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KOMARAGIRI: Antifa is not ideal means of social change, but is understandable in US

Opinion Column: Bleeding Heart

The United States rests right now on a significant moral fault line. 

Looking at news today, it would seem that a rise of violence on the Left has gripped the national consciousness. Pundits are devoting more and more political capital to the dissection of Antifa, a nascent coalition of Leftist groups that seeks to stand as natural opposition to any and all fascist movements. The issues have escalated to federal discussions on designating Antifa as a domestic terrorist group. 

This movement came to a head at the now-infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white supremacist crashed his car into a group of peaceful protestors, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer. 

Since then, Antifa has had a presence protesting conservative speakers on college campuses, outside the homes of conservative journalists such as Tucker Carlson and at various planned far-Right rallies in states ranging from Georgia to New Jersey. 

Most recently on Aug. 17, following the well-covered “attack” on Quillette journalist Andy Ngo, another clash in Portland between Antifa and the far-Right Proud Boys led to 13 arrests and six injuries. 

It is no surprise that a conversation is now being had about what this tension means for our country going forward and the response of our country’s leading party. Conservatism is undoubtedly a reactionary philosophy, embodying principles that stand opposed to the shifting Overton window we see today. 

Democratic socialism has become a legitimate and important feature of the Democratic party platform. Policies such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and higher taxes on the wealthy are immensely popular

To those on the Right, the violent acts of Antifa underscore what they see as wrong with this progression. The rise of Antifa as a movement fits nicely into what political theorist Albert Hirschman's jeopardy thesis. In his book, "The Rhetoric of Reaction," opposition to Left ideals is identified within the context of progress within democracy, or a shift leftward in politics, being at the cost of some previously won accomplishment or ideal. 

Here our false flag becomes free speech, and the civility of discourse. This posturing on the side of elites who want to preserve our "freedom of speech" and the ability to voice any and all political views without fear of resistance is in reality a diversion from the real fear. For better or for worse, the Left has teeth. 

While I do not believe that the tactics Antifa uses are effective or morally justified, I can understand the pain they emerge from. If a riot is the language of the unheard, the mob action of Antifa is a scream drowned by the roar of slaughter. 

In July, anarchist and anti-fascist Willem Van Spronsen gave his life to attack an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center’s transportation vehicles. Citing abolitionist John Brown as an inspiration and espousing clear Leftist ideals in his final manifesto, Van Spronsen claimed his only regret was not being able to see the revolution fulfilled. 

To me, this represents Antifa more than anything else. After all, if Brown’s attack on Harpers Ferry was the result of adequate moral outrage to the injustice of slavery, Van Spronsen’s final acts demonstrate this same belief in the power of people to communicate anger in response to oppression. 

Our founding fathers held this same belief. In fact, it was Thomas Jefferson who said that a little rebellion now and again is a good thing: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed... with the blood of patriots."

I believe that blood is not necessary. I believe that Antifa is just the newest iteration in a long history of normal people fighting injustice by any means necessary. But while this violence may not be justified, it presents the opportunity to harness this hatred and organize. 

The neoliberal heart of the Democratic party is dying and the political elite fear this. There is no question that real injustice exists in our world that needs to be addressed, now more than ever. With the discipline to organize peacefully, to be subversive in the great American tradition of civil disobedience, the Left can win.

And win we must. 

Veenay Komaragiri is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in business analytics and information technology. His column, “Bleeding Heart,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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