On August 18, Yoav Fromer wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled “Why the American left gave up on political violence”. It had the equally ironic subheading of “And why the right increasingly embraced it.”
On August 19, twenty-seven left wing counter protesters were arrested in Boston, Massachusetts.
In fairness to Dr. Fromer, titles and subtitles for most pieces published in major outlets are decided by the editor, but that does not free his article from being any more open to criticism.
Right in the first paragraph, we see a reference to violence, but it is not to all violence but to organized violence. The adjective organized is key here. Dr. Fromer does not argue the left is more peaceful than the right; rather he argues that is has less organized violence. The problem with this distinction emerges when we first see Dr. Fromer define organized violence.
Dr. Fromer defines organized violence from the left by linking the term to union violence in the nineteenth century and groups like the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army. These are examples of actual organized groups, with a defined and unifying ideology, leadership and goals. These examples are fair enough, but we soon see a double standard emerge.
While examples used for left-wing organized violence were marked by being apart a systemic organization, supposed right-wing examples of the same phenomenon are not. Instead, they are marked by either being lone-wolf incidents or small isolated groups.
Dr. Fromer contrasts with Weather Underground with the standoff at Ruby Ridge, the bombing of Oklahoma City and the Dylann Roof mass shooting in Charleston South Carolina. Dr. Fromer does offer examples of organized right wing movements—they just happen to be peaceful.
Regardless of your opinion on right wing militias, they are overwhelmingly peaceful. It is fair to argue they are potential threats, but they are just that; potential threats. And no, right wing groups are not more dangerous than Islamist groups.
In truth, Dr. Fromer gives us an opportunity to have a needed conversation, albeit a slightly different one than he wants. America needs a conversation about political violence and free speech. We can no longer take a national consensus in favor of peaceful debate and free trade for granted.
Since 2011, we have witnessed the reemergence of political violence. In 2011, we saw the rise the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Oakland riots in October 2011. Three years later we saw the rise of Black Lives Matters and their riots in Ferguson, Baltimore and Milwaukee.
Last year, we saw more riots in Oakland over the election of Donald Trump. This year we have seen the rise of Antifa and their explicit goal to suppress free speech by the American right.
In 2015, Pew Research found that over a quarter of Americans believed the government should suppress offensive speech. The same poll found millennial support for speech codes at forty percent. Earlier this year, former Democratic National Committee Chairman, Democratic Governor and candidate for the Democratic Party Presidential Nomination Howard Dean argued that hate speech is not free speech.
Google Trends shows that searches for “hate speech is not free speech” has permanently risen since 2014 and even more so since 2016. The most predominate month for the search result was this month, August 2017.
Opposition to free speech and support of political violence should not be considered a universally leftist phenomenon. Almost half of Republicans would generally favor “permitting the courts to shut down news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate”.
While opposition to free speech should not be considered universally a universally leftist trait, it is overwhelmingly leftist. There have not been any mass riots by supporters of Donald Trump or angry conservatives. Only one side of the American political spectrum supports poetical repression and violence AND acts on that support. Dr. Fromer, that side is not the American right.