The Antifa has put a price tag on free speech.
When I walked into the inaugural meeting of the State College Anarchist Reading Collective, I saw some familiar and entirely unfriendly faces. The first question for the group, from the young lady across the room, was “raise your hand if you’re affiliated with Turning Point USA.” All heads turned to me as I proudly raised my arm into the air. “Well that’s an obvious cheap shot at me,” I retorted, “what’s that got to do with anything?” Apparently, it had everything to do with anything. You see, my position as a member of the Penn State Chapter of the organization made me guilty by association of being a fascist agent. I was sent to document and put my evil, racist spin on whatever it was they were doing that night. I might as well have been Goebbels himself, preparing to ruin them with my Nazi propaganda machine. Exaggerations aside, what I saw in this room was a textbook case of what is happening on a large scale across the country. In 2017 alone, an anti-free speech movement has grown in size and scale beyond anything we’ve seen in the history of the United States. Claiming that anything right of center is “hate speech,” shutting down right wing and even liberal speakers, and rioting in the streets to protest legal exercises of freedom of expression, organizations like Antifa and Black Lives Matter (at this point little more than a Malcolm X style militant black power movement) have been very successfully silencing everyone from Libertarians to White Nationalists. Not only have they managed to silence these groups, but also to conflate them. By protesting individuals like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro with the same vigor as the disciples of Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo, the radical left has drawn a seemingly logical comparison between the two groups. Yiannopoulos and Shapiro, of course, are both ethnic Jews, while Spencer and Damigo are both White Nationalists. Regardless of the inherent dissimilarities between these individuals, the out of hand tactics used by Antifa manage to create a subconscious link between them.
All of this, as pointed out by Yiannopoulos himself, may have the end goal of legitimizing violence against anyone on the political right, with the aim of equating violence with speech so that violence becomes an acceptable response to speech that offends someone. The dangers of this trend are clear. It began in February, when a Yiannopoulos event at UC Berkeley was shut down by Antifa protesters—the second time they reared their ugly, masked heads in public for a major event. The first was the inauguration of President Trump, where they attacked people, broke windows and destroyed public property. Again, at Berkeley, they used the same tactics. People were punched, beaten, pepper sprayed, windows destroyed and death threats made against Milo. When he left, the world suddenly took notice of the problem. And, in the fashion of the left wing media, they promptly ignored it. In fact, the only relevant news anchor and organization to pay the situation any mind was rising Fox News star Tucker Carlson.
The assaults continued throughout the year, and were not limited to the United States. Canadian independent reporter Lauren Southern covered an Antifa event during the French Election Season, where she herself was nearly injured. The media continued to largely ignore Antifa and their egregious actions until they had no choice but to discuss them. Somehow, for a brief moment, the white nationalist movement actually did something beneficial: they put a spotlight on Antifa. We should pause for a second here. Antifa had been assaulting people, burning cars, looting buildings, organizing riots, unlawfully assembling and more for at least 8 months when the media finally noticed them. Why did they notice them? It was because a relatively small group of people, a mix of protesters against the removal of an iconic Robert E. Lee stature, white nationalists, and racists, gathered in Charlottesville and held a legal, peaceful demonstration. While not entirely well intentioned, it was peaceful and lawful. The proper permits had been applied for and issued. Everything seemed set to go off without a hitch, and the chants of the White Nationalism would have fallen on deaf ears and been largely forgotten. Then Antifa showed up. Appearing half an hour before the event was scheduled to start, Antifa operators decided to go antagonize a lawful and peaceful demonstration until violence occurred and occur it did.
While it’s not certain who fired the first proverbial shot, as Unite the Right claimed it was a protester pepper spraying a demonstrator but Antifa claimed it was a demonstrator punching a protester, what is clear is that everything quickly went to hell. Now, before we go any further, we should set some things straight. First and foremost, neither side involved here had good intentions, at least not for the most part. A small portion genuinely just wanted to keep the statue. The majority, however, were in fact white nationalists and this may be literally the only time that Antifa protested actual Nazis and not just Libertarians and Constitutionalists. Second, Antifa came out wielding bats, shields, makeshift flamethrowers (yes, they actually did) and all other manner of pepper sprays and technically non-lethal weapons. Oh, and they wore their trademark black clothes with masks because they’re cowards who won’t show their faces. Someone attacked someone else, and the whole thing went nuts. Someone died. People on both sides and innocent bystanders ended up hospitalized.
When the dust cleared, the media and both wings of the political establishment blamed Nazis. When Donald Trump correctly adjudicated fault to radical elements on “both sides,” he was mauled by just about everyone. He was completely, undeniably correct. This is the terrifying effectiveness of Antifa’s tactics. This is the world the left is creating. Despite being the instigators, despite showing up armed to the teeth and despite having the mayor of Charlottesville allegedly telling his police forces to stand down and watch, the side which unilaterally shouldered the blame was the side that had taken all the legal steps to organize a lawful and peaceful demonstration of their views—disagreeable though they may be. Everyone except the Trump Administration (and Senators Mike Lee, Richard Shelby and Rand Paul), ignored the violent actions and intimidation tactics of the left to take the easy road and just blame the Nazis. Just like with Stalin and Hitler, this was a situation where there were two bad sides and somehow it is unacceptable to criticize one because that must mean you support the other. The culmination (for now) came in the form of a massive amount of money being spent to provide security for a two hour speech by Orthodox Jewish conservative media producer and frequent Donald Trump critic Ben Shapiro. Antifa cost UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley tens of thousands of dollars because they can’t let a principled, standard issue constitutionalist conservative talk for two hours without throwing a fit. On the 24th, Milo Yiannopoulos begins his four day “Free Speech Week,” which Berkeley is spending around a million dollars to provide security for and the claims of fascism and Nazism have already begun. Yiannopoulos is privately funding his own security detail of sixteen Navy SEALs in response to the threats on his life.
Antifa has gotten away with everything to this point, and the result is that a real, dollars and cents price tag has been put on free speech. In Berkeley, Antifa forced conservatives to pay a massive price. In Charlottesville, Antifa got away with violence because they convinced the powers that be that speech could be violence, and they got away with it. So perhaps this is why an aura of fear permeated the air of the tiny space in which I met these Anarchists of the State College Anarchist Reading Collective. In this basement known as “The Hush Room” on a side street of Penn State’s college town, my presence as a journalist, as a member of Turning Point USA and as a loud and clear voice of conservatism on campus, immediately dominated the room. These people were clearly, after five minutes spent listening to their tired, stale college intellectual drivel, not Anarchists. They thought that my stance as a libertarian was somehow contrary to Anarchism. I was told that my libertarian presence would “prevent [them] from having the free exchange of ideas” they wanted. The irony was lost on them. These were clearly anarcho- syndicalists, a group of upper class faux proletarian “revolutionaries,” whose primary achievement in the past century has been to smoke marijuana. My curiosity as to their beliefs offended them. How dare I face them? How dare I walk into their space (it was a public Facebook event), brazenly sit down with a friendly smile on my face, and ask to listen to their discussion about their beliefs? How dare I not fear them, the members of the State College Antifa without their masks? In the end, they could not intimidate me, so they asked my friend and me to leave, and we did. But this was a small win against Antifa. Uncowed, we left victorious