by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Let’s get something out of the way: Charlottesville is not about Confederate statues or Robert E. Lee or the Civil War or American history. What happened on Friday night and Saturday is about power, specifically forcing the great mass of Americans to choose sides in a zero-sum clash between contemporary American versions of Weimar gangs.
The Left’s damnatio memoriae campaign to tear down Confederate statues shares something in common with the white supremacist impulse to stage tiki-torch rallies in defense of those statues: the ultimate goal isn’t to re-litigate the Civil War but to polarize the American body politic, to force the mainstream into a kind of crude tribalism.
Political violence and street fights of the kind we saw over the weekend in Charlottesville aren’t altogether new in America. We have seen such clashes — albeit less deadly ones — nearly every year for almost a decade. In nearly every case, they have been sought out and instigated by the extreme left.
But Richard Spencer and his sparse band of J. Crew Nazis chose the Lee statue for the site of their rally on Saturday for the simple reason that it was the best location for attracting attention and provoking a violent counter-protest from armed cadres of left-wing street fighters, which it did. They came to town, apparently from all over the country, looking for a fight—that would be televised.
That strategy follows a certain logic, especially if your movement is small (estimates of white supremacist attendees were in the hundreds). For the left-wing counterprotesters, showing up en masse to attack such a gathering follows the same logic. The point is to put on a spectacle.
The fact is, neither the extreme left or the extreme right are representative of any significant constituencies in American politics. They do not wield actual power, but they have realized a way to exert out-sized influence through the instigation of publicly staged violence.