Right accuses left of hypocrisy on antifa

Conservatives are decrying what they see as a muted response to the rise of the left-wing antifa movement amid a series of violent protests and clashes that have broken out at events across the country. 

Some on the right have accused liberals and the media of being loath to condemn violence on the left from militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists, while racing to denounce such behavior by right-wing groups.

“After Charlottesville, the media rightly demanded that President Trump and all Republicans condemn the neo-Nazis and the KKK,” Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a fellow at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, wrote Wednesday in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

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“So where are the calls for Democrats to condemn antifa — and the brutal public condemnation for those who fail to do so?”

The conservative Independent Journal Review took aim at Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, writing that he had failed to specifically call out antifa after the chaos in Charlottesville. Democrats, IJR’s Benny Johnson wrote, “have not yet denounced antifa and its violent tactics by name.”

Antifa, a contraction of the word “anti-fascist,” refers to the loose movement of radical activists — communists, socialists and anarchists among them — who in recent months have scrapped with right-wing demonstrators, racist groups and, at times, run-of-the-mill supporters of President Trump.

Separate from the peaceful protesters who joined the bevy of nationwide marches and demonstrations in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, many antifa activists have adopted a willingness to use violence to confront those they deem fascists.

In the wake of a protest in Berkeley, Calif. last weekend, in which black-clad antifa activists attacked right-wing demonstrators, some Democrats have faced pressure to disavow the movement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who represents the San Francisco area just across the bay from Berkeley, delivered the strongest condemnation of antifa yet by a Democratic leader, saying Tuesday that such violence would not be tolerated.

“Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts,” she said in a statement. “The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.”

Trump himself chastised antifa activists in an speech last week in Phoenix as protesters gathered outside the convention center where he was holding a campaign-style rally.

“All week, [the media] are talking about the massive crowds that are going to be outside. Where are they?” Trump said before a group of supporters. “It's hot out. It is hot. I think it's too warm. They show up in the helmets and black masks and they have clubs and everything. Antifa!”

Some liberals are voicing concern that antifa could strengthen Trump’s political hand.

On the campaign trail, Trump billed himself as the “law and order candidate,” The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb wrote Tuesday, and the rise of violent left-wing activists could present the president with an opportunity to play into that reputation.

“This isn’t simply a problem of disparate right-wing groups being able to rationalize their existence more easily,” Cobb wrote. “We are in the midst of a presidency that will manipulate such situations.”

Trump’s comments in Arizona followed a week in which the president found himself under fire from both Democrats and Republicans for slowly and equivocally responding to the violence in Charlottesville, where white nationalists had gathered to protest the city’s removal of a Confederate statue.

The president has sought to shift the attention to antifa, arguing violence on the left should be condemned.

Conservatives have echoed Trump’s calls, blaming the media for turning a blind eye to violence perpetrated by anti-fascist activists.

In a scathing op-ed published on FoxNews.com on Thursday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a staunch Trump ally, accused the media of a double standard in their coverage of left-wing and right-wing violence.

Pointing to clashes and mayhem that he blamed on the left, Gingrich argued that mainstream news outlets had “emphasized the peaceful demonstrations by other distraught liberals, while conveniently neglecting to mention the many Americans who were peacefully enduring Antifa’s abuse.”

“Members of the elite media have failed to condemn this violence — and instead have worked tirelessly to mute and downplay terror being committed by fellow liberals,” he wrote.

Larry O’Connor, a conservative radio host and contributing editor for Mediaite, also contended in an opinion piece on Tuesday that reporters had failed to aggressively press Democratic lawmakers to disavow antifa in the same fashion they pressed Trump and GOP lawmakers to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

But attitudes toward antifa may be changing, as the movement finds itself increasingly in the spotlight, Michael Rubin, a scholar at AEI, told The Hill.

“I think on the surface at least the left initially embraced it,” he said. “It sounds good, you want to oppose fascism. The broader problem on the left is the embrace of intersectionality and this idea that there are many positions that might be mainstream which quickly descends into radicalism.”

Peter Beinart, a liberal columnist for The Atlantic, wrote that, in their attempts to shut down events staged by groups they deem fascist or authoritarian, antifa members may be feeding conservatives’ fears that the left is threatening their rights.

“Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state,” he wrote.

“But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation.”

Mark Bray, a lecturer at Dartmouth College and the author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” warned against equating antifa’s agenda with that of Democrats or more mainstream liberals.

“The first thing to say is that most anti-fascist — that’s not really their political concern,” he told The Hill. “But you can still debate what the effects are, whether or not they think those effects are important.”

Katie Bo Williams and Jonathan Easley contributed.