The "whataboutism" was strong in the aftermath of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left three people dead and dozens more injured after one young neo-Nazi — inspired by ISIS tactics, I guess — decided to ram his car into a crowd of counter-protesters before trying to sneak away from the scene like a coward.
Informed America was incensed that President Donald Trump, in the immediate aftermath, failed to perform what should be one of the easiest, most uncontroversial duties of any presidency: to immediately call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis (which I will mostly use interchangeably, as I'd argue there isn't much of a difference) as traitors to country, as antithetical to the values that the U.S. holds dear.
Instead, Trump condemned "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides," as if "many sides" drove that car into a crowd of people, and "many sides" convened to march through the University of Virginia campus shouting Nazi rallying cries such as "Blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us."
Trump's failure to name this distinct form of hatred was an omission so grievous that it actually compelled a group of Republicans to emerge from their festering cesspool of partisan loyalty and urge the president to "call evil by its name," in the words of Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. (Trump relented two days later and called out the groups by name.)
Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism. https://t.co/PaPNiPPAoW— @SenCoryGardner
Nevertheless, Trump had his loyal-er defenders — supported by a group of unyielding contrarians, right-wing rabble-rousers and, neo-Nazis — who demanded the public reserve some of its scorn for those other groups supposedly causing trouble over the weekend: Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM). "Whatabout them?" they asked, incensed by this apparent double standard.
- After days of criticism, Trump condemns white supremacists involved in Charlottesville violence
- 'Not the Charlottesville I know': Residents chase away white supremacist after deadly rally
In normal times, this intellectually lazy attempt at deflection would not be dignified with a response. But we are not in normal times: the White House chief strategist is a darling of the white nationalist movement; the president is winning praise from prominent white supremacists; and neo-Nazis have adopted a 21st-century uniform of khaki pants and citronella torches (the only greater enemy to the white purity movement than blacks and Jews is mosquitoes, I take it) and are marching openly, by the thousands, bearing swastikas, militia uniforms and paraphernalia celebrating the apparent wisdom of Adolf Hitler.
To be sure: Nazis and their sympathizers have been around for decades, both before the Second World War and after. But the fact that they are gathering now in such large numbers, without even bothering to cover their faces, and many with the belief that the president of the United States is on their side, makes this period entirely unprecedented.
Neo-Nazis are supposed to be on the fringe. Instead, we have the president's allies attempting to deflect public attention from the distinct, unrivalled evilness that is white supremacy and neo-Nazism.
Yes, other groups have committed acts of violence. And no, that should not be tolerated. But — and I can't believe I actually have to say this — there is no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa.
The legacy factor is one obvious reason. Neo-Nazis are associating themselves with a group that was (and still should be) America's enemy — responsible for the extermination of millions of innocent people. The U.S. literally fought a war against these people. And now, disgruntled undergrads with no understanding of history are buying backyard torches at the local Home Depot because they're feeling a bit hard done by.
I can hear the responses already: But Communists killed people, too! They were America's enemies also! Antifa militants are basically neo-Stalinists!
- Civil rights probe launched after clashes at white nationalist rally
- Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer was 'all about equality'
This argument would perhaps be more credible if Antifa was instead called the Red Army and its mission was to eliminate enemies of the state. Sure, a few weirdos in the group will fly hammer-and-sickle flags and wear Mao Zedong T-shirts, but the word "Antifa" does not harken back to lynchings and concentration camps and slavery.
Communists were once America's enemies, yes, but Antifa never was.
More importantly, while groups like Antifa and BLM might engage in violence at times — no one is disputing that — the major difference is that their existence is not predicated on hatred of others. Antifa was founded to resist fascism and racism. BLM was created to bring attention to the systemic violence and racism black people in the U.S. endure. No doubt there are members of both groups who hate members of their perceived "oppressor class," but the point is these groups can still exist without them.
A white supremacist group, on the other hand, cannot exist without individuals who believe people of colour are genetically inferior. There is no such thing as a neo-Nazi who doesn't despise Jews. Hatred is their raison d'être.
When people insist BLM and Antifa be subject to the same censure as neo-Nazis, they are failing to see the bigger picture: fighting for the right to be a fascist is not the same as fighting for the right to exist.