Conservatives Conjure Up Liberal Support for Antifa Violence

Despite trawling social media, conservative publications found scant evidence that mainstream commentators approved of an attack on a journalist.

Antifa protesters in 2017
Antifa protesters in 2017 (Natalie Behring / Getty Images)

On June 29, a video appeared showing masked activists wearing black clothing—the garb commonly associated with “antifa,” the self-described anti-fascist movement—assaulting the conservative journalist Andy Ngo in Portland, Oregon. As if in unison, conservative publications published articles accusing the “left,” “liberal journalists,” and “reporters” of condoning the attack.

That’s a disturbing charge. Luckily, there’s little evidence it’s true. Indeed, the articles in question say less about widespread liberal approval of antifa attacks than about the right’s need to conjure it up.

Typical of the genre was a June 30 Daily Caller article bearing the headline “Here’s How Liberal Journalists Reacted After Andy Ngo’s Attack at a Portland Rally.” In its first sentence, the article accused “media pundits” of having “dismissed reports of a conservative journalist’s attack.”

To substantiate that charge, the Daily Caller cited tweets by Alheli Picazo, Nathan Bernard, Vegas Tenold, and Charlie Warzel. Who are they? Picazo, according to her Twitter page, is an “athlete, writer, researcher, politico” from Calgary, Canada, and has slightly more than 10,000 followers. The Daily Caller quoted a tweet in which she declared, “Andy Ngo is someone who antagonizes those he knows will react in a disproportionate way … Those who assaulted him, however, are the ones at fault here.”

For his part, Nathan Bernard runs Bernard Media, which, according to Rolling Stone, is a one-man operation. He has 24,000 Twitter followers. The Daily Caller quoted him as tweeting, “After relentlessly baiting and harassing antifa, far-right provocateur Andy Ngo finally got his wish of being milkshaked.” (In addition to punching Ngo, antifa activists threw “milkshakes” at him, which a Portland police source claimed—but various protesters denied—contained quick-drying cement.)

Then there’s Vegas Tenold, who, according to his website, has written for The New York Times and The New Republic. Tenold has 2,000 Twitter followers and recently described himself as “a white man who nobody’s ever heard of.” The Daily Caller quoted him as tweeting, “An egg lobbed into a crowd where a journalist happens to be isn’t attacking a journalist.” Finally, the Daily Caller quoted Charlie Warzel of The New York Times, who said, “Violence should be unacceptable. But there are also serious risks involved with putting yourself in volatile situations.”

As its exception that proves the rule—the pundit who ducked the tide of liberal sympathy for antifa violence—the Daily Caller cited CNN’s Brian Stelter, who tweeted, “Attacking a messenger shows weakness, not strength. Hopefully the authorities will get to the bottom of this.”

So here’s the overall tally: A New York Times writer calls antifa’s behavior “unacceptable.” A CNN reporter says the police must investigate. Two freelance journalists with relatively low profiles downplay the severity of the attack, while another accuses Ngo of “antagoniz[ing]” his adversaries, who “are the ones at fault here.” After scouring the internet for evidence that liberal journalists cheer attacks on conservative journalists, that’s the best the Daily Caller could do.

The weakness of this evidence is particularly striking given the sheer volume of postings that appear on social media. Any partisan who trawls Twitter looking for irresponsible or mean-spirited statements from her ideological adversaries will usually find something. When I contacted the Daily Caller for an explanation, I received a statement from Ethan Barton, the managing editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation, who wrote in part, “The article points out several journalists who excused Antifa’s assault against Andy Ngo by accusing him of being an agitator, which is reminiscent of victim blaming.”

In fact, whether any of those quoted “excused” the assault is debatable. And the insinuation that these commentators represent “liberal journalists” is fanciful.

Other conservative publications did no better than the Daily Caller. “Reporters and activists pile on journalist after antifa attack,” declared the Washington Examiner. The evidence: the same quotes from Picazo, Warzel, and Bernard. The Examiner also quoted the Cosmopolitan and CNN columnist Jill Filipovic, who wrote: “This is reprehensible. I really, really hate much of what @MrAndyNgo believes. But you don’t physically attack a person because of their views.” It cited the Media Matters editor at large Parker Molloy, who made light of the attack before writing, “In seriousness, though, now that I see the actual video … yikes … wtf are people thinking?” The Examiner also cited Slate’s Aymann Ismail, who declared, “This is bad, but he’s guilty of worse,” and Charlotte Clymer from the Human Rights Campaign, who wrote, “Violence is completely wrong … but I’m also not going to pretend that this wasn’t Ngo’s goal from the start.”

It was more of the same at The Federalist, which served up the same quotes from Clymer, Ismail, and Filipovic to support its claim that the “Left Blames Ngo, Not the Criminals Who Attacked Him.” Brandon Morse of Red State—who asserted that “mainstream reporters don’t seem to care, or worse, sympathize” with Ngo’s attackers—cited exactly the same sources as the Daily Caller. His sole addition: The Guardian’s Jason Wilson, who wrote that “Ngo said he had been attacked and hospitalised” but earned Red State’s ire for describing his attackers as “left-wing protesters,” not antifa.

Despite scouring the internet, writers for the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, The Federalist, and Red State didn’t find a single Democratic politician or prominent liberal, or any major media figure, who defended antifa’s violence. Instead, four separate publications tapped the same small group of commentators—most of them unfamiliar to the average reader—who downplayed the attack or bundled their condemnation of antifa with a condemnation of Ngo.

In response to a query, Julio Rosas, who wrote the Examiner story, noted that it included several people affiliated with prominent news outlets or activist groups. Red State’s Morse cited a broader pattern of media misbehavior beyond what was documented in his story: “Media Matters, CNN, Mother Jones, and NYT all seemed to question the validity of the quick dry concrete in the milkshake reports by police,” he wrote in a Twitter message to me. He added, “Instead of immediately condemning Antifa for what they did,” these outlets “cast doubt on different aspects.” (Nicole Russell, who wrote the Federalist article, didn’t respond after I reached out to her.) What Rosas’s and Morse’s responses ignore is that even the prominent liberals quoted in their own articles condemned the attack.

There’s a reason the Daily Caller and company couldn’t find much evidence of liberal support for antifa: Despite the right’s effort to affix the term leftist to everyone from Joe Biden to Chairman Mao, there’s a vast ideological gulf between mainstream American liberals and antifa, an anarchist group that justifies its violence by rejecting the legitimacy of the state. Historically, in fact, the revolutionary left has loathed liberals, who generally support the reform—not the overthrow—of existing political and economic institutions. Which helps explain why many of the journalists antifa has attacked aren’t conservatives at all.

It’s true that, in the years since Donald Trump’s election, a few leftists have, to their discredit, apologized for antifa’s violence. But if the response to the attack on Ngo is any guide, those apologies are diminishing as the ugliness of antifa’s conduct grows more inescapable.

The irony in all this is that there’s one extremely prominent American figure who really does cheer political violence: Donald Trump. Imagine if publications such as the Daily Caller held the president to the same standard that they’re applying to liberals.