“I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you have—you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now. You had a group—you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
President Trump’s equivocation of political violence in the face of american, white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville, Va., was immediately applauded by a significant number of the right-wing in America; Richard Spencer praised the president as condemning violent leftists, The Daily Stormer live-blogged the situation as evidence the administration is on the side of American nazism, and 4chan’s /pol/ forum celebrated the same. A small number of the republican congress—15 out of 292 at the time of this writing—condemned Trump’s false equivalency on the record, but there was no shortage of republican officials having the president’s back.
The conversation across social media found constant derailment as people expressing anger over Trump’s statements were met with accusations of ignoring violence from people across the left-wing. Frequently brought up were “the burning of campuses” and the shooting at a baseball field where republicans were practicing for a congressional game. The left, they will tell you, is just as violent—if not surpassing entirely.
To any person honest with themselves, these comparisons are less than justified.
The “burning of campuses” is creating a plural out of a single event, the protest of Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at the University of California-Berkeley. Phrasing also implies mass arson destroying wide swaths of property. In fact, the “burning” was a small generator set on fire and tipped over, far from any flammable structures or material.
There’s a likely conflation going on here, combining instances when leftist groups have made small bonfires in streets and the burning of a limousine on the day of Trump’s inauguration, with the event in Berkeley. Yet even then, those instances were small, contained, and didn’t involve structures.
James Hodgkinson’s terrorist attack on republican lawmakers is indeed an instance of egregious violence from someone on the left. He was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, had worked for one of Sanders’ local campaign offices, and was known locally to be hugely outgoing when it came to politics. The difference from Charlottesville lies in the reaction.
Yes, there were members of the left-wing constituency—from center-left democrats to democratic socialists and other stripes—who expressed their desire that Steve Scalise wouldn't have survived, due to his support for removing access to healthcare from millions of americans. But the reaction from congressional and elected democrats was a unanimous outpouring of sympathy and support for all of Hodgkinson’s victims. Sanders himself even made a public statement condemning Hodgkinson’s actions and disavowing any supporters who were in favor of violence.
How did the president react to Charlottesville? By taking over two days to explicitly condemn white supremacists, in a speech that opened with praising himself for the economy, a day after downplaying a terrorist attack from a rally of white supremacists by claiming all sides are bad, and a day before giving the title of "good people" to white supremacists carrying torches through a college campus while shouting "Jews will not replace us," "Blood and soil," and "Hail Trump" with nazi salutes.
No disavowal, no earnest sympathy, and—this can’t be overstated—the two-days-late speech in which Trump finally mentioned white supremacism by name was opened with praising himself for an economy he inherited.
What about other leftist violence?
Richard Spencer got punched in the face. A photojournalist for a local CBS affiliate in Richmond was attacked while photographing a protest. Various pictures from recent events show leftists with pepper-spray deployed, lacking context on whether it was self-defense or unprovoked, and yes there have been some physical altercations started by the left and ending with minor injuries.
Missing from this list is a body count, and that’s because there are no known cases of left-wing individuals having murdered anyone since Trump’s election. Hodgkinson’s attempted murder is the only event that has come close.
The right’s got a body count, though.
Heather Heyer, of Charlottesville, is the most recent victim. As she was marching with a large group to protest white supremacy, a Dodge Charger plowed through several bodies before colliding with the rear end of another car. The driver, James Alex Fields, Jr., had made the trip from Ohio to participate in the white supremacist Unite The Right rally, bearing the insignia of a known hate group called Vanguard America. He had espoused fanaticism for Adolf Hitler in high school, openly enough that several teachers were aware. Jason Kessler, one of Trump's "good people" and the organizer of the white supremacist event, declared her death was justified as "payback" for her being a "fat, disgusting communist."
Ricky Best and Taliesin Meche were slain in Portland, Ore., while defending two women of color from an aggressive and belligerent veteran named Jeremy Christian. The attacker slit the throats of three men defending the women, with Ricky and Taliesin failing to recover from their injuries. This case is often used by the right as an example of leftist violence due to posts on Christian’s Facebook page expressing support for Bernie Sanders in the first half of 2016. Often left out, however, are several racially biased and anti-islamic posts both during his period of Sanders support and later, when he began posting in support of Donald Trump’s presidency; many of these posts utilized memes and propaganda produced by or otherwise popular with the alt-right and other nationalist or supremacist groups. There’s also his attendance at a “free speech rally” in Portland, organized by members of the alt-right, in which he carried a weapon and shouted racial slurs accompanied by Nazi salutes.
Anthony Johnson, murdered outside of a bus stop in Oakley, Ca., after getting into an argument with Phillip Wade. A friend of the killer said race didn’t have anything to do with it, since Johnson was black, but admitted Wade had issues with “ghetto black people.” He also stated Wade was a pro-Trump christian, carrying a bible wherever he went. What makes this case most perplexing is this was the second murder Wade had committed in four years, and the District Attorney wouldn’t explain why he was released.
Richard Collins III, on a weekend when he was attending a friend’s graduation at the University of Maryland, and due to graduate from Bowie State University himself, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army. As he was getting into an Uber on campus, Sean Christoper Urbanski demanded Collins step away and let him take the ride. When Collins protested, Urbanski stabbed him once in the chest, and Collins died at the hospital. Urbanski’s digital footprint showed his membership in a Facebook group named Alt-Reich: Nation; the group being a haven for sharing all the memes you’ve seen on the president’s Twitter account, all the memes his followers create in his honor, and an enthusiastic love for all things racist. Police think Collins’ race might have played a role.
Timothy Caughman, slain in New York City via 26-inch sword while walking down the street. His murderer, James Jackson, had driven from Baltimore with the intent to kill a black man as practice in killing more black people. The army veteran and member of a white supremacist group was upset that black men were “mixing” with white women, planning to spree in Times Square after killing Caughman, and deliver a manifesto to the New York Times. According to his YouTube subscriptions, he was a fan of several alt-right leaders like Richard Spencer, Alex Jones, and Stefan Molyneux.
Two neo-nazi roommates of Devon Arthurs—who was a neo-nazi himself. Arthurs claimed he only murdered his roommates because he had converted to Islam and felt his roommates were disrespecting his faith. A third roommate of Arthurs, named Brandon Russell, was arrested around the time of the murders. He has a fascination with Timothy McVeigh, evidenced by a framed photo, threats to bomb buildings, and radioactive materials in possession alongside supplies to build bombs. The group Russell (and presumably, his roommates) belonged to is called Atomwaffen.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an engineer for Garmin in Olathe, Kan., was shot at a local bar. He died from the wound, while two other men survived. One of the survivors, Ian Grillot, had attempted to protect Srinivas and the other survivor, Alok Madasani. Both Srinivas and Alok were targeted by Adam Purinton due to his belief they were muslim immigrants destroying America, based solely on the color of their skin. Purinton is a registered republican.
Broadwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Mason Moore, killed by gunfire in a high-speed chase. The men he was pursuing were Lloyd Barrus and his son Marshall, who opened fire after their vehicle was stopped by a spike strip. Lloyd had served time for a previous shootout with officers in 2002, where he and his associates brought down a police helicopter. Since release, he had taken to social media, posting right-wing conspiracy theories, support for right-wing militias, and bible passages.
Each of the above murders were committed after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Not included: the litany of attempted murders by right-wing extremists, some of whom are known Trump supporters. These range from Elizabeth Hokoana shooting Joshua Dukes at a Milo Yiannopoulos rally in January, Mitchell Adkins assaulting two women on the Transylvania University campus in April for not being republican, and Jerry Drake Varnell’s arrest on Aug. 12th for attempting to explode a 1,000lb. bomb. We also cannot forget that a group of white supremacists in Charlottesville surrounded Dendre Harris in a parking garage and beat him unconscious—roughly one hour before Heyer was killed.
A favorite tactic of the right is to downplay all of these crimes by digging back to Micah Xavier Johnson’s ambush and murder of five Dallas police officers in July, 2016. Fox News used airtime on their morning show—just two days after Heather Heyer’s death—to remind their viewers of the attack, claiming Obama and Black Lives Matter were involved.
Johnson’s murder of police was heinous; there’s no doubt about that. He was a black nationalist who endorsed groups known for anti-semitic beliefs, such as blaming jewish people for slavery and 9/11. The ambush occurred during a Black Lives Matter march protesting the murder of two black men by police.
What’s also known about Johnson is that he vehemently hated Black Lives Matter, declaring that they weren’t willing to engage in the violence he felt was needed against white people. Fox News regularly omits this information despite police confirming such.
Regarding Obama, the explanation from the right involves a longstanding belief that he personally inspired anti-white racism and anti-police sentiments. How? Well, that’s never really been explained. Some state Obama frequently attacked police, but even democrats felt he never gave strong enough statements in response to instances of police brutality.
A supplemental allegation claims he used the Department of Justice against police, which likely comes from the department’s investigations of racial bias in some police forces. To consider such investigations an attack on police, when the forces investigated include those in Ferguson and Baltimore, implies the status quo of murdering unarmed civilians is acceptable to the speaker.
But if we want to boil it down and remove all nuance, then yes, it could be claimed the murder of Dallas police is an example of left-wing violence.
Doesn’t that also mean, though, that the Kansas plot is fair game?
Three white males in western Kansas were arrested in October, 2016, by the FBI for plotting a terrorist attack. The plan involved filling four cars with explosives, placing them outside of an apartment complex, and detonating them the day after the election. Somali refugees made up the majority of residents at the complex, which was why it was chosen as a target; in documents released by the FBI, the men described their intent to murder muslims and their children to defend America as a nation for white people.
At least one of the men was confirmed to be a supporter of Donald Trump, and it seems quite likely they were inspired—at least in part—by Trump’s frequent fear mongering against muslims and refugees in america.
Dylann Roof shouldn't be excluded from recent history, either. The white supremacist who murdered nine black people in a South Carolina church had a detailed history of white supremacist and neo-nazi political beliefs, expressed in written form. His website showcased his love for the confederate flag and soldiers; his capture was even aided by someone recognizing his confederate flag license plates.
Granted, his political affiliation wasn’t known. But we do know he credited an extremist group for inspiring his political beliefs, and the group had donated to several republicans over the years.
Finally, we can’t forget Robert Dear. The 57-year-old man opened fire in a Colorado Planned Parenthood, telling police his reasoning was in part due to “dead baby parts,” a reference to falsified videos claiming Planned Parenthood trafficked in pieces of fetuses for profit. He killed three people, including a police officer, and was described as being a very outgoing christian.
The history of american right-wing violence in the United States rarely gets the focus of Islamic terrorism, despite right-wing extremists carrying out twice the number of attacks. Many of the right-wing extremists will be dismissed as lone wolves, their crimes deflected by bringing up some other act of violence by a group the speaker dislikes, and little attention is given to how they were radicalized or who enabled their crimes as bystanders with knowledge.
One of the few groups to focus on this threat to the country, Life After Hate, was given a grant in January by the Obama administration—the only group focused on right-wing extremism out of over twenty counter-extremism groups to receive the grant. One of the first actions taken by President Trump was a revocation of the grant, but only for Life After Hate.
Luckily, Christian Picciolini and other leaders of Life After Hate have been receiving increased media attention and support, from Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal to Al Letson with the Center for Investigative Journalism’s Reveal. Several investigative news organizations have also been working overtime to document hate crimes across the country, including ProPublica and the aforementioned Reveal.
We have the power and capability to de-radicalize these extremists, but we cannot take the first step as a nation until we fully accept factual history over the onslaught of propaganda. You can start in your own community, conversing with family and friends whenever they assist the spreading of right-wing propaganda, whether unknowingly or intentionally.
This will require listening, understanding bigotry is a learned trait, and even at times acknowledging when your own political allies have crossed a line. It will be difficult, but your actions may very well save the lives of several people and prevent more of the violence written about here.
A grassroots revolt against the oppressive forces in our country can overpower even the most skillful liars, fabricators, and manipulators if we educate those around us—redirecting focus back to the instigators demanding hatred of innocent people for their own destructive motives.