When is it okay to beat up journalists?

Civilization is not so stable that it cannot be broken up; and a condition of lawless violence is not one out of which any good thing is likely to emerge.  For this reason, if for no other, revolutionary violence in a democracy is infinitely dangerous.

==Bertrand Russell in 1920

Andy Ngo is a photojournalist in Portland, Oregon, who tries to document the claim that the “anti-fa” left engages in unprovoked violence.

The “anti-fa” movement had responded to his charges by breaking his equipment and beating him up, the last time seriously enough to send him a hospital emergency room.

The background is political demonstrations organized by two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, known for engaging in street fighting and trying to provoke retaliation by leftists.  The response by liberals and progressives in the Portland area was to organize much larger counter-demonstrations in reply, which is an effective response.

Andy Ngo after beating

The “anti-fa” movement goes further.  They say it is necessary to meet street violence with violence.  They also say that any fascist – they get to decide who is a fascist – is a legitimate target.

A certain number of self-identified liberals and progressives have written excuses and justifications for “anti-fa” and Ngo’s beating, which is what moves me to write about it.  Otherwise I might have thought of all this as an isolated incident.

Here are some of the arguments:

  • Andy Ngo was looking for trouble and wanted to portray himself as a victim of violence.  If that is so, why give him what he wanted?
  • The reports of Ngo’s beating diverts attention from the real issue, which is that right-wing violence is a worse threat than left-wing violence.  Why can’t you be against both?
  • The “anti-fa” movement hasn’t actually murdered anyone yet.  Good thing Andy Ngo didn’t die of his injuries, then.  The “anti-fa” movement might have been justly criticized.
  • Nobody knows for sure who beat up Andy Ngo.  Supposedly it could have been anyone.  Would that argument be made if some left-wing photojournalist was beaten up after filming right-wing street fighters?

In an earlier era, there were street fighters who called themselves the “black bloc” who’d join peaceful demonstrations and then start breaking windows, overturning cars and so. Like the “anti-fa’ fighters, they wore black clothing and black hooded masks.

They called this as “diversity of tactics.”  The idea is that you do your thing (peaceful protest) and they’ll do their thing (vandalism and street fighting).  The problem with that is that if there is a political demonstration in which the vast majority are peaceful and law-abiding and a few break window or throw bricks at police, it is the window-breakers and brick-throwers that will be remembered, not the majority.

This is very different from the miners’ strikes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where gun-carrying union members fought virtual wars with corporate mercenaries, National Guard troops and sometimes federal troops.  The right to self-defense is a fundamental right.

The “anti-fa” fighters could provide a valuable service if they acted as a security service for peaceful leftists, as they did during the Unite the Right protests in  Charlottesville., Va., in 2017.

That’s different from denying that there are certain rights, such as freedom of speech, that apply equally to all—the basic principles of liberalism.

If the self-identified left fights the self-identified right with physical force and violence, it will lose.  In the United States today, it is the self-identified right that is better armed, is more willing and able to use lethal force and has more sympathizers in the police and military.

LINKS

Discipline, Strategy and Morality by Nathan Robinson for Current Affairs.  [Added 7/9/2019]

Portland’s Andy Ngo Is the Most Dangerous Grifter in America by Arun Gupta for Jacobin.  [Added 8/19/2019]  Interesting new information, but not a justification for beating him up.

Far-Right Extremists Wanted Blood in Portland’s Streets.  Once Again, They Got It by Andy Campbell for Huffington Post.  This is the stupid article that promoted me to write this post.

The Antifa Portland-Andy Ngo controversy, explained by Zach Beauchamp for Vox.  This is better than the previous article, but it is still a convoluted attempt to downplay the real issue.

It’s Insane We’re Having a ‘Debate’ Over Whether It’s Acceptable to Assault a Journalist by Jesse Singal on his web log.

Antifa’s Brutal Assault on Andy Ngo Is a Wake-Up Call —for Authorities and Journalists Alike by the editors of Quillette.

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