So This is Gonna Be in the News Cycle For a While…
Let’s unpack this.
Last night there was this white supremacist rally at the University of Virginia. It featured a lot of white dudes in cropped fades, side swoops and Wal-mart cargo pants. It was on the eve of Unite The Right, a protest organized by Richard Spencer. Spencer, for those of you who don’t know, is an extreme far-right white-nationalist propagandist. Many left-leaning people have had a fascination with him since Trump was elected president. It’s alluring to some people who believe that Trump is ushering in a new age reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
This allure has led to something I and a few other people call platforming. “Platforming” is when you accidentally or with purpose give legitimacy by writing or covering a subject of ire in your journalism to strike a point other than the subject you’re covering. You are basically doing “journalism” but it reads as if it’s an Op-ed piece. Platforming is also when you take any topic that is very controversial and is likely to grab attention on its own, then shoe-horn an entirely different topic on to it as a vehicle for your message.
In fact, this very blog post you’re reading right now is platforming. I am taking the tragic events that happened today in Virginia and I hope that for a few of you I can help you detect and dissuade yourself from being caught in these traps that political extremists of all trades are trying to set for you and everyone else.
Alternative media and the press have been platforming Richard Spencer as a swipe against all 64 million people who voted for Donald Trump last year. Similarly, Spencer platforms back by using the exposure he has gotten to grow his own terrible and grotesque rhetoric to his own followers. They’re followers who would have never otherwise heard about him if it weren’t for all the online consternation of him plus the platforming of Spencer on to the President of the United States as if they’re co-equals, a view that no-one but extremists subscribe to.
Outside of some edge forms of journalism and blogging, political extremists and activists use platforming regularly to garner attention and to send messages to people who already with them politically. I’ll give you one example of a Facebook conversation I was in recently:
Nearly all platforming is instantly detectable by any reasonable person. Most attempts at platforming results in a message resonating loudly and well with people who already agree with some sort of view the message conveys. However as in the case above it will also cause an extreme negative reaction with a lot of other people who do not subscribe to it or were offended by the underlying topic that was platformed.
A few people jumped right on board with that shirt and agreed with it. They also thought it was perfectly fine to use one of America’s worst tragedies and a terrorist attack to make a stab at Trump. Not that criticism of Trump is unwarranted–but I’m sure plenty of 9/11 victims (particularly firefighters) are going to get incensed at a shirt like this. The retort is a usual: WGAF? It’s more important to display to your friends who already. agree. with. you. how “woke” you are.
If I wore this shirt in Center City I would get a lot of “amens”. Now let’s see you wear that shirt at a Wal-mart in Carbon County. Of course you wouldn’t do that because you know what the reaction could possibly be.
Political extremists are totally fine with this sort of ridiculous messaging because they’re not aisle-crossers. They don’t see any value in doing any reach for widespread popular support or a search for a political center. Do you think Richard Spencer advocates moderation? That’s not the point of his messaging, or ANTIFA’s. This is more about keeping things within the church, so to speak.
The far-right does this shit all the time and so do many people who keep up with ANTIFA’s event list. When I see both groups battling it out on the streets it mostly just all looks the same.
Then someone gets hit with a stick and both sides are cutting video clips to upload to the Internet to claim how they’re being attacked by the other side.
Now, People Are Willing to Kill for Their Unpopular Beliefs
Make no mistake: that asshole driving the Dodge Charger does not represent me, what I believe in, or anything about me.
It’s just the same as Micah Xavier Johnson, in case you forgot what he did last year.
Political violence is rarely excusable and history has shown it’s rarely been productive. It’s also not necessary in a political system such as ours where we are free to express both popular and unpopular ideas. This starts to cause problems when people put down the bullhorns and pick up the baseball bats.
The right to live and not get killed is just as important as the right to not have the government interfere in expressing your views.
The libertarian in me says that the Right to Assemble, which is so important that I capitalized it, is sacrosanct. The deeper darker part of me questions this when both groups at any extreme political event threaten to kill each other leading up to the event and then eventually someone actually does get murdered. Or the police are killed. Or innocents.
Your Right to Assemble Just Ended
Further, the government does have a vested interest in protecting people from harm and preventing crime, which is the primary exception to the Right to Assemble in the First Amendment.
On that basis alone, the government–be it local, state or federal does have the right to determine venue, time and place of public protest under certain limits and conditions. Both groups threatening to kill each other and also having a history of carrying out violent acts that ends peoples lives I think falls far outside the boundaries of Free Speech. This opens the government to directly intervene if it wanted to cancel protests and gatherings.
There is a growing body of evidence that any and all interactions between ANTIFA and between the far-right end in property destruction, in chaos, in lives, and that it’s becoming consistent.
Besides, the far-right and the far-left have had more than their fair share of media coverage. Plus, they have their own media.
And you know what?
Neither the far-left nor the far-right have done a single thing to mainstream any of their positions or to sell them to the broader public who do not subscribe to political extremism. That’s the external and eternal paradox of political extremism. If anything, it’s only hardened ordinary people to their pre-existing views, not lent them to scrutinize themselves. Even more so now that on television they can clearly see that political extremism leads to some pretty scary and crazy shit.
So, I’m willing to give up my libertarian cred for a while—just a little bit.
Municipal governments should seriously reconsider the financial loss of property destruction and civil suits against their police forces from angry protestors and counter-protestors that have bad reputations for destructive chaos and weigh that against the ramification of a court petition over a protest permit denial. My guess is that it will cost less to tie protestors up in court than it will be to deal with the disruptive chaos that these protests which are really just riots cloaked in another name create.