The op-ed by Mitchell Zimmerman contained obtuse statements in support of the author’s rant against Antifa. As someone who also lived through the ’60s , I was offended by Zimmerman’s op-ed.
First, the author claimed that the Weathermen (an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society) undermined broader participation in the civil rights and anti-war movements and that they helped elect Richard Nixon. But massive demonstrations were held in opposition to the Vietnam War until the draft was ended in 1973, when the United States and North Vietnam reached a peace accord; the Weathermen began to break up at this point. As to the elections of Nixon — in 1968, the Democratic Party nominated Hubert Humphrey, who also supported the Vietnam War. If the Democratic Party had nominated an anti-war candidate, it almost certainly would have won the White House. Many people who were strongly opposed to the Vietnam War refused to vote for Humphrey, and that’s what helped elect Nixon. In 1972, the Democratic Party nominated George McGovern, who was an actual progressive like Bernie Sanders. The party establishment was so upset with this nomination and was so opposed to McGovern’s progressive positions that it totally abandoned him in the election, resulting in a landslide victory for Nixon.
Moreover, while the author implies that the anti-war movement was a nonviolent one, this is not strictly true, nor was nonviolence always the most effective tactic. During the Vietnam War, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried to convince President Nixon to drop nuclear weapons on North Vietnam. Nixon, however, feared that if he did so, his physical safety would be endangered by the masses of anti-war demonstrators; the threat of violence possibly prevented massive harm to Vietnam and probably saved millions of lives.
Second, Zimmerman claims that Antifa’s “macho warrior posturing provokes violence” at demonstrations. The fact is that white supremacists, Nazis and the KKK who march in the streets commit violence on their own, and that violence is not in any way caused by Antifa. The violence committed by the demonstrators in Charlottesville is proof enough that these violent groups don’t need Antifa to commit violence; they will do so on their own.
None of this is to say that I necessarily support Antifa’s violence at demonstrations, because that violence is often counterproductive. However, groups like white supremacists, Nazis and the KKK have a clear history of violence, and sometimes defensive violence is the only effective way to deal with them. It’s easy for a white person to say that we should peacefully protest these groups, but Black people are actually physically threatened by them marching in the streets. There is no easy or right answer here; this issue requires serious and major discussion. A blanket opposition to nonviolence not only lacks critical thinking, but it is too simple-minded to work for this issue.
Jeff Hoffman is a resident of the city of Berkeley.