A few days ago, I was scrolling through tweets and came across a number of references to this news story. Recently, a middle school student in St Louis was physically attacked on a bus by other students because he wore a Trump hat. What shocked me was the amount of people claiming that the incident was justified and that the student “had it coming.” These messages were not emanating from the most radical fringes, but rather from otherwise respectable left-leaning people. I was mortified. Those who claim to stand up to Trump’s bullying, authoritarianism, and extremism were at once defending the assault of a child. I fail to comprehend the thought process behind this inexcusable behaviour, but I do know one thing. The anti-Trump resistance cannot survive if it stoops to excusing violence and unproductive forms of backlash.
When so called anti-fascists resort to violence to drown out speech they don’t agree with, they tread dangerously close to fascism’s disregard for free speech. Violence is not and should not be normalized, be it by the alt-right or the campus left. Cheering the assault of children based on political beliefs is hypocritical at best and sickening at worst. How is attacking a kid any better than the unprovoked attacks on minorities by far right Trump supporters? When Trump supporters hear of these actions, they use them to paint the left as inhumane and out of touch, further damaging the anti-Trump resistance.
Another striking example of this counterproductive backlash occurred on the campus of UC Berkeley, where controversial alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos was slated to speak. Milo, as many know him, makes extravagant, offensive, and tactless statements in speeches across the country. Milo even has the notorious distinction of having been banned from Twitter. His shameful rhetoric should not be excused, as it often extends to sexist, racist, and otherwise inconsiderate language.
However, some agitators at UC Berkeley decided to protest violently, causing over $100,000 worth of damage to the campus and forcing organizers to cancel the speaking event. In protesting the alt-right with divisive tactics, these activists dig a grave for the anti-Trump resistance movement by giving increased attention to Milo. The media focused not on the peaceful protesters, but on the violent ones. Regardless of how many of each group partook in events on campus, the violent group is bound to capture the majority of the attention, which is damaging to the left.
The alt-right has a martyrdom complex. Attack them with violence and other divisive means and they grow stronger by sharpening their message. When rioters plunged Berkeley into chaos, the alt-right was able to spin a narrative of persecution at the hands of the academic liberal elite. In today’s populist climate, allowing the right to build up a named target emboldens their rhetoric. In fact, the Berkeley protests propelled sales of Milo’s book, Dangerous, to soar 12,470% in one night. Clearly, resorting to violence increased the reach of Milo’s bigoted message, counteracting any hope of success from these tactics.
There must be vocal resistance to the alt-right’s bigotry, because their rhetoric only serves to damage the country and stoke the flames of hatred. However, the left must be careful not to excuse violence and other actions that fit into the right wing narrative of the lawless left. Counterproductive resistance sets us all back.