A recurring theme of 2017 was establishment media pundits pouncing on Antifa for infringing on “free speech” of neo-Nazis. Where are they now?
On January 20 (J20), roughly 200 protesters in Washington, DC marching against Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration were kettled and arrested after a few black-clad anarchists smashed the windows of a Starbucks coffee shop and burned a limousine. Nobody was hurt from the scant acts of property destruction.
Despite only a few people participating in those acts of property destruction, the entire group was charged by the Department of Justice with felony property destruction, misdemeanor rioting, and misdemeanor conspiracy to riot. This is all despite the fact that DC Metro Police never issued an order to disperse before mass-arresting and gassing protesters, and violated 20 separate laws meant to protect the right to protest. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the protesters could face up to 50 years in federal prison.
As the Intercept reported, a conviction would mean a chilling curtailing of First Amendment rights for people who peaceably assemble for public demonstrations in the future, as a vast majority of the 194 J20 defendants were simply marching and chanting.
“The prosecution’s case is utterly bizarre and essentially rests on both guilt by association and criminalization of dissent,” legal scholar Chip Gibbons of the group Defending Rights and Dissent told The Intercept.
Despite the outrageously heavy-handed nature of the charges, there has been scant reporting on the trial of the 194 activists in establishment media, and very little mention of the trial on cable news. However, hugely influential media outlets were more than happy to critique Antifa (anti-fascist action) for forcefully driving out a crowd of neo-Nazis who attempted to rally in Berkeley, California.
Antifa beat down apparent alt-righter. pic.twitter.com/WVdDJqLKmA
— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) August 27, 2017
While the beating of a white supremacist in a public street in broad daylight would likely trigger the sensibilities of cozy elite journalists with six-figure salaries and 401(k) matches, it’s important to view it in the context of the political moment. Berkeley Antifa’s response to the failed hate rally in their city came just weeks after the violent “Unite the Right” debacle in Charlottesville in which white supremacist James Fields killed one leftist counter-protester and injured nearly two dozen others.
After President Trump said the violence in Charlottesville came from “both sides,” the Washington Post eagerly ran an irresponsible commentary from former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen that said Antifa was “the moral equivalent of Neo-Nazis.” Post reporter Kyle Swenson added fuel to the fire in a truly gutless article with a headline that read, “Black-clad antifa members attack peaceful right-wing demonstrators in Berkeley.”
In August, the Boston Globe ran a column by Jeff Jacoby complaining that Antifa had shut down a “free speech” rally organized by white supremacist groups. And in October, the New York Times ran a woe-is-me op-ed from University of Oregon president Michael Schill, who complained that students hijacked his State of the University speech because Schill wants to give white supremacist speakers a platform on campus.
However, as of this writing, neither Thiessen, Jacoby, or Schill have published any other op-eds in leading papers of record blasting the Trump administration for infringing on Americans’ free speech rights to the point of attempting to jail people who did nothing but protest the president. Their silence is deafening.
Rather than pile on powerless Antifa protesters for physically fighting back against people who proudly affiliate with groups that call for the ethnic cleansing of minority groups, these influential papers and columnists could instead use their platform to condemn an actually powerful person — like the President of the United States — for intimidating people by maliciously prosecuting Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.
The media is an institution tasked with defending the people against tyrannical overreach — not tone-policing people fighting back against the troubling resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology. Pundits’ continued silence on the J20 defendants enables tyranny and hate, and is a slap in the face to free speech and free assembly.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.