Authoritarianism and violence are dangerous masters.
When I was a high school student in the 1960s I acquired a friend who had a set of extreme political beliefs. My friend introduced me to the Workers World Party.
Workers World was founded by a collection of old-time Communists from the great labor struggles of the 1930s and 1940s. The party was itself at the end of a long line of doctrinal disputes that had resulted in a dizzying array of splinter groups. Workers World was just the latest iteration in a pursuit for political purity.
What I remember most were the epithets that my friend hurled against other “revolutionary” parties whose platforms were largely (but not entirely) consistent with that of Workers World. My friend was fond of calling these less-than pure political parties “fascist.” By that she meant she disagreed with them on a few doctrinal points.
In general, the members of Workers World were intolerant of others’ views, they demanded conformity among their colleagues, and demonized those who disagreed with them. In retrospect, I can see that they were authoritarians.
My early brush with the far left came to mind as I read reports recently about the new AntiFa or anti-fascist movement. As I read the posts on AntiFa’s Facebook page, I was reminded of my earlier encounters with Workers World. I immediately recognized AntiFa’s insistence on doctrinal purity and intolerance for others’ views. I had seen it all before among members of the Workers World Party.
The rise of German and Italian fascism in the 1930s led psychologists of that era to a study of the character traits that led to fascism. They coined the term, the “authoritarian personality.” Their observations about authoritarianism apply equally to today’s far-left and far-right.
Authoritarianism is a rigid belief system characterized by a desire for order, strict enforcement of a set of rules, obedience to an established authority or group, and fear of outsiders.
Those with an authoritarian personality insist that their point of view and affiliation group are morally and factually correct and all others are wrong. They defend their ideas with vehemence. They are notoriously resistant to modifying their views. Their enthusiasm is motivated by real or imagined enemies or threats to the well-ordered and “just” world they seek. They often justify physical action as a means to correct what they perceive as societal wrongs or historical injustice. Thus, an authoritarian belief system often leads to violence.
AntiFa and Palestinian Extremism
Just like AntiFa, Palestinian extremist groups—-encouraged by the Palestinian Authority and led by Hamas and an alphabet-soup of other terror groups—-have adopted an extreme and authoritarian belief system.
What are the parallels between AntiFa and Palestinian extremist groups?
- Both AntiFa and Palestinian extremist groups use a phony human rights narrative to justify a destructive political movement.
AntiFa ideologues claim to work in defense of oppressed and exploited people. For example, in the AntiFa narrative, all people of color are exploited by white America. AntiFa activists say they work in support of the human rights of all the groups currently in favor on the left. These groups include immigrants and LGBTQ people. On its’ Facebook page, AntiFa claims to be dedicated to “the worldwide struggle against fascism and bigotry.”
AntiFa’s advocacy is largely phony. For one thing, the groups that AntiFa claims to champion never asked for AntiFa’s help. And, AntiFa defines members of these groups by their group identity, rather than actual oppression. They never take individual, rather than group, differences into account.
Palestinian groups also claim to work for social justice, in this case, justice for Palestinians. It is a phony claim. Civil society groups—-most notably the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement—-publicly claim to work for the right of Arab Palestinians to return to the homes of their ancestors and receive fair treatment by Israel. But the true goal of BDS leaders is to put an end to the Jewish state. Their leaders say so.
From there, their outline for the future of a non-Jewish state in Palestine gets fuzzy. There is a reason for that. They know the history of Jews in the Middle East and they seek to replicate it: In the past 70 years, entire Jewish communities throughout the Arab world have been expelled or forced to flee. There is no reason to believe that the Palestine envisioned by BDS leaders would be anything other than another Jew-free Arab state.
The Palestinian Authority also claims to advocate for the human rights of Palestinian Arabs. In reality, they have been too busy stealing from PA coffers to attend to Arab human rights. And their record of human rights repression and lack of democracy belies their human rights claims.
The alphabet soup terrorist groups—like Hamas and Islamic Jihad—-are more honest about their goals. They are not shy about advertising their plan to murder and expel all Jews from the Land of Israel. They too speak of Palestinian human rights. But the brutality of the Hamas regime in Gaza suggests that even if it achieved its goal of rendering the territory Jew-free, there would be few human rights for anyone other than a small cadre of corrupt leaders.
- Both AntiFa and Palestinian extremist groups use violence and the threat of violence to achieve their goals.
A visit to AntiFa’s Facebook page tells a disturbing story about its affinity for violence. On a recent visit I read the following pearls of wisdom: Antifa is right. Punch Nazis in the face! And Peaceful resistance is how you end up in a concentration camp.
AntiFa’s propensity for violence has been on display at various demonstrations. These demonstrations often occur in response to the rallies of right wing groups, including racist and white supremacist groups. AntiFa often instigates violent attacks. They arrive to these events wearing ISIS-like masks, special combat gloves, shields, batons and other weapons.
Portland, Oregon has been the scene of a number of these violent exchanges between AntiFa and right-wing groups. During a recent event, AntiFa thugs attacked and brutalized journalist Andy Ngo. Ngo specializes in covering AntiFa demonstrations. He has earned the ire of AntiFa activists by reporting on their violent tactics and by writing for conservative news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal. He is also an editor at Quillette, a conservative magazine with a libertarian bent.
For AntiFa, Ngo has served as a useful enemy to arouse their authoritarian instincts. Ngo was kicked and beaten by a crowd of AntiFa thugs. He sustained serious injuries, requiring hospitalization. His injuries included bleeding inside his brain. This was a clear case of a crowd of cowardly thugs attacking a peaceful journalist simply because they dislike his views.
The Palestinians also have a long history of using violence and the threat of violence to achieve their goals. After the Ottoman defeat in World War I, the British appointed cleric Haj Amin al-Husseini as leader of Palestine’s Arabs. He immediately set out to use violence in an attempt to ethnically cleanse Jews from Palestine, and to convince the British to put an end to Jewish immigration. His tactics included instructing imams in Palestine’s mosques to incite against the Jews; spreading lies about the Jews’ supposed plans to take over Muslim holy sites; distributing anti-Semitic publications that called for violence against Jews; and organizing anti-Jewish riots and pogroms. This anti-Jewish violence continued throughout the decades. It continues to this day, with current Palestinian leaders using the tactics pioneered by al-Husseini.
To this day, when Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders want Israeli concessions or foreign aid, they employ the threat of violence. In effect, they say, “If you don’t give us what we want, we will unleash the Arab masses against Israel, and we can’t guarantee the results.” Over the recent past, Palestinian leaders have gained many concessions in this way: millions in cash donated by Qatar, free water and electricity, food aid, reconstruction aid and many other benefits. Because threats have been an effective tool for Palestinian leaders, they will continue their extortion game.
- Both AntiFa and Palestinian groups falsely claim that the violence of their members is spontaneous. But in most cases the violence is meticulously organized and pre-planned. That has been true in AntiFa rallies in Portland, Oregon, Charlottesville, Berkeley and other locations. AntiFa held planning meetings where they identified targets for attack. These included both individuals and structures. They appointed leaders. They divided their “workforce” into green, yellow and red teams.
The job of green rioters was to show up and provide a physical presence, protest signs, chants and general support for others. Yellow rioters engaged in set-up actions—-for example, hurling cement-laden milkshakes at human targets. Once blinded by the milkshakes, and thus rendered defenseless, red team members attacked. They were emboldened by masks that concealed their identities and left them feeling they could act with impunity. Their weapons included hard objects—metal rods and a bicycle lock in at least one case. They deliberately aimed for the victims’ head. They attacked repeatedly.
AntiFa intended for these attacks to result in serious injury. In the case of conservative journalist, Andy Ngo, they were successful.
On the other side of the world, border riots by Palestinians in Gaza began as popular demonstrations called by a social media activist. But almost immediately, Hamas took over. In a pattern repeated by Arabs for the last 100 years, Hamas claimed that the border “protests” were a spontaneous act by Gazans in response to the Israeli blockade and “occupation.” But the protests were anything but spontaneous.
For example, Hamas ordered Gazan bus companies to pull their buses up to the mosques so that immediately after prayers, Gazans could board the buses directly to the border. Bus company owners did not dare refuse Hamas’ orders because they are well aware of Hamas’ brutality. Hamas also provided cash payments for adults and their families to participate in the riots.
At the riots, Hamas supplied rioters with kites carrying incendiary balloons. Some of the kites were gifts from Japan for the children of Gaza. Rioters have launched thousands of these fiery kites into Israel, some armed with explosive devices. Resulting fires have burned thousands of acres of crops and nature reserves.
At the border fence, organizers directed the crowds with bullhorns. Rioters were supplied with tires and fuel to assemble burning piles to create a smokescreen against any Israeli defense. Hamas recruited civilians and organized them into classic military-style human wedges to attempt breaches of the Israeli border fence. Embedded within the civilians were squads of armed and trained terrorists with maps directing them to communities in Israel. The head of Hamas proudly announced that their fighters would enter these communities and “eat the livers” of the Jews—-using an Arab expression for taking revenge by murdering one’s enemies.
- Both AntiFa and Palestinian groups rely on sympathetic mainstream media to portray them in a positive light….or at least to minimize their wrongdoing.
In a recent news story, the left-leaning Huff Post reported on the Portland rally that led to Andy Ngo’s head injury. In the Huff Post version, Anti-Fa “activists” were merely responding to provocations by “white-supremacist groups.” The article left no doubt that the editors of the Huff Post thought the AntiFa rioters were the good guys. It attributed all the violence to right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys.1 It denied that AntiFa behavior—-showing up masked and armed and brutally attacking and injuring people—-was the cause of the violence.
In similar fashion, Palestinian rioters and attackers have, for years, relied on a compliant western press to depict Palestinians as peaceful “activists” and Israeli soldiers as trigger-happy killers. One example: Palestinians have held regular riots at Israel’s security barrier. These riots are pre-planned. Palestinians notify the press of the location and time of the “protest.”
At the appointed hour, the Palestinians begin to riot, with masses of attackers hurling stones at Israeli soldiers. The press cameras roll. To the viewer back home it appears that the Israeli soldiers have attacked peaceful protestors. News stories that accompany the photos and video reinforce that narrative.
Another example: In a recent front page op-ed, the perennially anti-Israel New York Times went so far as to report a lie. The title of the op-ed was “Israel’s Violent Response to Nonviolent Protests.”2 As I have already explained, the Gaza border fence protests have been anything but peaceful. And Israeli forces, working to prevent the massacre of Israeli civilians by terrorist intruders, have been meticulous about using minimal force. These facts are minimized in the Times’ reports.
- Both AntiFa and Palestinians present themselves as victims, struggling against unjust persecutors.
AntiFa has its roots in earlier Communist and Socialist movements. Just like the Communists, AntiFa claims to lead an epic struggle “for the people” against abusive corporations and an unjust economic system. It is no accident that many AntiFa activists were first involved in the Occupy Movement to rein in Wall Street corporations.
Like old-time Communists, AntiFa and its admirers claim to fight for the interests of the proletariat, or worker. But today’s AntiFa fighter has added new categories of victims in need of defense. This was reflected in a comment on Anti-Fa’s Facebook page: “….I fully support ANTIFA, they are the new Robin Hood, protecting the innocent that are victimized because of skin color, religion and race, these white supremacist organizations need to be stopped.”
In the Palestinian narrative, the Jew is the perpetrator of epic injustice against the Arabs. In breathtaking ignorance of the Jews’ 3500 year history in the Land of Israel, Palestinian “activists” claim that Jews are recent invaders of lands that have belonged to Arabs and Muslims since time immemorial. Palestinian and Arab leaders have propagated this false narrative for the past 100 years. Their success can be seen in the widespread acceptance of this narrative among Palestinians and anti-Israel activists in the west.
An enterprising young Israeli named Corey Gil-Shuster has posted a large number of “man-on-the street” You Tube videos in which he interviews Jews and Arabs in Israel and the West Bank. While most Jewish interviewees favor an accommodation between Jews and Arabs, accommodating attitudes are noticeably rare among Arab respondents. Almost all of them say that the Jews are foreign invaders who stole Palestinian land. Many say that the Jews need to leave. The very idea of Jewish sovereignty is alien to Palestinian Arabs. And almost all of them believe that the presence of Jews in “their lands” is temporary. This is a formula for permanent Palestinian victimhood.
Authoritarianism and violence are dangerous masters. Once authoritarianism establishes itself in a society it erodes the civil contract among citizens and between citizens and governments. It makes international conflicts intractable. When violence is used by one group, it triggers violence by opposing groups, until the rule of law no longer applies. Societies become more chaotic, less free, less open and disorganized.
The future does not look good for peace in the Middle East or the US.
- Campbell, A. Far-Right Extremists Wanted Blood in Portland’s Streets. Once Again, They Got It. Huff Post. July 1, 2019.
- Israel’s Violent Response to Nonviolent Protests. New York Times (Editorial Board). April 11, 2018. April 11, 2018.
- Krayden, D. CNN’s Chris Cuomo Says Antifa Fights for a Good Cause. Daily Caller. April 30, 2019.