Both the Right and the Left have developed media bubbles, ecosystems in which we can ignore facts that are inconvenient for our narratives. This doesn’t just blind us; it also increases the risk of political violence. We have to be extremely careful to avoid the devastating spiral of demonization that results from ignoring inconvenient truths.
I take no pleasure in admitting that political violence exists and is a threat on the Right. For the past few years, I have called out false smears from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which specializes in exaggerating the threat of violence from the Right. The SPLC is notoriously unreliable and scammy, but its work does not emerge from a vacuum.
Members of some of the organizations the SPLC tracks and brands “hate groups” did indeed take part in the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. This does not justify the SPLC’s false accusations against conservative Christian groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) that had nothing to do with the violence, but it does illustrate the fact that political violence from the Right is a threat.
Too many of my fellow conservatives have rushed to embrace claims that antifa was really behind the violence at the Capitol. This is false — and it is dangerous. Assuming that our enemies are to blame every time people on our side engage in political violence is a recipe for further demonization, and ultimately, more violence.
Yet the Right is far from alone in wishing away its own political violence. Last year, antifa and Black Lives Matter riots ravaged American cities, with rioters burning down buildings, looting, engaging in vandalism, and even killing people. Yet Democrats and the legacy media pretended like all this violence just didn’t exist.
Before legacy media outlets and Democrats mock Republicans for doubting the narrative on the Capitol riot, they should take a moment to ask why Republicans are so skeptical about it. The very same legacy media that spent months insisting that the violence in Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Kenosha, and elsewhere was either “mostly peaceful protest” or simply non-existent has suddenly turned on a dime to emphasize the evil destruction of the Capitol riot or “the insurrection.”
It is any wonder that Republicans are looking for an alternative narrative about the Capitol riot? If my enemies are blaming me for violence after overlooking months of violence on their own side, why should I take their word for it?
The reality is not convenient or comfortable for either side: people inspired by the Left’s narrative on race perpetrated violence for months last year; and people inspired by the Right’s skepticism of the 2020 election (which was warranted but overblown) perpetrated violence at the Capitol on January 6. There is a pox of political violence on both of our houses, and we really can’t afford to ignore it.
Tragically, the Right and the Left aren’t just two different political parties, anymore. Increasingly, we are becoming insulated tribes, separate religions complete with priesthoods and inquisitions. Naturally, I tend to focus on the egregious abuses of the Left because I’m conservative and because the Left seems to have a stranglehold on culture, academia, the legacy media, and politics.
We on the Right need to be careful to avoid setting up our own version of the Left’s orthodoxy and cancel culture. We should look to Christianity for examples of grace and humility, even as we stand for the truth.
I’m not sure what the solution to political violence is. I think we need more humility and more perspective on political issues — realizing that compromise may be necessary while insisting on fundamental truths on which we can brook no compromise. The difficulty is, the Right and the Left increasingly differ on fundamental truths like the beginning of life, the reality of biological sex, the importance of religious freedom, and more. We need to stop making politics a religion, but politics is becoming more religious and I don’t know how to stop it.
I do know that we cannot hope for peace and compromise until we acknowledge the truths that are inconvenient for our own side, and that begins with admitting that political violence is not unique to the Left or to the Right. Antifa exists and is a real threat. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and the right-wing militia groups exist, and they can be a threat, too. The Black Lives Matter riots last year (and extending into this year in Portland) involved real left-wing violence. The Capitol riot involved real right-wing violence.
The path to peace begins with acknowledging these facts and working to address them.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.