggestion that “both sides” have contributed to the toxicity of our political divide. Even a hint that both sides might have a problem with political violence will call forth massive blowback from the vasty deeps of woke social media.

It won’t help my mentions that we have written extensively about the madness on the right, or the fetishizing of racist-violence-as-porn, or the very real danger (and body count) of resurgent white nationalism.

But, while the problems may not be equivalent, the left has a very real Antifa problem and it has been on vivid display over the last few days: not just the masked group of violent thugs, but also the reflexive rationalization of violence that it seems to inspire.

Over the weekend journalist Andy Ngo was brutally attacked while covering a rally in Portland, Oregon for Quillette. Here is how he described the event in an interview with Guy Benson:

“This is the anarchy of Portland. It’s considered a provocation for citizens to record activities that happen in public. So they viewed me [as] provoking them because simply I walked around the demonstration with the camera. This didn’t just happen in a major American city; we were a stone’s throw away from the major institutions of the rule of law for the city: Courthouses, the central police precinct, the sheriff’s office. I could actually see these buildings while I was getting beaten by this mob. What happened is, they were marching in front of the Justice Center. And then somebody ran from behind and bashed me in the back of my head. I don’t know with what. It was very hard. As soon as I sort of got my footing, before I could even realize what had happened, then the hits just kept coming to the front, to the back.

I lost control of — I was holding my GoPro in my hand and my phone, and my camera equipment was stolen in that moment, by somebody who was dressed head to toe in black. I thought the worst of it was over. It wasn’t. So what happened next was, this so-called peaceful milkshake protest. The people who were came with milkshakes throwing that at me, hurling it directly in my face so I couldn’t even see which way to walk out. And then more people charged in to punch me to kick me. They were particularly targeting my head in my eye, and I stumbled away. There was absolutely no police.”

It requires very little resourcefulness to imagine how the media community would have reacted if (1) this had been an attack by white nationalists or Trump supporters, or (2) the victim was one of their own like, say, Jim Acosta.

But the ideology shouldn’t matter, right? An attack on a journalist is an assault on free speech and, well, violence is violence. Apparently not.

As I mentioned yesterday, CNN’s Jake Tapper called out the thuggery, but his reaction was by no means universal. Ngo was blamed for bringing the attack on himself by being “provocative,”  and Tapper was accused of “pearl clutching,” Other critics mocked Ngo’s injuries, or found various ways of rationalizing the woke violence aimed at him.

Indeed, the reaction from the media itself was as disturbing as it was revealing. Quillette’s founding editor, Claire Lehmann wrote: “We were pilloried by left-wing media earlier this month after publishing a piece scrutinizing the cosy relationship between a number of journalists & antifa,” she wrote. “But clearly there should be more scrutiny, not less.”

Another Quillette editor, Jonathan Kay, tweeted:

The coverage of the incident by the Guardian was the most egregious…


But as bad as the Guardian was, it was not alone. The hashtag #AndysNoJournalist began trending, and other media types seemed to actually find ways to justify, rationalize, or minimize the attack.

Consider how the Huffington Post handled the incident.

What followed was a flood of hand-wringing from national news outlets on both sides of the political aisle: Fox News on Monday was decrying “Antifa Violence,” alongside CNN’s Jake Tapper, who tweeted over the weekend, “Antifa regularly attacks journalists; it’s reprehensible.”

Writer Andy Campbell insisted that the whole Ngo incident was a “distraction,” because there’s a pattern “and it’s not Antifa violence.” (sic)

Each of these storylines is a distraction from the wider issue of ongoing, extremist-hosted fights meant to distort the conversation about the rising body count in the name of the American far right and shift the focus onto the anti-fascists who meet them in the street. Since Trump’s election and the rise of extremist groups like the Proud Boys, the number of people killed by anti-fascists at these rallies remains zero.

In an instant, the underlying problem ― that extremist gangs have for years been hosting bloody skirmishes in coastal cities like Portland, often with tacit support from local police ― was lost amid a media circus of pearl-clutching and punditry.

So, let’s reiterate: yes, there is a festering and very serious problem with right wing extremism and violence. But the left’s tolerance for Antifa-violence is also problematic because it accepts the premise that we are locked in a Manichean battle of light versus darkness, good versus evil that sometimes requires eggs and heads to be broken.

It’s almost like it’s always Flight 93….. on the left… as well as right.

Go ahead, cancel me.