Editorial: Violent confrontation of neo-facists is counterproductive

Hate is a powerful and dangerous emotion that seems to be ascendant in these days of hyper-polarized partisanship and social media flashmobs as members of the alt-right and white supremacist groups, emboldened by the tacit, and even overt, courting of these groups by mainstream centre right political parties, take to the streets in growing numbers to target marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ2S, refugee, Jewish and Muslim communities.

The rise in visibility of far right demonstrations taking place recently in a number of Canadian urban centres has seen a concurrent rise in push back by those on the left, working under the umbrella label of Antifa (roughly translating to anti-fascist) as those championing the causes of those marginalized groups seek to quell hate speech.

Too often the result of these clashes of ideology has been injury and even death (the Charlotte confrontation rose to global attention) with a concurrent rise in media exposure. For generations the Nazi and neo-Nazi undercurrent that has always been with us in some form or fashion has been relegated to the fringes, treated more as tragi-comedic figures not to be taken seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth—these are dangerous ideas that run full counter to peace, order and good government and the hard won rights and freedoms that we as Canadians have come to largely take for granted.

With the seeming reluctance of centre-right politicians to condemn outright the alt-right and white supremacist movements, those groups have gained a legitimacy and profile that runs counter to those fundamental values we cherish as the foundations of our civil society.

That very reluctance helps feed the fires of passion that fuel the most militant of the Antifa and in turn provides a tacit legitimacy to a vigilante current that seeks out violent confrontation in the name of defending the defenceless targets of the hate groups. 

But with incidents of violence rising on both sides of the divide, the attention being given to what are still very much fringe ideologies further emboldens hate groups. Antifa supporters decry the media focus on violent acts of the left, which they feel is unfair as their cause in the defence of those unable to defend themselves—after all, they are just reacting to the hateful provocation and threats from the far-right.

Unless we as a society enforce those laws which outlaw hate and the incitement of violence against others we will continue to see a rise in such incidents. This isn’t anything new. The original Antifa was born out of the rise of the fascist and Nazi movements in Europe prior to WWII, and that earlier organization had noble and laudable goals as well. But the rise in violence and unrest did not result in the suppression of the Nazis and their message of hate, instead that unrest and violence resulted in the quiet centre opting for a strong hand and the promise of restored order.

The supporters of Antifa are quick to point out that silence allows the forces of hate to rise unchecked. 

Silence is not the answer. But not remaining silent does not equate to engaging in violent confrontation. Although fighting the good fight against the forces of darkness has always been more romantic and dashing than lobbying our political leaders to enforce the laws against hate speech and violence, especially for passionate youth who want to do something concrete, to “kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight” as referenced in a line from the Bruce Cockburn song ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time.’

For the vast majority of Canadians who support universal equal rights and freedoms and who desire to live their lives, as framed in our constitution, with peace, order and good government, silence is the enemy. We must stand united against hate, against violence and racism in all of its myriad and insidious forms if we are to preserve the peace that allows us to raise our families in an environment without fear.

We cannot stand idly by, and through our silence give voice and legitimacy to the purveyors of hate and xenophobia. Too often in history when it becomes obvious to the centre that it is time to man the barricades, it is too late and the fanatics of the right and left will take away our cherished rights and freedoms, supposedly for our own good. 

We already have the laws we need to protect the marginalized and defenceless, all we need is the political will to ensure those laws are enforced. There is volume in numbers, so pick up the pen, the keyboard and the telephone and make your voice be heard in the halls of power—if enough of us do that, mainstream politicians of all stripes will listen.