America’s founders believed that freedom of speech, the ability to express political and religious opinions, even unpopular ones, is central to self-government. Of course, this freedom, like all freedoms, has limits, particularly when it comes to putting others in actual danger. We can’t shout, “Fire!” for example, in a crowded theatre.
However, an emerging group of radicals on the left has embraced a new belief: that just about any ideas, other than theirs, are not only wrong, but dangerous. And so instead of arguing or debating, they’ve committed to shut down expression by, and I quote, “any means necessary.”
We saw this on full display two weekends ago in Berkeley, where so called “anti-fascist protesters” clad in black and wielding baseball bats and homemade riot shields attacked members of a cancelled right-wing rally. “Antifa,” as these anarchists and leftists call themselves, reportedly broke through police lines and soon turned things violent.
Video shows vigilantes in ski masks and hoodies chasing down and pummeling Trump supporters with signs that read, “No hate.” The irony, evidently, was lost on them.
In the end, police intervened with tear gas and made fourteen arrests. “There is a complete mob mentality here,” James Queally of the LA Times summarized. “People are … accusing random people of being Nazis.”
And therein lies the problem. Because although Antifa members style themselves as a citizen resistance movement against fascists, there’s no evidence there were any actual fascists at Berkeley – at least not of the right-wing variety.
The only way to understand this behavior is to realize that, despite their names, Antifa is not just driven by their opposition to fascism. What they consider to be fascism is fully informed by their far-left worldview, and their embrace of far-left ideologies like socialism, communism, and anarchy—ideologies which tend to see their opponents not only as wrong, but as obstacles to a utopian fantasy that must be removed.
The Berkeley blowup was just the latest in a long string of riots with Antifa at their center. During the inauguration in January, 230 so-called “protesters” were arrested for smashing windows and starting fires. In February at Berkeley, Antifa demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails to halt a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos. The same month, the Portland city council was forced to shut down a public forum after Antifa threatened violence. In March, conservative political scientist Charles Murray was manhandled at Middlebury College, and more recently, Antifa members trying to disrupt a free speech rally in Boston, threw urine-filled projectiles at police.
The Department of Homeland Security, in fact, has designated Antifa’s actions as “domestic terrorist activities” and has warned that more Antifa violence is on the way.
But until this second riot at Berkeley, the mainstream media have mostly refused to condemn Antifa’s violence, with some even comparing them to the allied troops storming the beaches at Normandy. But as David French points out at National Review, unlike Charlottesville, there weren’t any Nazis in California, Oregon, Massachusetts, or Washington, D.C., and still Antifa led with violence.
Thankfully, the latest dustup in Berkeley appears to have awakened some common sense. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough called Antifa out for “using violence to shut down free speech.” Slate and Vox also put the blame for the Berkeley riot on Antifa. And the editorial board of the Washington Post unequivocally condemned left-wing thugs and called for a renewal of “democratic norms and the rule of law.”
Despite my opinions about MSNBC, Slate, and the Washington Post as news sources, this is a step in the right direction.
People of good will on both sides must agree that the right to peacefully assemble, debate and even protest is a foundation of our Republic. And if left and right don’t speak out against political violence while we still can, the price of speech will become higher than any of us can afford to pay.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.