Liberals and Ultra-leftists: A Marriage Made in Hell

Lately I’ve been running into liberal Democrats and progressive Bernie supporters who are defending the ultra-left’s tactics of shutting down right-wing speakers and marches “by any means necessary.” Since many liberals and progressives belong to peace organizations that have a “nonviolence” clause in their mission statements, their support of “by any means necessary” — including violent means — presents a serious contradiction that will likely lead to just the opposite of what peace groups are trying to achieve.

The Politics of Fear

The corrupt U.S. political system requires a support base grounded in fear, which is why political leaders and the media keep us on the verge of hysteria through the fear of nuclear war and other existential threats. Liberals have fallen for the demagogic hyperbole of their leaders: They feel powerless under a “fascist” president and believe the Nazis are moments away from taking over the country. It’s 1930s Germany all over again, and liberals see ultra-left violence as a necessary tactic in the battle against fascism.

Apart from the historical errors of comparing today’s America with 1930s Germany, what the liberals can’t see is the power behind the curtain – they can’t see that they are being played once again by the Deep State fear mongers. The Deep State has been desperately seeking impeachment — regime change at home — since Trump got elected. Initially, through leaks and media complicity, it tried tying the “fascist” president to the “dictator” Putin, but the Russia gambit failed. Putin was too smart, the Democrats were too evil, and the punditocracy was too over-the-top even for gullible Americans (seriously Rachel Maddow — please take your meds!).

So what was a Washington fear monger to do? Enter the alt-right, white supremacists, neo-Nazis…or whatever the preferred term for that enemy du jour is. These deplorables filled the role perfectly because, after all, who can ever love a Nazi? Given the totality of evil the alt-right represents, it’s an easy step for liberals to jump on board the ultra-left’s “by any means necessary” bandwagon and support or tolerate its “punch-a-Nazi for democracy” tactics.

Tactics vs. Morals

Unfortunately, the ultra-left isn’t careful about how it identifies its enemy, often using questionable profiling or other vague criteria to lump all pro-Trump voters into one basket. To the ultra-left, any hint of “right” is wrong — whether it’s a neo-Nazi racist thug, a working-class Joe voting for jobs, or a conservative ideologue speaking on campus. All are fair game for the ultra-left’s violence-based tactics. This scatter-gun approach to politics has nothing in common with the hard work of organizing for social change. And herein lies the rub: It’s one thing to find common cause with the ultra-left’s anti-racism and anti-fascism agenda, but quite another to embrace its tactics.

Nota bene: This is not a moral argument. It is a purely tactical argument based on the premise that the temporary satisfaction of preventing a right-wing speaker on campus by issuing threats of personal and property damage, and the catharsis that comes with violent acts against white supremacists, will have long-term negative consequences for the peace movement and hinder, rather than help, our cause. Creating social instability plays into the hands of the Deep State and gives them the one gift they crave: a further excuse to clamp down on civil liberties. Ultra-left violence is a losing tactic that will lead to only one thing: an escalation in both the growth of white supremacist recruitment and the militarization of the police.

The Trend Towards Police Militarization

Police militarization is not new, but it’s growing. U.S. police have been moving towards a paramilitary model for decades under the cover of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terrorism.” While George H.W. Bush brought the CIA and the U.S. military into the drug war in the ’90s, it was Bill Clinton who signed into law the 1033 program that allowed the transfer of excess military equipment to local police departments. After 9/11, G.W. Bush told us to fear terrorists, and the militarization of the police escalated with the Department of Homeland Security’s generous funding program for military equipment (many times more funding than the 1033 program offered).

Today, even police departments in small towns throughout the country resemble a branch of the U.S. Marines. Following the money, we see that, not only is war a racket, but so is police militarization: The Department of Homeland Security gives billions of grant dollars to police departments every year, and those departments then go on a shopping spree buying military-grade equipment from the very same defense contractors that used to sell exclusively to the Pentagon.1

Since departments must prove they need DHS funding, they often have to invent uses and excuses for purchasing military-grade weapons and creating SWAT teams. Drug- and terrorist-related claims get priority for funding, and with the outbreak of violence between ultra-right and ultra-left groups, some of which are considered terrorist organizations by national and state DHS agencies, police are using SWAT teams more frequently at protests and demonstrations.

And police militarization doesn’t stop with military equipment. Local police departments have been sending their members to Israel to get trained in crowd control and “anti-terrorist” tactics — and we all know which “crowds” and “terrorists” the police will be targeting when they get back to our cities and neighborhoods.

The Real Threat to Society

What liberal defenders of ultra-left violence don’t realize is that it’s not the Nazis legally marching down main street that will sabotage U.S. democracy, but the paramilitary police state that will crush all legitimate dissent. Ultra-left violence plays into what apologists for police militarization have been saying all along — that the police have to keep ahead of the increasing violence in the streets with updated weapons and paramilitary training.

Ultra-left violence, far from stopping fascism, enables it. It makes martyrs of the right and helps white supremacists recruit more angry right wingers to their cause, just as every wedding party the U.S. bombs in the Middle East recruits angry family members to the jihadis. With every violent clash between ultra-left and ultra-right, the militarized police will grow stronger … and they’ve got minorities and peace activists in their sights.

  1. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko. New York: PublicAffairs. 2013. []

Janet Contursi is a freelance writer and political activist in Minneapolis. She can be reached at jacontursi@gmail.com. Read other articles by Janet.