Without question, the death of IWW member Heather Heyer at the hands of a Nazi-sympathizer while she protested Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia has put an end to the most recent phase of the far right’s struggle to gain traction in the mainstream of American discourse.
As Angela Nagle put it at Baffler recently, referring to the online horde of alt-right ironists that make up what was heretofore the most visible face of the movement, “But how many of these racist trolls are committed to the real-life violence and potential state repression that the movement’s goals will now summon forth? ”
I imagine “very few” would be the most likely answer to that rhetorical question. The ever-popular metaphorical “mom’s basement” may be a lonely place but it beats the hell out of bending over to pick up the metaphorical soap just dropped by that shaven-headed thug with the swastika tattoo in a federal prison.
But there are elements of the vast and scattered racist right that may come to see this as their moment to shine.
There was something both ominous and bizarre about the performance of the heavily armed and uniformed militia that showed up at Charlottesville, paraded before a number of cameras, then seemed to disappear from view while antifa scrapped with good ol’ boys in the streets in very much the same fashion as we became accustomed to a few months ago when the alt-right was holding “free speech” rallies as incitement for the antifa to come out and play.
Where did they go? inquiring minds want to know.
As has been pointed out by some of the less romantic pundits on the American left, if it comes to real violence between antifa and all those AR-15 packing 2nd Amendment lads, the left can kiss its skinny ass goodbye. Not that anyone is listening.
The present momentary frenzy of jouissance that has overtaken much of the online discourse of the American left as it casts off all doubt about the moral quandary involved in the “punching a Nazi” question, with some even proposing a call to arms, highlights one often overlooked feature of the American left that threatens any kind of success for the movement itself.
Before they are either socialist-materialist-class struggle leftists or the more numerous and broadly appealing left-identitarians, American leftists are Americans first and foremost.
This explains why one dead white girl in Virginia evokes an exaltation of rage while hundreds of dead children in North Africa and the Greater Middle East barely elicit a grunt from great swaths of “the left”. It explains why airports get thronged by protesters opposing Trump’s Muslim bans but airbases from which lethal American machinery and manpower depart daily to kill those banned immigrants before they leave their homes are not disrupted at all.
And it explains why a few days or weeks from now it will be as if none of this ever happened or will only be remembered as a few memes and bumper-sticker style slogans useful for putting an end to a discussion that threatens to demand a little thought.
Because without a doubt, something will happen that will utterly erase the morbid excitement of praising a dead colleague and invoking The Battle of Lewisham as if every keyboard warrior on the American left had just returned from a turn with the POUM in Catalonia. And knowing Americans, it will involve guns. Or bombs. Or cruise missiles. Or drones.
It is, after all, the American way. If it weren’t, those militiamen would be in prison right now.