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Whitewashing Antifa in 'The Atlantic'

On August 31, the website of  The Atlantic published one of the most pretentious, mendacious, and – quite simply – downright preposterous articles to come along in a while. Written by Conor Friedersdorf, it was entitled “How to Distinguish Between Antifa, White Supremacists, and Black Lives Matter.”

Friedersdorf starts off with the claim that in the face of militant confrontations involving members of two or more groups of political activists, “millions of Americans feel pressure to pick a side, to support or denounce a faction, knowing that whatever they say about white supremacists, Antifa, or Black Lives Matter, they risk being criticized for failing to condemn violence on 'their side,' or for suggesting a false equivalence between groups.” Therefore, he adds, the question of the day is this: “How can a conflicted observer find clarity?”

To begin with, I would quibble about this opening assumption. If one gang of thugs clashes violently with another, both purportedly motivated by some ideology or other, how many ordinary Americans “feel pressure” to side with either of them based on the ideology they claim to be fighting for? Do they view thugs of any kind as being on “their side”? Do they worry all that much about “being criticized” for what they say or don't say about such incidents?

Do they really have so much trouble finding “clarity” about such matters? Isn't it kind of insulting, in fact, to suggest that they do? Don't most of them, when they see such displays of mindless brutality on TV, simply shake their heads, think “a plague on both their houses,” and then resume going about their own business? Can it be that Friedersdorf is projecting his own concerns, priorities, and habits of thought as a member of the professional commentariat onto regular folks whose minds work in an entirely different way than he does?

In any event, the premise of Friedersdorf's piece is that millions of Americans do yearn for clarity in such matters – and that they need somebody like Friedersdorf to figure such complex things out for them.

Here he is, then, to help them make their way through the fog. First, he advises that “[o]ne way forward is to distinguish between a group’s ends and its means.” He explains that the Against Malaria Foundation is “praiseworthy across the board” because it uses “morally unobjectionable means” to reach a positive end, while ISIS is totally abominable because it uses iniquitous means – rape, murder, pillaging – to attain a villainous objective, namely the establishment of a “repressive theocracy.”

Other cases are more complex: Lance Armstrong used shameful means (cheating) to achieve a respectable goal (victory in the Tour de France); conversely, Hitler took something intrinsically innocuous (the 1936 Olympics) to further an ignoble ambition (adding luster to the Nazi image).