Neo-Nazis and the KKK are the mirror image of the anarchist and Communist left. All are a threat to our way of life.
When it comes to the violent extremist politics of the right and left, it is reasonable to say “a pox on both your houses.” So, it is puzzling that when President Trump made that very argument, he touched off yet another round of teeth gnashing and frantic virtue signaling from the press, pundits and politicians.
It is a canard that by calling out left-wing violence the president was implicitly endorsing violence from the right, especially since he explicitly condemned neo-Nazism. Trump was fully within a time-honored intellectual tradition when he denounced “both sides” that were rioting in Charlottesville. After World War II, scholars and policymakers recognized that totalitarianism was not the exclusive product of either branch of the accepted democratic right/left political spectrum. Whether cloaked in nationalism, internationalism, populism, militarism, or religious fanaticism, the principle ends of these movements was the same: total, dictatorial control of society and the imposition of stringent ideological purity. These groups regard violence as a fully legitimate mode of political expression.
During the Weimar Republic period in Germany, Nazis and Communists fought in the streets, yet both regarded the established order as their enemy. Hence the Weimar-era adage that a Nazi was like a beefsteak, brown on the outside and red on the inside. The architects of postwar West Germany, seeking to avoid the tragic consequences of the prewar period, banned both fascist and communist political parties, recognizing that the democratic system itself needed to be protected. There is no value in being tolerant of the intolerant; or put another way, democracy is not a suicide pact.
Today’s right and left wing violent radicals are from the same mold. Indeed, there is a time-warp aspect in seeing mobs squaring off carrying banners with swastikas and the hammer and sickle. They do not pretend to be engaged in peaceful protest; in fact the entire reason for going to the streets is to foment violence. This isn’t Gandhi’s satyagraha, or Martin Luther King’s followers singing the national anthem at the statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Both these contemporary extremist movements rely on each other to provide conflict, spectacle and of course nonstop publicity.
Everyone understands that the neo-Nazi and KKK groups are composed of violent extremists. The apparent blind spot is with the anarchist/socialist far left, which is puzzling given recent history. Take for example the radicals who toppled the Confederate statue in Durham, NC, who were affiliated with the Worker’s World Party(WWP). Their program includes disarming police, abolishing capitalism, and promoting a Leninist version of socialist revolution. So when Mitt Romney says that the two sides are in “morally different universes,” he should be aware that the WWP has previously blamed him for creating a “climate of war, racism and hatred that promotes these fascist groups.” And it is doubtful that the Mormon faith would survive in their Leninist utopia, since the WWP claims the LDS church has “a shameful history of racism.”
The root cause of this instability is the idea that the political system itself is illegitimate. Faith in American political institutions has been in decline for several decades. Thus it is no wonder that we see the rise of radical groups seeking to exploit this legitimacy vacuum. The proper response is not to condemn one group of radicals over another but to see all of them as a direct threat to constitutional government. The real contest is between the vast, law-abiding majority of democratic citizens and these small groups of twisted violent losers parading in the streets with weapons, wearing masks, throwingcement-filled soda cans. Take your pick, you can have the extremists or you can have the Constitution, you can’t have both.
James S. Robbins, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and author of This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, has taught at the National Defense University and the Marine Corps University and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins