After this past weekend’s “Unite the Right 2” / white civil rights rally, we started seeing a lot of people defending antifascist tactics and pointing to the rally for proof that those tactics are working.
“Punching Nazis works. Only 20 people showed up to the latest white nationalist rally,” they claim.
Were antifascist tactics responsible for the failure of UTR2? Well, not exactly. Here are my thoughts…
Number one, rallies do very little to move the ball forward for the Alt-Right. For a while, their logic was ‘if we can have a peaceful rally and get attacked by the left wing, then we can gain sympathy and increase popular support’. A series of rallies tested this hypothesis and Alt-Right organizers didn’t get the intended results. Richard Spencer’s short-lived national campus tour is a great example of this failed strategy. I watched a live stream of the protests of Spencer’s last campus event at Michigan State University this past spring. It was a circus. The lack of support and the amount of obstacles to hold these events proved that the juice was not worth the squeeze.
Antifascist organizing works.
Antifa forced Richard Spencer to abandon his strategy.
White nationalist rallies have not made antifascists abandon theirs.
The growth that the Alt-Right experienced wasn’t due to 50 white nationalists showing up to an event, but because of their online messaging and social media presence where they reached their target audience. These rallies — which are completely pointless and counterproductive for their movement — offered antifascists, anti-racists, and other groups the opportunity to organize communities against the rally, gain national coverage for their efforts and win the battle over messaging. These rallies give the mainstream media a new reason to go another round with an old punching bag. Rallies give their adversaries another opportunity to address target audiences and platforms on which to do that. Simply put, these rallies carry a higher potential for antifascist success than for the Alt-Right. If the rally goes on — congrats, you held a rally just like thousands of other organizations before you. But if the rally was called off or harangued, then the antifascists win because they showed up in greater numbers and disrupted the event.
Additionally, the antifascist strategy of de-platforming works. (In fact, it works so well that CNN has adopted it in their campaign against InfoWars.) In 2016, Milo Yiannopoulos was disinvited from several college speaking engagements, and other “Alt-Lite” events have had their venues cancel on them at the last minute due to pressure from antifascist organizing. Antifascist organizing has been successful in having Alt-Right accounts banned on social media and having Alt-Right ideologues fired from their jobs. This is economic dislocation, which really is economic warfare, and it’s had an effect on the Alt-Right.
To be sure, antifascist tactics are working so well that the Alt-Right has been fractured, and various leaders have taken up different strategies. Perhaps the most effective has been the community-oriented, ethno-activist approach pursued by Identity Evropa (one of their chapters just had a beach clean-up day) that treats membership more like an exclusive fraternity or secret society than a brawler’s club and Roman shield factory built for street protests. Having abandoned the rally and street brawl strategy, IE embraces non-violence and now hangs banners over interstate bridges that warn passers-by that they’re entering a sanctuary city. More effective than that, IE has formal information operations via flyers and stickers that reach their target audience on college campuses — disillusioned or disaffected whites pursuing a college education and generally going somewhere in their lives. As opposed to the circus that was Spencer, the whiny carnival barker with all stage lighting focused on him, IE is quieter and likely more effective in recruiting higher quality candidates who can pursue white nationalist interests rather professionally.
IE appears to be taking a political and commercial route to promote white nationalism, as compared to the now-defunct Traditionalist Worker’s Party (a legitimate neo-Nazi group) who targeted the working class in coal country to build a “white Afghanistan” across Appalachia. IE’s adoption of this quieter strategy is likely entirely the result of the desire to take a new direction, differentiate themselves from other Alt-Right groups, and avoid antifascists being able to mobilize against them.
So yes, antifascists tactics are working… but they had little to do with why UTR2 was a cosmic failure.
UTR2 failed because Unite the Right 1 was an unmitigated disaster for the Alt-Right. Jason Kessler lost trust inside the movement, and adherents questioned the purpose of another rally in Charlottesville. After failing to acquire a permit in Charlottesville, Kessler moved the rally to D.C. And not even white nationalists want to go to D.C. for a white nationalist rally. Proposing that UTR2 would be a success despite UTR1’s failure is like saying that the Branch Davidian compound in Waco ended badly, but a second standoff would be an explosive success. The Alt-Right hasn’t completely abandoned the tactics of holding public demonstrations (and there are still Alt-Lite groups like Patriot Prayer who routinely hold rallies), but antifascist mobilization has deterred many rallies from occurring.
For these reasons, it’s no wonder that virtually no one showed up to UTR2. From my perspective, the failure of UTR2 specifically had little to do with antifascist tactics, and everything to do with a limited upside (what is there to gain?) and not wanting a dismal repeat of UTR1.
The Alt-Right has faced some facts: public rallies do more harm than good, no one trusts Jason Kessler, D.C. is a horrible place for a rally, and UTR1 marred the possibility of any positive effects that UTR2 would bring. Antifascists didn’t stop UTR2, the Alt-Right did.
If the maneuvering between Alt-Right and Alt-Left groups in the culture war interests you, we do publish a weekly report that catalogues the activities of revolutionary communist, radical anarchist, ethno-fascist, and other “alternative” political movements across the country. It’s called Alt-Observer and it’s available for FO’s Intelligence subscribers. You can sign up here, or join our free email newsletter below for more information.
Always Out Front,
P.S. – We’ll soon be introducing our newest intern, a former Marine infantryman and combat veteran who wants to transition into threat intelligence. He’ll be helping us track these groups and provide situation reports each week.