Buried Lede: Biden Fails to Condemn Antifa at First Presidential Debate

Yesterday I published an essay (Antifa, the Proud Boys, and the Relative Scale of Violent Extremism) on the comparable threats of violent extremism to the American republic, comparing two extremist groups who were subjects of the first presidential debate. Watching the establishment media’s take on the debate, I can now affirm what I have been telling people all along—the media positively sanctions left-wing chaos and violence by either denying or justifying it. The purpose of this is to return corporatist forces to power to continue the globalist project. Antifa is an element in a color revolution currently unfolding in the United States. I describe this in a recent essay: Authoritarianism, Supreme Court Hysteria, and the Corrupting Partisan Frame.

The Democratic Party and the corporate media push the narrative that, despite the facts of left-wing violence raging in the streets of America and the establishment by progressives of legal and propaganda apparatuses to dispute the 2020 presidential election, against the backdrop of a perpetual coup against the president (deep state spying, manufactured Russian collusion, an attempt to remove the president via impeachment), the public is supposed to believe that it’s the president who is shaking our faith in our democracy. One angle is to hang around Trump’s neck the albatross of far-right politics and white nationalist sentiment. To install this assumption in the public mind, they fail to demand of Democrats condemn left-wing violence while insisting that Trump condemns right-wing violence—as if the president, unlike Democrats, is using right-wing violence to disrupt the election. In other words, by flipping reality, they hide Biden’s failure to condemn Antifa by misleading the public with a false claim about Trump’s statements on the matter. The maneuver is an obvious attempt to gaslight the public. But because this is not obvious to everybody, it is usefully explained.

Roughly thirty minutes into the first presidential debate, the Democratic candidate, Biden said, “Close your eyes, remember what those people look like coming out of the fields, carrying torches, their veins bulging, just spewing anti-Semitic bile and accompanied by the Ku Klux Klan. A young woman got killed and they asked the president what he thought. He said, ‘There were very fine people on both sides.’ No president’s ever said anything like that.” Biden is referring to comments Trump made following the Unite the Right rally, held August 11-12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally was organized around the proposed removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park. The protestors were met by counter-protestors and the event devolved into chaos and violence. Tragically, a young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through a crowd. Field’s action wounded numerous others, some critically. In a bipartisan action taken in September 2017, Congress unanimously approved a resolution condemning white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups in the tragedy’s aftermath. Donald Trump signed the resolution.

All along Trump condemned bigotry, hatred, and violence on all sides. But pulled from his many comments on the subject was the opinion that there were “very fine people on both sides.” The media and left-wing groups accused Trump of implying a moral equivalence between white supremacists and those who opposed them. For instance, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, writing for The New York Times, suggested Trump was “equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville.” The journalists then cited right-wing figures thanking Trump for clarifying the situation before wrapping Trump’s remark in the on-going narrative of Republican politicians making “muscular appeals to white voters, especially those in the South on broad cultural groups” going all the way back to the 1960s. However, while Reagan and Bush condemned white supremacy, the journalists contended, Trump wouldn’t. So racism in the Republican Party moves from dog whistle to bull horn. Biden thus felt emboldened to openly call Trump a racist in the debate.

Yet Trump accurately conveyed the facts on the ground in that notorious press conference. There were, among the right-wing contingent, those who were peacefully protesting the proposed removal of the statues, just as there were those among the counter-protesters who were engaged in violent action. I have many friends—and not just southerners—who oppose the taking down of statues. I am happy to vouch for them. They are very fine people. To be sure, there were white supremacists among the right-wing crowd. But there were also present members of Antifa, as well the armed militia group Redneck Revolt. Just as we see in America’s streets today, there were armed left-wing forces in Charlottesville. By armed, I do not mean just body armor, clubs, helmets, noxious agents, shields, and sticks (as if these aren’t bad enough), but semiautomatic firearms, as well. Many of the left-wingers were also armed with a violent ideology. It is an article of the Antifa faith that anybody it designates as fascist—which in their view cuts a broad swath across the political spectrum—has no right to speech and assembly, while Antifa reserves for itself the right to violently disrupt rightwing and conservative gatherings in the name of “defending the community” (see The Problem with Antifascism). If Antifa, Redneck Revolt, and other left-wing extremists had not showed up at Charlottesville, or had not violently confronted right-wing protestors, would the protests have devolved into chaos and violence? Is it not the goal of anti-fascists to violently confront those whom they designate as a threat to the community?

On August 14, 2017, the president announced that the Justice Department had opened a civil rights investigation into Charlottesville. “I just met with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack that killed one innocent American and wounded twenty others. To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.” The president described Heyer’s death and the wounding of several others as an “attack,” a characterization pushed back against the suggestion that this was in some fashion an accident. Trump characterized the violence as “racist” and promised to hold the perpetrators responsible. This framed the events in Charlottesville as an outcome of white nationalism. Moreover, it clarified that white nationalism is racist. The president urged the country to unite in condemning “hatred, bigotry, and violence.” He called racism “evil” and described those who carry out violence in its name “criminals and thugs.” He then called out hate groups by name: the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists.” He described them as “repugnant” and, in so many words, accused them of being disloyal to their country. He emphasized the importance of equality in our national creed, equality under the law and under our Constitution, while emphasizing the importance of the rule of law and the vital government function of ensuring a safe environment so that people can fulfill their destiny.

I quoted at length from Trump’s statement in my last blog so I won’t repeat those passages here. It is worth noting that, in that statement, Trump also said, “In times such as these America has always shown its true character, responding to hate with love, division with unity and violence with an unwavering resolve for justice. As a candidate, I promised to restore law and order to our country, and our federal law enforcement agencies are following through on that pledge. We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear. We will defend and protect the sacred rights of all Americans, and we will work together so that every citizen in this blessed land is free to follow their dreams in their hearts and to express the love and joy in their souls.”

It’s as if the president never said any of this, as if he never signed an unanimously approved resolution from Congress condemning white supremacy and racist violence. It doesn’t help the cause of enlisting the federal government in pursuit of justice to demand Trump say the right thing and then, when he does, cynically dismiss his words—then later disappear them. It’s especially crucial that his supporters hear these words and consider deeply where they stand with respect to white nationalism and racist violence. Not only is the media delegitimizing a president for political purposes, but they are working at cross-purposes with the anti-racist message they purport to proclaim. Yet the failure of the establishment to tell Trump’s alleged racist supporters that their president condemned their racist beliefs and actions did not result in rampant racist violence on the streets of America. Instead, it appears to have contributed to rampant anti-racist violence on the streets of America by making the president appear to support white nationalism.

A transcript of the press conference to which Biden was referring how antagonistic the press is to Trump and the way they have used his comments to portray him as a white nationalist. I close with some of the transcript of the spectacle and leave readers with the question: will Joe Biden and the Democrats condemn antifascist violence?

REPORTER: Do you think what you call the alt left is the same as neo-Nazis?

TRUMP: Those people—all of those people, excuse me—I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.

REPORTER: Well, white nationalists—

TRUMP: Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue Robert E. Lee. So—excuse me—and you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

[In light of what transpired over the summer, Trump’s words are prophetic here.]

TRUMP: But, they were there to protest—excuse me—you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

REPORTER: Does the statue of Robert E. Lee stay up?

TRUMP: I would say that’s up to a local town, community or the federal government, depending on where it is located.

REPORTER: Are you against the Confederacy?

REPORTER: On race relations in America, do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office with regard to race relationships?

REPORTER: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

TRUMP: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane, what I’m saying is this: you had a group on one side and a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So, you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.

REPORTER: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides?

TRUMP: I do think there is blame—yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say.

REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group—excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

REPORTER: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same.

TRUMP: Oh no, George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—excuse me. Are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Okay, good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? You know what? It’s fine, you’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally—but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats—you had a lot of bad people in the other group too.

REPORTER: I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?

TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly, the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know, I don’t know if you know, but they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So, I only tell you this: there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country. 

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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