And its primary means are twofold: Its members engage in street protests in lots of cities; and its leaders push for 10 specific reforms set forth in Campaign Zero, which calls for an end to “broken windows” policing, more community oversight of police departments, stricter limits on the use of force, independent investigations of police misconduct, community representation in municipal governments, body cameras, better training, an end to “policing for profit,” demilitarization, and union contracts that don’t protect misbehaving police officers from being held accountable.
If you disagree with any of my characterizations about the means and ends of those groups, we are at odds over facts, not values, and I am open to seeing evidence that challenges my assessment of a complicated matter. Bearing that in mind can make hashing out the truth less fraught and more likely to proceed constructively and profitably.
Given my understanding of the facts, where do I stand?
Black Lives Matter
For starters, I don’t think Black Lives Matter belongs in the online conversation about whether Americans should be denouncing violence “on all sides.” The movement’s end of stopping unjust police killings is laudable; and its leaders and the vast majority of its members openly favor nonviolent means. Plus, unlike Nazis, nothing about the future it desires is inseparable from initiating violence. That doesn’t mean it is beyond criticism. It is a large, free-wheeling movement without clear leaders, and individual participants have no doubt acted badly on many occasions, as is true of groups as varied as the Sons of Liberty in 1775, anti-Vietnam War protesters, and the Tea Party. I have criticized Black Lives Matter activists in the past for disrupting a Bernie Sanders event and for the tactic of blocking freeways.
But I draw a distinction between objectionable acts of civil disobedience and engaging in violence. Some Black Lives Matter critics blame the group for the killing of five Dallas police officers. But the gunman acted alone, using tactics that the protest movement never urged or used, and group leaders denounced the killings. The group has the same relationship to the Dallas killer as nonviolent pro-life groups have to the extremist who perpetrated a mass killing at a Planned Parenthood.
Note that I am speaking of self-described members of the group, not anyone who shows up in the streets to protest against fascists. Antifa and antifascism are no more synonymous than being a member of Black Lives Matter and believing that black lives matter.
The initiation of extralegal street violence by self-appointed judges in masks is ethically wrong, legally wrong, and in the case of Antifa, tactically idiotic. (I can think of nothing more likely to contribute to Donald Trump’s reelection than roving bands of masked, violent leftists attacking not only Nazis carrying swastikas in the streets, but journalists covering protests, or crowds at Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopolous speeches.) It is an easy call for me to denounce Antifa members who participate in or endorse extralegal violence. That does not contradict my simultaneous judgment that Antifa’s stated end of resisting fascism is laudable. If they showed up in force to protest Nazi rallies, but refrained from initiating the use of force, using it only lawfully in self defense, I would have nothing but praise for them.