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Calling a Fascist a Fascist


This is a guest post by Lisa L. Miller, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University

In the movie Denial, which recounts the story of the libel lawsuit filed by disgraced historian David Irving against Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt, who labeled Irving a Holocaust denier, Professor Lipstadt is surprised to learn that the legal team hired by the book’s publisher does not intend to defend her claims by proving that the Holocaust did, in fact, happen. Rather, they aimed to show that David Irving deliberately misused, manipulated and lied about historical evidence in order to promote his own ideological and racist ideas. The reason for this decision, offered by solicitor Anthony Julius in the film, is that getting into a war of evidence with someone who denies reality for ideological purposes, plays right into his hands. It opens a debate about a subject on which all the evidence is on one side, and provides an opportunity for Irving to pick apart the experiences and lives of the traumatized.

I have been reminded of this film many times in the past few months, but never more so than last week-end when President Trump refused to draw a sharp line between white supremacists/neo-Nazis, and the people protesting them. Now, decent-minded people are consumed with trying to prove that there is no “alt-left” comparable to the racists on the right, that the fascists incited violence, and that they are different in kind from the anti-racists protesting them.

The temptation to argue with the peddlers of hatred is great. How can we let stand the false equivalency between those promoting fascism and those opposing it? Surely we must prove the truth.

Perhaps. But getting into a war of evidence may simply provide opportunities for the forces of fascism to normalize and mainstream their views. It introduces and legitimates the idea that there is even a debate worth having.

A different approach would be to ask: What is the history of these groups, what is their purpose? What ideology is served by the deliberate falsifying of historical and contemporary facts? What do these groups want?

The evidence certainly suggests that Donald Trump is, at a minimum, a racist sympathizer. He single-handedly used his wealth and fame to perpetuate the lie – wholly racist in nature – that President Obama was not born in the United States. He has declared his intention to deport millions of law-abiding Muslims, ban immigration of Muslims, and has called Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists. He openly accepted the support of avowed white supremacists during his campaign and has done virtually nothing to distance himself from these groups and their political aims since.

The neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups that marched in Charlottesville are similarly transparent in their purpose. They believe in the supremacy of white European Christians over, well, everyone else. In particular, they want to eliminate Jews and Blacks from their communities, and are also deeply hostile towards Latinos, Muslims, LGBTQ folks, feminists (perhaps women, generally), Catholics, and many others. There is no mystery here. They are hateful and dangerous groups whose aim is dominance.

Rather than get drawn into an argument with the inevitable “whataboutery,” perhaps we repeat again, and again, and again, for however long it takes, that these groups are violent authoritarian thugs, that they celebrate a past filled with genocide and brutality against groups they despise, and that they tell endless lies. They lie about Jewish people, they lie about the Confederacy, they lie about their own superiority. They lie about women, about gays, and about Catholics. They invent falsehoods about any group or individual that challenges their hierarchical worldview. We should be asking, loudly and frequently, what reason is there to give these groups, their members, or their leaders any credibility whatsoever?

Last summer my husband and I spent five days in Berlin, a city that brings the rise of fascism into sharp focus. Walking through the Topography of Terror – the museum detailing the emergence of Hitler and the Nazi party that now occupies the land where the SS headquarters once stood – then standing by the remains of the wall that separated East and West Berlin for nearly three decades, and finally, touring the Stasi Museum, housed in the former command offices of the East German Secret Police, the parallels between the tactics of authoritarians in both contexts are clear. The communists in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, having been hunted down, imprisoned, shamed, and sometimes executed by the National Socialist Party, apparently learned their lessons all to well. When their turn came, they deployed intrusive, damaging and frequently lethal methods to maintain control of power.

The Nazis and the East German Stasi shared contempt for the rule of law, for political competition in all forms, and, most horrifically, for any persons or groups who they deemed undesirable or a threat to their ideological or racial purity. On their way to total domination of Germany politics, the Nazi Party outlawed opposition parties, and then shamed, persecuted and executed Jews, gays, labor unions, gypsies, communists, the disabled, and Slavs. Their greatest atrocity, of course, was the slaughter of millions of Europe’s Jews, but their brutality knew few bounds. They burned books, imprisoned journalists, publicly humiliated women who had relations with the ‘non-pure,’ and deported tens of thousands of people. For their part, the East German Stasi ferreted out any potential chinks in the communist ideological armor by spying on youth, journalists, religious leaders, among many others, and justifying the murder of opponents it deemed ‘enemies of the people,’ which, as with the Nazis, meant anyone who disagreed with them.

It is worth noting, as well, that women played subservient roles in Nazi Germany, as essentially guardians of the race, and the upper ranks of the East German Stasi were completely devoid of women, despite communist rhetoric of gender equality. The women’s bathroom that was built in the Stasi Headquarters was eventually removed because there simply were no women at the highest levels of the East German Secret Police to use it.

And violence, or the threat of violence, was a pervasive part of Nazi and Stasi rule. Preparation for military excellence was a central feature of Hitler Youth. Twenty years later, East German children visited theme parks with tiny tanks as carousel seats, and learned rifle training at school. The underlying theme in both contexts was the need to be prepared, always prepared, for attack, for infiltration or invasion by the ever-present enemies of ‘the people’ (the pure Germans, the committed communists). That not every individual associated with the Nazi party or East German authorities supported or engaged in violent attacks is largely irrelevant because violence is at the core of any authoritarian political agenda.

Last week-end, the alt-right put its sympathy for these views on display for the nation and the whole world. They came to Charlottesville proudly waving Nazi symbols, confederate flags, white power slogans and signs, helmets, shields, sticks, guns, and they came carrying torches – a menacing display that is so deeply, and obviously, reminiscent of the Klan’s domestic terrorism. They chanted angry and vile slogans that were then made real in the murder of Heather Heyer, and the brutal beating of a black man.

Contempt for women from President Trump has been on vivid display since the Access Hollywood tape went public, and has parallels in the alt-right movement, some segments of which use harassment, threats and violent imagery to terrorize women in public spaces they deem male-only. The alt-right protestors who descended on Charlottesville were overwhelmingly male.

While Europe watched and waited in the 1930s, the Nazis were busy dismantling any political, social, or economic institution that might be able to challenge them and labeling any group opposed to them as dangerous. After the war, the East German Stasi quietly built an infrastructure of spying and propaganda based on a similar premise – that some groups threaten the racially and/or ideologically unified Volksgemeinschaft for whom the nation-state is really intended.

We, by contrast, have the luxury of hindsight, and the moral weight of history. We must do more than never forget. We must consciously and relentlessly remind everyone who these people are, what these groups stand for, and why they are so keen to normalize and mainstream their presence. They are not mainstream and this is not normal. No fascism on our watch.

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  • i, for one, totally agree.

    the GOP, however, is pretty cool with Trump’s response.

    • NonyNony

      We know the Republican party is full of garbage people. That 2/3rds of
      them approve of Trump’s response is no surprise to me at all
      specifically because they’re garbage people.

      One thing we don’t know from these kinds of polls is how many Republicans are now self-identifying as Independents again like they did after W shat the bed. I must not be cynical enough yet, because I hold out hope that there are a significant number of them. (My cynical side says “not enough to fill a bus”, but it hasn’t taken over completely yet.)

      • Judas Peckerwood

        “We know the Republican party is full of garbage people.”

        Hey, that’s 9/10 of my extended family you’re talking about there! And you’re absolutely right.

        • NonyNony

          I mean, in my defense, mine too. Maybe more like 8/10 than 9/10 though.

          • Judas Peckerwood

            Mine’s actually more like 99/100.

        • bender

          Whereas in my extended family it’s one in-law. And he’s a fairly decent person except for his reliance on rightwing media for his picture of the world.

      • Steve LaBonne

        That’s the thing. In times like this, as we’ve seen before, fewer and fewer people will admit to being Republicans, thus (in opinion polls) concentrating the craziness among the remaining diehards. What difference it will make to voting behavior is the $64,000 question.

      • Zagarna_84

        The last time I checked there had not been a significant change in party registration, although that was a few months ago. A lot, to say the least, has happened since then.

        But in general I’d guess party registration is quite stable and actually trails shifts in voting behavior, because changing it is a bureaucratic chore.

        • As noted above, Gallup tracks self-identification, which people change without formally changing their registration. It too has been holding steady for Republicans.

      • One thing we don’t know from these kinds of polls is how many
        Republicans are now self-identifying as Independents again like they did
        after W shat the bed.

        We DO know this. Gallup always asks about partisan identification.Republican Party ID has been holding steady at roughly 28 +/- 3% (i.e. within the margin of error) since 2014, with no trend up or down. In other words, Republicans are NOT starting to self-identify as independent. THEY FULLY APPROVE OF FASCISM.


    • TinEar

      Who are the 10% of Democrats who approve!? And the 3% who feel his policies have encouraged racial unity? Is this some kind of phenomena where you have to assume X% of people didn’t understand the question?

      • Shantanu Saha

        The reality of polling is that it relies on the respondents to report their own identities. Those respondents who report themselves as “Democrats” while approving or applauding Trump are lying about their political affiliation, either to the pollsters or to themselves.

        • Murc

          Why on earth would you assume this?

          I mean… Donald Trump got 10% of the black vote. Ten percent of black people cast a vote for the white supremacist.

          Isn’t the more obvious answer, as opposed to “lies,” is both “some minority of any large group of people will just be bugfuck crazy” and “just because your party affiliation is Democrat, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a Trumpster, cognitive dissonance be damned?”

          • Quaino

            29% of Latinos. 42% of Women. Completely correct — there’s no need to explain through subterfuge that which is the result of insanity.

            • so-in-so

              I would assume some of the AA vote bought into the “what have you got to lose” bit. The Latino vote is somewhat more confusing, he just said most of them were criminals but they think they will be known as one of the good ones? There are also people who don’t think at all – raised to vote for one party and couldn’t imagine voting for the other, as someone told me. Also people for whom whiteness beats everything, or think that a woman just shouldn’t be President.

              • The Great God Pan

                I believe there is a tendency among some Latinos who have been here for a couple of generations and are financially well-established to view themselves as distinct from and better than more recent, poorer arrivals. They’re likely to think Trump isn’t talking about them. I’ve even seen it argued that Latinos are in the process of “becoming white.”

                • bender

                  Hispanics/Latinos historically bounce back and forth across the color line and it also depends on country of origin, length of settlement and region. There is even a mild joke about Mexican-Americans and Jews taking turns being counted as white people.

              • Gwai Lo, MD

                A lot of Latinos in the military seems to explain part of it.

              • Drew

                He said most *Mexicans* were criminals. Believe you me there is no love lost between many different groups of hispanics.

            • Murc

              I mean, hell. I met a black McCain/Romney voter on a business trip in 2014 who was very, very eager at all times for someone to assume he’d voted for Barack Obama so he could call them a racist and then launch into a rant about the Democrat Plantation.

              Just because the dude was from an oppressed class didn’t make him not a giant ass or kind of nutty. It’s a big country and people are more than the sum of their class and race.

              • Gwai Lo, MD

                Plenty of Black doctors I know vote Republican. I somehow doubt they voted Trump, but people gonna people.

                • so-in-so

                  We know Ben Carson probably did.

                • You don’t think he wrote in his own name? Or maybe Jesus?

                • so-in-so

                  Not when he accepted a cabinet position.

              • CP

                I met a few Republicans while canvassing for the Maryland Democrats, but the only one who actually cussed me out and warned me never to come back was a man who, just based on his appearance and heavy accent, will be one of the first people sent back (or “back”) “home” if Trump and his Muslim Ban goons get free rein.

                Lots of assholes in the world, and not all of them are white.

                • Drew

                  Not all of them have a self-preservation instinct, apparently.

              • Drew

                I had a black acquaintance in college who was a very proud member of a group he said was called “Blacks Against Obama”.

            • AMK

              We talk about the mutually-reinforcing powers of congenital stupidity, lack of education and religious/cultural backwardness as the reasons for white working-class men voting against their own interests in every election. If we’re being honest, there’s enough of that in other communities as well. .

      • people who were Dems in the 50s but have been better at staying alive than staying up to date with party positions?

        idiots, probably.

      • brad

        Ann Althouse readers.

  • brad

    Worth noting that Trump’s entrance into public life was the infamous letter demanding the execution of the Central Park 5, which was essentially a demand for a lynching. Not to mention his family’s history of housing discrimination or his father’s KKK demonstration related arrest. This is not an adoption of a pose or letting who supports him pull him towards them, this is who he is.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      He was still carrying on about the Central Park Five LAST SUMMER.

      • tsam100

        Still wanted them executed despite having been exonerated, if I recall correctly.

        • (((realinterrobang)))

          Yes, and his argument remained the same, basically that “nits make lice.” (Which is the Nazi formulation, but he basically said as much in his paid advertorial thing from 1989.)

      • brad

        Derp, yeah, 5. Jena had 6.

        And he’ll rant about it whenever asked, I’m quite positive. It was too important to him, personally, for him to have been wrong.

    • Hypersphericalcow

      Even before that, the first mention of him in the New York Times was about his company being sued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for racial discrimination.

      • LeeEsq

        Under the Nixon administration nonetheless. Technically, it was Trump pare that was getting sued but Donald Trump was chosen to be the public face of this.

    • ringtail

      This isn’t really responsive but your post made me think of it. The final straw before I stopped reading facebook posts entirely was a post from a guy I know that said something to the effect of “In 50 years of doing business, Donald Trump was never accused of racism. Until he ran against a Democrat.”

      • so-in-so

        Clever repartee is much easier when you just make shit up. The GOP has been anti-fact for 30 years for a reason.

  • (((realinterrobang)))

    The Trump gang also have more in common with the Nazis as a group of people than just their contempt for certain groups and eliminationist rhetoric — they’re also a gang of ruthless profiteers with no ethical scruples at all about how that wealth is obtained, and they’re complete believers, as far as I can tell, in the spoils system.

    During the Holocaust, the Third Reich as an entity profited directly from the theft and resale/disbursement of property and other things (such as hair — at 50 pfennig per kilogram, used to insulate the hulls of U-boats, stuff furniture, and other things; and body parts sold to scientific institutes for study, gold teeth, etc.) taken from their victims.

    Various large corporations including IG Farben, Bayer, Opel (GM subsidiary), Coca-Cola, and IBM profited from slave labour in the KZ system.

    Hundreds of thousands of people were kidnapped from the occupied zones (mostly from Poland and Ukraine, and were called “Ostarbeiters”) and set to slave labour everywhere from Nazi bureaux doing clerical work to building V2 rockets in the hideous underground tunnels at Nordhausen Dora, where, once you went underground, the chances you’d ever see the sun or breathe fresh air again before you starved to death or died of disease was practically nil.

    Individual Nazis profited as well, if they had the means to do so. For instance, Krakow-Plaszow KZ Commandant Amon Goeth became incredibly fat because of all the food and liquour he was able to steal or demand from inmates or visitors. Lots of other Nazis also stole fortunes in gold, jewels, hard currency, and other transportable wealth, which they then used to finance their post-war escapes and disappearances. They also moved into Jews’/deportees’ houses or took possession of their clothes, furniture, jewellery, and other property.

    And my God, how the money rolled in!

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Obligatory mention of Edwin Black’s “IBM and the Holocaust,” which is one of the most chilling books on corporate *morality* that you’ll ever read.

      • (((realinterrobang)))

        Oh, yeah, isn’t it just. Also obligatory mention of Black’s _The Nazi Nexus_ which talks about other corporations’ dealings with Nazi Germany. Personally, I think the “industrialised slaughter for profit” aspect of the Holocaust is extremely overlooked, and possibly more disturbing than any of the other motives, YMMV.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          Haven’t gotten around to that book yet, but “IBM” and especially Black’s “War Against the Weak” are crucial reads as we witness the alt-right metastasize itself in the government.

          • So how does the current system here compare? How much are people getting from prison labor?

        • CP

          Personally, I think the “industrialised slaughter for profit” aspect of the Holocaust is extremely overlooked, and possibly more disturbing than any of the other motives, YMMV.

          I can’t really rank the motives, but I agree completely on the “overlooked” part.

          Just finished Paxton’s book on Vichy. He makes the interesting point that the regime was a bizarro mix of traditionalist ideologues and modernist technocrats, and that while the ideologues (propagandists, party leaders, elected politicians) were talking all the usual crap about returning to an idealized preindustrial society, the technocrats (businessmen and senior government ministers) were busy doing pretty much the exact opposite – centralizing, industrializing, and doing so in a way that directed huge fortunes into their bank accounts. Paxton further makes the point that while the ideologues were heavily purged at the end of the war, the technocrats escaped it mostly unscathed. Even though they’d been up to their neck in both making policy and profiting from it, most of them were never called to account.

          I don’t know the other fascist regimes of the era as well, but from what I remember, that seems to’ve been pretty common – with maybe some more prosecution of government types, but not much for the businessmen.

          What’s even more unpleasant to realize? It was the same in the United States. War hysteria mostly targeted Japanese, Italian, and German immigrant communities, with some pacifists and leftists thrown in for good measure. And yes, some of that did target genuine bad guys like the German-American Bund. But, all the Wall Street guys who’d made fortunes trading with Nazi Germany and in some cases kept up their economic ties to them all the way until 1945? So far as I know, nothing ever happened to any of them.

          World’s still full of people who owe their fortunes to fascism.

          • All, all aren’t gone, the old familiar fascists.

      • LeeEsq

        There is also Hitler’s Beneficiaries by Gotz Aly. It explains how ordinary Germans benefited from the Third Reich materially.

    • Bri2k

      Albert Speer (the Nazi Who Said Sorry) & his family were able to live comfortably after selling a looted painting.

    • CP

      One of the things that occurred to me around the time of Trump’s election is that the modern reimagining of fascism – what we’re seeing in Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America – is much more of a corporate-pirate state than the original fascist regimes were, blatantly undermining government authority and institutions while stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down.

      But then I realized that no, there’s not actually much of a change at all. The difference is more one of popular perception than actual substance. The Nazis projected the image of a gleaming efficient bureaucratic state, but behind the scenes, things weren’t actually all that different from Putin’s gangster-oligarch model. We just live in an age where it’s more acceptable to flaunt that shit.

      • I think that although we’ve always known about the Nazi looting, that looting, though horrible, pales compared to their other crimes against humanity so it’s not among the first things that comes to mind when contemplating Nazis.

    • Daniel

      It is striking to read about what happened at German universities alone. There were Nazi student groups demanding the ousting of their professors, who happened to be Jewish. Of course in the end they got their wish, and lots of mediocre Nazi profiteers rose into high academic positions as a result.

      The sheer amount of scientific talent that was driven out of the country is staggering. The list of Jews expelled from academia reads like a who-is-who of 20’s century science. The Nazis preferred to dabble in the occult and pseudoscience like homeopathy, not to mention racist abominations like phrenology.

  • McAllen

    Part of what’s gong on, I think, is that people are afraid of just being right. What I mean by that is that people have taken the legal neutrality to different ideologies which the US government has and applied it to individual morality, so people can’t say the Nazis are wrong because they’re Nazis and the anti-Nazis are right because they’re fighting Nazis. We treat Nazi and anti-Nazi as neutral ceteris paribus, and then compare their tactics. That’s how people can say “antifa/BLM is just as bad as the Nazis/KKK!”

    • LeeEsq

      Another issue is that the United States is still a small-l liberal democracy and rule of law is seen as kind of important to most people in small-l liberal democracies even if they can’t exactly articulate what concerns them. The general idea is that people should obey the laws and respect private property or public property even if their cause is just and the passions are running high. Just because you really believe in something isn’t seen as a reasons to violate the calm order that’s supposed to be a part of small-l liberal democracy.
      Nazis, fascists, and other people on the Far Right can kind of get away with violating public order because most people perceive as violent thugs on a subconscious level at least. They get to behave as brutes because most people see them as brutes. People on the liberal-left side believe in more noble things and a lot of people recognize this on a subconscious level as well. The downside is that the standards of behavior people expect from us are higher. When you want to be on the side of good than you have to do good to.

      • NonyNony

        Nazis, fascists, and other people on the Far Right can kind of get away
        with violating public order because most people perceive as violent
        thugs on a subconscious level at least. They get to behave as brutes
        because most people see them as brutes. People on the liberal-left side
        believe in more noble things and a lot of people recognize this on a
        subconscious level as well.

        To a lesser degree this also explains why IOKIYAR. Republicans are expected to be crooks, so when they act like a crook everyone shrugs. Democrats are expected to be held to a higher standard.

        • LeeEsq

          When you say you hate these groups and want to get rid of those groups, it gives you a surprising amount of leeway in your actions.

        • Murc

          This is, of course, all of a piece with my (plug!) law: only Democrats have agency.

        • Um, no, among Ds maybe. Among themselves and too many squishes, Rs get to behave as brutes because they’re willing to call their victims whiners. They’re willing to say that, objectively, they did nothing wrong and their victims have something wrong with them. And all evidence is that all too many people fall for it.

      • Bizarro Mike

        One of the main parts of this is that these far-right groups generally recognize that they’re the bad guys, and that they aren’t working toward the betterment of society as a whole. I think this dovetails with the Satre quote that’s become so popular. They aren’t concerned with outcomes, just playing with power.

        Any democracy should see people like this as absolutely toxic. They have nothing good to offer society.

        • so-in-so

          They aren’t concerned with outcomes, just playing with power.

          Any democracy should see people like this as absolutely toxic. They have nothing good to offer society.

          What part of that differs from the regular GOP?

          • Bizarro Mike

            Less and less differs every day. I think the main difference is that the GOP is concerned with outcomes, just not the advertised outcomes. They want the sweet, sweet tax cuts. To get them, they’re making an old fashioned bargain with the fascists who want power but don’t care too much about the kickbacks.

    • CP

      I think part of it is also discomfort with black-and-white narratives. The people who love such narratives, by and large, are on the right. People from the center to the left generally pride themselves on their capacity to appreciate ambiguity, shades of gray, different points of view, etc. The politically active people aren’t necessarily like this, but the ordinary voters are. The idea that a situation can be as simple as “yes, these people are wrong and these people are right, you should be helping the people over here and hindering the people over there in all particulars, full stop” is something that centrists and left-liberals rebel against instinctively, because the world is supposed to be more complicated than that. Never mind that sometimes, it isn’t.

      (This has done a lot to explain the popularity of the general “both sides do it” creed, and its believers’ ability to get away with the “but liberals are worse” corollary. Fascists vs. antifa is just a narrower version of same).

      • Junipermo

        I think a person forfeits the right to call him or herself a liberal if they have trouble accepting that fascists are evil, full stop. It isn’t complicated, and if a supposedly liberal person is more wedded to the idea of ambiguity and nuance than they are to facts, then they’re nothing more than self-indulgent concern trolls, and should be dismissed.

        • CP

          Well, I think that absolutely should be how it works, but you know how it is. Lots of people who call themselves and are widely considered to be liberals hold views that I think are completely incompatible with that.

      • Origami Isopod

        That’s the charitable explanation. The uncharitable one is that a lot of liberals love to pose as the moderate, reasonable, respectable types, and, as XKCD puts it, the important thing to them is that they get to feel superior to both sides.

    • Bizarro Mike

      Yes, there has been a real movement to get ideology elevated to a (socially) protected category like race, as if ideas cannot be shown to be wrong or harmful. That movement is of the right wing and is deeply disingenuous, but it suckers plenty of centrists and even well-meaning leftists. Ideas can be wrong, and people who hold wrong ideas are wrong and should change their opinions.

      • CP

        there has been a real movement to get ideology elevated to a (socially) protected category like race, as if ideas cannot be shown to be wrong or harmful

        Only some ideologies, of course.

        • Bizarro Mike

          They are not required to be consistent in their evaluations but somehow must be taken seriously. We have to get everything right all the time, and we’re jerks for trying to get things right.

      • Zagarna_84

        As a leftist who would basically subscribe to this “movement”, though I think it’s quite a ways off from actually being worthy of the name: I would encourage you to consider that your views about what ideas are “wrong” or “harmful” are unlikely to necessarily be shared by the one-percenters who actually exercise market-shaping power in the metaphorical “marketplace of ideas.”

        In said marketplace, truth is at best a minor selling point and is far outweighed by the utility of ideas to capital.

  • Charlie Kilian

    I’m convinced. Facists they are.

    But what do we do about it? What are our options?

    It seems to me our options break into two major branches: Things we can do if we consider the state legitimate, and things we can do if we don’t. The Antifas and the tactics that set them apart fall under the latter.

    Everyone on the left is fond of saying, “Words aren’t good enough. You must take action.” But I have come to realize I don’t know what that means. Is there a meaningful distinction between words and actions? I can draw lines in the sand with my words, and follow it up by exercising my freedom to decline to associate with people who cross those lines. I can attempt to convince Trump supporters they are wrong. Are these not actions? Are they just words? As long as our side does not hold political power, pretty much anything we can conceivably do can be summed up as just words. I can donate money to a cause, but to what end? As long as we don’t hold power, what will it buy but words in a larger venue? I can organize or try to build support for a future political candidate. But what am I doing but attempting to convince people that next time it should be different? What am I doing that can’t be summed up as mere words that aren’t good enough?

    I suspect I know what the Antifa think. They mean the use of violence. But one of the features of a state is that we grant it a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. So if the Antifa would have me take up violence, they are also asking me to reject the state. Indeed, most of them are anarchists, so that fits their worldview.

    At the moment, it doesn’t fit mine. So my question ultimately boils down to this: Should it?

    Or am I missing something here?

    • Should it?

      only if you think mindless violence is going to help anyone.

      the ‘antifa’ (a stupid name – who the hell isn’t against fascism? fascists) aren’t helping anyone accomplish anything.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        I suggest actually listening to what the people who were at Charlottesville had to say about Antifa. Antifa activists may have saved lives. They certainly put their bodies on the line to confront what the rest of us sitting at our computers certainly agree was worth confronting.

        Also, this piece by Mark Bray in the WaPo adds some great context:

        As Trump and his ilk continue to get worse, your comment, and others like these, are going to seem woefully outdated.

        • CP

          I suggest actually listening to what the people who were at Charlottesville had to say about Antifa. Antifa activists may have saved lives. They certainly put their bodies on the line to confront what the rest of us sitting at our computers certainly agree was worth confronting.

          From what I understand, they certainly did more than the cops quite a few times.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Absolutely. Part of the massive problem in Charlottesville was that the cops were worse than useless — they stood back and let the neo-Nazis rampage, unchecked and emboldened. People say that Antifa is rejecting the state — they’re actually stepping in and providing security that the state is declining to provide. If the police want to put a check on Antifa, then they could actually step up and do their own jobs.

            • Gwai Lo, MD

              There is a distinction between antifi and those who use Black Bloc tactics. The Black Bloc seem to be there to punch Nazis. Antifa are not necessarily violent, but are activists specifically against right-wing fascists.

              That’s my read from my time at Berkeley.

              • CP

                Yeah, part of the confusion is the amalgamation between all these groups in the public mind – I’m still not actually clear what Antifa is and isn’t and has and hasn’t been involved in. Were they part of the crowd that was, say, just breaking shit during the Inauguration? Because in the media and GOP memes, it’s all blurred together (not by accident I’m sure).

                • Gwai Lo, MD

                  It’s because antifa has no organization. Of the ones I met, some were outright Communists while others were anarchists. Those two groups can only co-exist when fighting a right-wing opponent.

              • I thought antifa was anti-racist skinheads, in England mostly, who liked to bash heads, as skinheads do. At least originally. I don’t know how/when they got associated with blac bloc tactics. (Antifa also seem at times to approach the sentiment that Margaret Thatcher is a fascist and anyone who doesn’t want to pull down the system, which is fascist, is a fascist.)

              • Lost Left Coaster

                I’ve been to a lot of protests over the years, mostly over a decade ago — from what I saw, I was pretty unimpressed with the Black Bloc. Breaking windows, etc., at anti-World Bank protests seemed juvenile and counterproductive.

                I initially read Antifa through this lens, and now, especially after Charlottesville, I’m starting to see that I was wrong, that I was not looking at the full picture. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything they do — but I do think that history will mostly remember them very kindly for standing up at a time when most of us are still in shock that a substantial part of our government is falling under the sway of neo-Nazism.

                • What bugs me about the black bloc–and antifa may be different but people online who call themselves “antifascist” often do this too–is that they seem to want the arena for themselves. They want it all to go the way they want it to go. I hear this from people who defend them. The rest of us should get out of the way. The people they see themselves as “protecting” should get out of the way.

        • no, i don’t need anyone else’s opinion about them. i’ve been to rallies where they show up and start throwing shit and lighting smoke bombs. they’re into destruction for its own sake, and i have no use for that.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Were you at Charlottesville?

            I ask because despite the fact that this was, by far, the most important showing of Antifa so far, and some people who were there are saying that Antifa saved their lives (including a group of clergy trapped by rampaging neo-Nazis), yet you seem to be willing to completely dismiss them.

            ETA: If by “I don’t need anyone else’s opinion about them” you’re referring to the article by Mark Bray, — well, he explains exactly what these kinds of groups are about and puts them in historical context. Not “opinion.”

            • no, i wasn’t at Charlottesville.

              i’ll say it again: i have no use for people who are into violence for its own sake. i do not want to smash the establishment or burn it down or whatever. if some individuals helped other people in a dangerous situation, that’s great. but that’s not why they show up to these things.

              • Lost Left Coaster

                Cleek, we have a difference of opinion here, but I say this very sincerely: GO FUCK YOURSELF for slandering the people who actually stood up to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Go fuck yourself. This kind of bullshit you are spreading here is, frankly, allied (no doubt unintentionally, but still allied) with Trump’s “both sides are to blame” line. Go fuck yourself.

                ETA: To be clear, I don’t mean that everyone needs to agree with everything that Antifa does or their methods — but you are slandering them in a very nasty way. So I stand by my comment. I don’t want to be read as saying that I think everyone should agree with everything they do.

                • Again, when we’re dealing with those whose ideology preaches the forced subjugation, removal or even elimination of parts of our population, our people, violence is already part of the equation. It may be the threat of violence to intimidate, or it may flare into open violence. So the only question is how to respond. Should antifas rely on the police to protect people? Should fascists be allowed to rampage so they can be shamed publicly?

                • Lost Left Coaster

                  Yeah, exactly. And there is a lot of room for debate, a lot of people on our side are committed to nonviolence, and I understand this. But I fear we are genuinely getting into the territory where someday people are going to ask why we didn’t resist more, when we could see so clearly what was happening.

                • for slandering the people who actually stood up to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville

                  which i didn’t do.

                  if you want to argue about things i didn’t write, i don’t need to participate.

                  Go fuck yourself.

                  not actually possible.

                  but, here, have a block.

                • Lost Left Coaster

                  I know cleek can’t read this because I am blocked — that’s fine, I certainly wasn’t putting my most eloquent nor polite self forward, no need to tolerate that — but I stand by my statement. Cleek wrote, “if some individuals helped other people in a dangerous situation, that’s great. but that’s not why they show up to these things.” This is a vicious lie, well in line with the current Trump line. I do not think that the rest of us have to tolerate that kind of bullshit any longer.

              • nixnutz

                I think LLC wants to make a distinction between the people you’re calling out and “antifa” as a whole, just as I presume you would like to maintain a distinction between them and “the left” as a whole. That seems reasonable to me because you know there was someone across the street looking at you and saying “those damn protesters show up and start throwing shit and lighting smoke bombs.”

                Now I don’t know if that distinction did exist a year ago, it seemed like most people who wanted to identify as antifa also wanted to act like idiots but if that’s changing, and I think there’s evidence that it has, that’s a good thing.

                • yeah, that all sounds right.

                  at least, everything but the last sentence sounds right. the last sentence i’ll just have to hope is right.

    • randykhan

      Sometimes words are actions. Calling people in Congress is an action – and it had a palpable effect.

      But I think action in the current context also includes protest (and counterdemonstrations), donations to entities that are fighting on our side, participation in political campaigns by canvassing, phone banking, etc.

    • McAllen

      I think using violence against Nazis is a recognition of the failure of the state, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the complete rejection of the state or an embrace of anarchism.

      • applecor

        Unless you are Jake Blues.

        • Bluesmank

          He and the Lord did have an understanding.

      • BigHank53

        Well, you’d be well advised to draw yourself a line, and decide what you’re going to do when that line gets crossed. I’m an American, for example, because after my dad escaped Nazi Germany in 1944 and spent a couple years in a Swiss refugee camp, he decided to come to the US instead of going back to Germany.

        ETA: Here’s an interesting story about organized violence against American Nazis:


        • CD

          Thanks for that!

    • Perhaps showing more support for the people who go out and counter-protest the nazi/kkk goons? Like Ms. Heyer? Financial support and verbal approval, admiration of their courage. And don’t let anybody say they are the same as the nazis.

    • Anna in PDX

      What do you mean “Antifa mean the use of violence”? How are you assuming they behave? What are the violent actions that are OK and not OK? It seems to me we should be more specific when we talk about these things. Their own planning docs seem to have a fair amount of nuance, e.g., this one here from my local group (I am not a member of this group but I do live in Portland)

      What about this do you espouse? What about it are you absolutely opposed to?

      • Charlie Kilian

        That link is blocked where I’m at right now, but I’ll try it again when I’m at home, and hopefully then I can address this in more detail.

        By “Antifa mean the use of violence,” I meant that when they say, “Words aren’t good enough, you must take action” the action they are specifically referring to that counts as more than words…is the use of violence. My conclusion comes from the fact that Antifa seem to be in agreement with everyone else on the left regarding tactics, right up until they talk about meeting violence with violence. That is where the tactical disagreement happens. So if we agree in all other regards that we should protest, make phone calls, organize, etc, but I am still told that my “words” are not enough, that I must also take action, the conclusion I draw is there is a concrete action I have yet to take that they think I should. And since I’m already doing the actions we agree on, I conclude they also insist that I should want to take the actions that we *don’t* agree on. And that is the tactical use of violence.

        • Charlie Kilian

          That said, one of the things this thread is making me think about is that everyone has a different line of what they think counts as “just words” and what they think counts as “action”. I suspect it strongly correlates to what they are used to doing and are comfortable with. I suspect someone who never posts about politics on Facebook feels like they’ve taken action when they do. And those of us who talk about this stuff all the time, who call our Senators and Representatives frequently, etc., consider those things “just words” because they’re words/actions they’re already used to taking. Perhaps by “taking action,” we all simply mean “Do more than you’re already
          doing right now.”

          • Charlie Kilian

            Which is to say, I may be reading too much into what the Antifas mean when they say “action, not words”.

            • Hogan

              Or not enough. Nonviolent confrontation is an action.

              • Charlie Kilian

                This is not what Antifas espouse, though. They don’t only mean nonviolent confrontation. They mean confrontation up to and including violent confrontation.

                This is why they give me pause. I admire the Antifas when they put themselves between clergy (or anyone else at risk) and Nazis. I admire that they’re putting their body on the line. I think it is perfectly fine for them to get into a Nazi’s personal space, make them uncomfortable. Should a Nazi start throwing punches, I think it’s morally defensible to defend yourself and punch them back. (Tactically, I think it’s more questionable. But I won’t lose too much sleep over it.)

                I don’t think it’s okay to be the one who shows up and start throwing punches. Not morally, and not tactically.

                To be clear, I’m in no way saying the Antifas are just as bad as the Nazis. My moral and tactical disagreements with them fully factored in, the Antifas are saints compared to Nazis. It’s not even close.

                Much of my moral calculation comes from what is and is not considered a legitimate use of violence in our society. This is where my talk of abandoning the state comes from. McAllen makes an interesting point that perhaps my thinking here is too binary. I’ll have to think about that.

                • Charlie Kilian

                  Also, it’s worth pointing out the difference between being okay with violent confrontation should someone else start the violence, and being okay with starting the violence yourself. Antifas advocate for the latter, not just the former.

                • Anna in PDX

                  The Antifa statements I have seen advocate the former and not the latter. That said, everyone is really good at rationalizing their behavior by saying that someone else started it, and it’s not always a valid argument… I dunno, I am trying to learn more about the various Antifa groups and what they do and don’t do. There’s a book called “Antifa: A handbook” coming out in September that may be a good read, it’s on my wish list.

                • so-in-so

                  Also its pretty hard for organizations to fully control what their people do.
                  The police fail miserable (assuming they WANT to control it) so why would a more ad-hoc volunteer group be much better at assuring nobody is too aggressive when things get nasty?

                • Anna in PDX

                  It is also hard to keep people from fighting if they are trying to fight. My son was trying to fulfill that role in a protest a while ago, they had special bandannas tied on their arms to show they were “security” for the protest, and they tried to keep people apart and keep them from starting fights. It is hard to do, and you need to know what techniques to use, and they had to have some training and learn some ground rules prior to the protest. It took a lot of work on the part of the protest organizers, and there were still a lot of arrests and some property damage (I believe this was the inauguration protests here in Portland, widely reported as “riots” though I would say that was not true).

                • so-in-so

                  Yes, I’ve come to realize that if its POC or leftists of any stripe, they are “riots”. If they are RWers, even Nazis, they are generally called “protests” unless (maybe) actual shooting breaks out. While the guy driving the car into the crowd has actually been called a terrorist, the white supremacists don’t seem to be called “rioters” even while they charge around and assault people.

          • Anna in PDX

            I think this is right, we all interpret what “action” means somewhat differently. In the protests last Saturday, I heard that the clergy who were standing in a row appreciated the Antifa folks imposing themselves between them and the Nazis. I do not know if the Antifa threw any punches or just shoved back or what. I honestly don’t have much of a problem with this level of “violence” but I also don’t think it’s especially useful for protests to descend into brawls. This is more of a utilitarian thing (the message will be lost and all that will be focused on is the violence) than an absolute morality thing, to be quite blunt.

      • The Great God Pan

        In the first few months of Trump’s presidency when “antifa” started to become a household term, I read some antifa websites to see what they were about aside from punching Richard Spencer. I had previously heard of the movement in a European context but was unfamiliar with stateside activities.

        Some of what I read basically amounted to stalking. One representative article (posted, IIRC, by a group from NYC) boasted about a recent successful action that consisted of following some “Nazis” (I use scare quotes because using the internet to identify people as Nazis is not exactly foolproof) to a bar where they sitting at a table having a conversation, intimidating them into leaving and then beating them up outside the bar.

        IMO, this is crazy shit and something that liberals should take a look at before giving antifa a blanket endorsement. It might sound fine and dandy as long as they’re doing it to Nazis, but I’m not comfortable with a bunch of anarchist street kids deciding who is and isn’t a Nazi. I would put it under the heading of “Not OK.” YMMV.

      • PorlockJunior

        Thanks for the Rose City piece. It’s about as coherent and reasonable a position paper as can be written in a hotly contested matter like this. (Considering where it came from, it could have been written at my old Alma Mater – and probably it was, in part.) Should be a textbook piece on sticking to the point and never heeding the factional But-What-Abouts, the importance of which is the only thing that the myriad Judaean Popular Fronts and People’s Fronts of Judaea agree on.

    • so-in-so

      The fascist symbols on many of the shields they carried in Charlottesville were a bit of a give-away.

  • Anyone have any thoughts on the Chuck Johnson / Julian Assange / Dana Rohrabacher meeting yesterday?

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Rohrabacher will have a presser in which he proclaims that Assange and Putin are both good honorable men who never did anything wrong.

      • Gwai Lo, MD

        I presume it will be held in the original Russian of the diktat.

  • randykhan

    The point about not getting into a fight about evidence makes a lot of sense. (I do feel, though, that it’s not wrong to say that anti-Fascist violence is justified because, you know, they’re Fascists.)

  • Dr. Waffle

    Oh look, the President just favorably referenced a war crime that never happened: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fad5bdeb45475ed4f926f8fbce41439ec515c8b83fd015527daa3e81d8d997f9.png

    • so-in-so

      First I heard Pancho Villa was Islamic, or is he referencing the Bonus Army?

      • so-in-so

        Ok, he was in charge of fighting the Filipino Insurrection, so, yeah, a war crime.

    • LeeEsq

      German soldiers on a battlefield are terrorists now?

      • tsam100

        Have you heard them speak? It’s very jarring and somewhat terrifying.

      • Hogan

        He’s talking about the Moro rebellion in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

    • CP

      What the fuck is he talking about?

      • LeeEsq

        I’m somewhat surprised he at least managed to get the year kind of right in his mangled analogy or reference. One hundred years ago, the United States did enter World War I.

      • Downpup E

        A fake story about Pershing in the Philippines during the Moro rebellion.
        At least he isn’t trying to recreate the Moro Crater Massacre. Yet.


        • so-in-so

          There was the waterboarding, but Dump probably didn’t get that far into it.

        • Zagarna_84

          Isn’t Duterte already trying to/succeeding in recreating that?

    • wengler

      Making friends and influencing people. Despite the resurgence of an odious strain of Sunni Islam, there is no way in this era that sewing pigskins over dead Muslim terrorists is going to dissuade terrorism. One might think that doing that sort of barbaric shit will validate it and spread it.

      • DJ

        I’m reminded of a man I heard talking about how bacon was nailed to the door of an Islamic center.

        “It’s like they think bacon is kryptonite to us. ‘Oh, no, there’s bacon on that door! Now we can’t enter the Islamic center anymore! Whatever will we do?'”

        • Anna in PDX

          Yes it is so stupid. Babe the movie came out when I lived in Egypt. It was popular. Pigs are cute. We like them. We can pet them. We just don’t eat them.

  • randomworker

    From one of our commenters at MoJo:

    “‘Sartre wrote about discussing anti-Semitism with an anti-Semite:

    “Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

    Essentially the Trumps and his ilk know they are lying to your face and watch as you powerlessly counter with facts and their reaction is a kind of bemused sadism. The power of putting you in your place by removing the effectiveness of your reasoned reply is what they enjoy. Nothing is more essential to who we are than what we know, and they cut at that at the very essence.”‘

    • so-in-so

      So, is the correct response “You are a POS and we will all be better off when you are worm food”? I mean, I can live with that as a response to Dump supporters.

      • Gwai Lo, MD

        Trolling just provokes someone so you can play defense. Force them on offense. Make them say something they actually mean.

        Or just don’t give them any attention.

        • PorlockJunior

          I’d have upvoted this with enthusiasm, but I don’t trust my rhetorical abilities to follow up on it successfully. Worthy of serious thought, though.

    • NewishLawyer

      This is exactly right and is pitch perfect at what the right-wing trolls on another site do. This is about the limits of rhetoric.

      • Anna in PDX

        Yes, it is a very good comment, and a great Sartre quote. They like to baffle you with bullshit and laugh at you as you try to get it off your shoes.

  • Downpup E

    I can’t get my head around the need to remind people that Nazis are Bad.
    If a grown up American doesn’t get that, the problem is just too deep for correction.

  • tsam100

    This is a huge problem that the mainstream media–even the better outlets among them–have: Presenting far-right/alt-right statements as a legitimate side of the debate. There’s nothing legitimate about a Nazi or any damn thing they say.

    • so-in-so

      Our own “accommodation” of some like Von Braun after the war, and the whole cold war turn against the Soviets, probably didn’t help.

      • Steve LaBonne

        “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
        That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.

    • CP

      I think the real problem there is the refusal to call out Republicans, no matter how low they sink. Years ago when Nazis weren’t visibly and obviously associated with the Republican Party, it was easy to denounce them. But now that they have Republicans, one of them the president, going to bat for them, all of a sudden it’s no longer acceptable to punch them – you might be hitting your good friends in the GOP. (The logical response should be “the GOP has clearly lost its fucking mind and I’m not sticking with it through this,” but it isn’t).

      This is why fascists’ success or failure in rising to power hinges on whether or not traditional conservatives accept them. If not, no worries – they remain freaks and outcasts and acceptable targets. But if they do, then the fascists become respectable by association. They’ve been vouched for by the senior members of the country club, and polite society must respect their wishes.

      • tsam100

        Absolutely. They still think Republicans like Eisenhower exist. And as they get crazier with time, the media is straining hard to come up with a way to keep Republicans viable. Also, if we’re creating a sort of dialectic for politics, the media wants to put the liberals and conservatives an equal distance from the dividing line, which is fucking nuts. Conservatives are completely batshit fucking crazy these days. Decades of manipulation, fearmongering and rejection of critical thought and basic truths have taken their toll.

  • Hypersphericalcow

    It is worth noting, as well, that women played subservient roles in Nazi Germany, as essentially guardians of the race

    Kinder, küche, kirche.

    • Gwai Lo, MD

      The similarities between the 3 Ks and the KKK seems not coincidental. It also means their inning is over, whether they’re swinging looking.

  • dl

    although isn’t there a little false equivalency in the post itself between Nazis and East German Communists?

    • thomas

      Exactly. The whole thing reads like both sides do it.

      • West

        Maybe a tad, but…..

        Both those iterations of Germany did NOT engage in genocide, so that’s of course a really big distinction that the post could have made more clear.
        However, the East German regime was deeply totalitarian in how it manipulated and atomized society. Every single citizen could KNOW – accurately – that they were being spied on. In many cases by someone in their own family. That drives some really deep-seated fear and paranoia that does have a lot of commonality with Nazi Germany.

        ETA: also, what so-in-so added above: the Stasi did do some killing of their own citizens.

      • CP

        I don’t disagree, entirely, but it’s a lot more defensible when you’re talking about a regime on the scale of the DDR which, while not Nazi or Stalinist in its level of evil, was still a massively oppressive force (as demonstrated by the number of people who risked their lives to flee it)…

        … as opposed to, you know, when you’re comparing BLM protesters to Nazis.

      • dl

        Under Communism, if you kept your head down and went about your
        business, you were mostly OK…under Nazism, you could, what–stop being
        Jewish/Roma? Not really. That’s a real difference.

        • CP

          Although that varies from place to place. In the Eastern Bloc for most of the Cold War, in postrevolutionary Cuba, this applied. But in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s purges, in China during the Cultural Revolution, in Cambodia during the killing fields, not so much.

          Communist regimes usually don’t go all the way to “we hate you because of your born identity and there is nothing you can do that will persuade us not to kill you,” but there’ve been quite a few regimes under whom keeping your head down and going about your business absolutely would not save you, either. Somebody on this blog once quoted a diplomat using the Russian Roulette analogy for how things were in Stalin’s Moscow, which is probably the best way to put it.

          • dl

            fair enough

            • CP

              I should clarify that I do have major problems with the facile “communism fascism” worldview, even though I can see why people do it. This just deserved elaboration.

    • so-in-so

      The DDR relied on mines, razor wire and kill zones to keep their own people in. They didn’t commit genocide, but I wouldn’t say they were enough better to matter.

      • dl

        so, other than the genocide, huh? This is one of the most “other than that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln?” things I’ve ever read…

        • so-in-so

          I don’t think the purpose of the article was to pick the worst regime in history, but to show two related (by nationality) authoritarian states. The worst case story here is not a duplicate of Nazi Germany in America but some distinctly American variant of authoritarian state.

    • DJ

      No, I don’t think so. Granted I only read it once, and fairly quickly, but Professor Miller was discussing the tactics of authoritarian states, two of which existed in the same city that she was in, and one of which rose out of the ashes of the other. I don’t recall that she intended to argue that anything in particular that the Stasi did was comparable to the Holocaust. Just that the tactics of these two authoritarian states were similar in important ways that we should be aware of today.

  • Yes, this pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    Political movements whose goal is to dominate, exclude or even eliminate are not here to contribute to national debate. Their goal is to derail national debate, making it impossible to discuss things rationally until the only issue that remains is “Who will dominate?”

    Unfortunately to a large extent this is now true of the Republican Party. It truly has turned into a far right party for the most part.

  • NewishLawyer

    I agree. There is an issue of opportunity costs though. I’m not talking about going to protests but it is emotionally and physically exhausting to argue with people when you know your mind won’t be changed and their mind won’t be changed.

    I’m spending a lot of time being exhausted rather than exhilarated by politics.

    • Murc

      I’m not talking about going to protests but it is emotionally and
      physically exhausting to argue with people when you know your mind won’t
      be changed and their mind won’t be changed.

      You’re not arguing to convince them, tho. You’re arguing to convince people watching, and also, hopefully, to convince yourself. I can’t speak for others but when I start to make an argument if I find myself “I’m on thin ice” I take a step back and maybe consider if I’m on the wrong side.

      And you know, sometimes people do come around. That happens, both for good and for ill.

      • so-in-so

        If you find yourself “coming around” while talking to an anti-Semite or Nazi, there is a bigger problem.

        • Anna in PDX

          It reminds me of the “now I am outraged by Chappaquiddick” argument (Did Roy Edroso invent this or was it somebody else? Maybe Michael Berube?)

        • Murc

          Yes, but that does happen. It also happens that people abandon those views.

          Those are both things that occur.

      • randykhan

        When I engage trolls, it’s really not about them at all, but about other people who might see the exchange. In fact, I sometimes tell them I don’t care if I convince them since they’re bad people arguing in bad faith. It surprises them.

        I don’t really do it for me. Most of the time the arguments are so pathetic that I don’t get any of the good feeling you get from being clever.

        • Gwai Lo, MD

          I sometimes do this too. Usually mentioning they’re too stupid to be convinced will get some likes from the peanut gallery.

          Still probably useless. But I took one down so hard on a thread about Milo and free speech someone just commented “wow. That was amazing.” :)

      • Zagarna_84

        This is a critically important point. When you are arguing with someone, the purpose is not to convince THEM PERSONALLY; all the social science says that’s basically impossible, absent unusual circumstances you have no control over. The goal is to convince other observers.

        To be sure, it is sometimes easier to persuade outside observers that a person is a liar or an imbecile than to try to educate them about the broader facts of a situation. Ad hominem attacks are a pretty effective rhetorical device.

    • Yes. I dip my toe into the perennial vaccine denier wars and it’s exhausting. I do it for the lurkers, but I don’t know if I’ve ever convinced anyone who’s deep into the nonsense of that particular fringe movement. The Trump base is like that.

  • Murc

    Forgive me, but a lot of this seems like fine distinctions without differences. Like, here:

    Professor Lipstadt is surprised to learn that the legal team hired by
    the book’s publisher does not intend to defend her claims by proving
    that the Holocaust did, in fact, happen. Rather, they aimed to show that
    David Irving deliberately misused, manipulated and lied about
    historical evidence in order to promote his own ideological and racist

    This legal argument slash debating tactic seems to be justified by… calling it something different?

    The reason for this decision, offered by solicitor Anthony Julius in the
    film, is that getting into a war of evidence with someone who denies
    reality for ideological purposes, plays right into his hands. It opens a
    debate about a subject on which all the evidence is on one side, and
    provides an opportunity for Irving to pick apart the experiences and
    lives of the traumatized.

    And I’m just scratching my head here. If you aim to discredit a Holocaust denier by proving that they’re lying, manipulating, and misusing historical evidence, you have already gotten into a debate with them, and you’ve set out to prove that the Holocaust did, in fact, happen, because it seems like it is impossible to prove that someone is lying about something or manipulating facts without presenting the actual truth, and the actual facts, and then proving that they are the true things and what the opposite side is saying is false.

    In fact, you’ve actually set yourself a higher bar and made yourself a harder argument, have you not? It’s easy to prove facts; but intent is notoriously slippery. If you want to prove that someone is not just wrong, but a deliberate liar, you’ve set yourself a much harder task than just proving that they’re wrong.

    This seems like very, very fine hair-splitting as to how we should have the argument, not whether.

    Perhaps. But getting into a war of evidence may simply provide
    opportunities for the forces of fascism to normalize and mainstream
    their views.

    I’m going to be honest. I’ve never understood this standpoint.

    People are all “by debating them, you legitimate them!.” And I just… do not get that. In my mind, utterly demolishing someone by proving that they’re wrong, and not just wrong, but almost certainly a liar given their past history and the cause they’re advancing, and that said cause is morally odious, acts to weaken the views of the demolished, rather than strengthen them.

    And furthermore, speaking only for myself… if I see an argument between positions I don’t have a fully-formed opinion on either way, or someone challenging a long-held societal or historical truth that I also have never really thought to question, my sympathies are automatically with the side that’s at least superficially trying to marshal an argument. The side that says “I don’t have to argue with you; I’m right and you are not, and my rightness means I don’t have to prove jack shit” is going to get side-eyed from me.

    And like it or not there are a lot of people who either don’t have fully-formed and strong opinions about fascism, or who are willing to question long-held truths about it if people are willing to show up to do so. Indeed, we should regard the willingness of people to do this as a strength, rather than a weakness; it means that their minds won’t automatically snap shut when they’re approached with heterodoxy. That’s bad when it results in people going “maybe fascism wasn’t so bad; let me hear them out” but it is good when it results in people saying “maybe the Dunning School narrative of brave, noble southerners fighting against northern oppression is bullshit; let me hear the people saying that out.”

    A different approach would be to ask: What is the history of these
    groups, what is their purpose? What ideology is served by the deliberate
    falsifying of historical and contemporary facts? What do these groups

    This seems like a fine and effective line of argumentation to take… but you’re still getting into an argument, aren’t you? Either with the group in question, or with people who haven’t made up their mind yet by proxy. You still have to… marshal facts and evidence and demolish the arguments of the other side with truth, reason, and morality. You haven’t even moved the playing field that much, if at all.

    Same deal with this:

    Rather than get drawn into an argument with the inevitable
    “whataboutery,” perhaps we repeat again, and again, and again, for
    however long it takes, that these groups are violent authoritarian
    thugs, that they celebrate a past filled with genocide and brutality
    against groups they despise, and that they tell endless lies.

    This still involves making and pushing home an argument, right? If you say “these people are telling endless lies” and someone says “wow, really! Okay, what are they?” you’d better have an answer prepared or you’ll look like an idiot, right?

    • Anne Nonymous

      I think the relevant distinction here might be maybe between a defensive and an offensive argumentative stance? Like, instead of spending a lot of time presenting positive evidence that the Holocaust really happened, the preferred strategy was to focus on showing that the supposed anti-Holocaust evidence was all lies and bullshit, while (accurately) treating the positive evidence for the Holocaust as blatantly obvious? I know that’s not exactly how it’s phrased in the OP, but that was what stood out to me.

      I don’t think a tactic like this is dishonest, it’s simply accepting that you have a finite amount of time/audience attention to use in presenting your case, and it’s important to put the emphasis where it really belongs — on the dishonesty and bad faith of your opponent — rather than wasting time defending things that ought to be accepted as baseline obvious amongst even marginally informed and honest people.

      • Hondo

        Yes, I think this gets to a major point being made in the OP. It always seems to be the case that you just can’t fact check these assholes fast enough. The Twain line about truth taking too long to get it’s pants on is true especially today. The barrage of lies comes out of so many sources at such a high rate that no one could ever keep up. Eventually, the argument gets derailed by the constant counter lies that are presented in response to whatever fact you put forward. It’s Fox “News” and their entire army of surrogates and fellow travelers in the media vs. Chris Hayes. No contest. Using the tactic of stating what they are, what they want, what have been their actions, is beyond dispute and puts them on the defensive.

        • Anne Nonymous

          In addition to short circuiting the liars’ Gish Gallop, I think taking an offensive rather than defensive strategy projects confidence in a way that can be impressive to casual bystanders. Not everyone in the relevant audience will be interested in/have the time for/be capable of following the details of your argument, but all of them will see you pushing the debate deep into the other side’s turf. It makes your position look strong and their position look weak, and when your arena is public opinion rather than scientific or historical debate, that matters a lot.

    • so-in-so

      I suspect the difference is between presenting all the evidence that the Holocaust really happened and then trying to defend it from nit-picks, and presenting the lies and distortions of the denialist and making them defend themselves. The first case you never know what direction your opponent will take or how you’ll have to defend. In the second, the advantage is reversed and he has to defend things that he might have twisted on the basis that nobody would have counter facts available.

      • Sarah

        It seems to me that the minute you present the lies and distortions of the Nazis/deniers, they’ll promptly deny it, and then as mentioned above, you’re back in the saddle of debating with bad faith opponents.
        Don’t see how that is to be avoided.

        • so-in-so

          In this case, his lies were in his books and publications. Denying them wouldn’t be an option.

    • The distinction is between arguing over the details of the Holocaust and Hitler ‘s precise culpability, which are susceptible to nit picking, and attacking the quality of Irving’s scholarship. In short, they proved nothing about the Holocaust but showed that Irving was a Hitler venerating fraud.

    • DJ

      And I’m just scratching my head here. If you aim to discredit a Holocaust denier by proving that they’re lying, manipulating, and misusing historical evidence, you have already gotten into a debate with them

      If I recall correctly, the movie was attempting to provide a cinematic shorthand version of an argument that Professor Lipstadt makes in real life, and has been criticized for. Essentially, she refuses to engage in any debates with Holocaust deniers, for a whole host of reasons, such as the fact that they refuse to accept basic facts and regularly make transparently contradictory arguments without ever admitting to the contradictions.

      It’s been awhile since I’ve followed Lipstadt’s career much, but back when her book Denying the Holocaust came out, she refused to accept invitations from, for example, television shows that wanted her to join in a “conversation” with a denier. She would tell the show that she was happy to come on by herself and explain the lies of the Holocaust denial movement, but she would not engage in a discussion with any member of the movement.

  • Bitter Scribe

    I’d like to meet one of these alleged “good people” who marched on Charlottesville and ask him or her, what did you think you were getting into? Did you notice the Nazi flags and salutes? Did you hear the Nazi slogans? At what point, if ever, did it occur to you that this wasn’t the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade?

    • Cheap Wino

      Exactly. How could I have known that the Nazi flags and other paraphernalia, and the Nazi salutes and chants meant there were bad apples in the group doesn’t fly. When your picture is taken next to the guy with the Nazi flag and you’ve continued to march alongside you’ve given your assent.

      • PorlockJunior

        Since it’s very late here, I need to think a cheerful thought: quite a few Republican voices, including ones I really don’t like (Lindsey Graham, anyone?) have been saying just this sort of thing. Take some feel-good medicine before bed, and you could imagine you’re seeing the signs of impending doom for Trumpolini.

  • Hondo

    What a great essay. I know I get caught up in trying to argue facts with these people. And I know I’m terrible at it.

  • Kurzbein

    I re-watched Downfall tonight, and it spooked me as no horror movie ever could. Ganz’s Hitler echoes everything Trump (as president) has and ever will say. It also aptly highlights the rhetoric and mindset of his various acolytes. Quite sobering given what we’ve witnessed of Trump and company so far.

  • hapax

    Interesting essay, but… “They chanted angry and vile slogans that were then made real in the murder of Heather Heyer, and the brutal beating of a black man.”
    By all that’s holy, can we NOT? The “black man” has a name too. His name is DeAndre Harris. Is it so hard to look that up?

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