How America Turned on Itself
On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof gunned down 9 worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nearly two years later in a completely unrelated incident, 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on Republican lawmakers at their annual congressional baseball game this summer on June 14.
These two men never met and were obviously on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Their crimes are indeed unrelated, but what people do not seem to understand is that both Roof and Hodgkinson, despite their differences, committed their crimes for the exact same reason — one that goes much deeper than ideology.
It is not the mere adoption of controversial and/or hateful beliefs that turns one into a violent extremist; the root cause is found in society. When Americans on any side of the political spectrum become discontent with society, they have a tendency to demand radical change. When the change doesn’t come, and all hope appears to be lost, people get angry and blame others.
At this point in time, America is at it's the worst cultural divide since the Civil War. In this century, however, we are experiencing a war of ideas. Since the Obama years kicked off nearly 10 years ago, Americans have seen a rise in hate crimes, race riots, and most recently, politically-motived assaults. Even before the election of Donald Trump, Americans bore witness to an escalation of violence against both liberals and Trump-loving conservatives. 2017 only got worse.
The increasingly toxic and at times violent nature of political discourse in recent years has undoubtably led to what we witnessed in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last month in August. The scenes of fire and chaos at Emancipation Park should have opened America’s eyes to the toxic rivalry between the Left and Right. “Unite the Right” was, as it's name implies, intended to be a gathering of far right fringe groups, from average Trump supporters to full-fledged Neo Nazis. It was also quite possibly the worst, most pathetic, most utterly shameful excuse for political debate we have seen in a long time.
Officially, the Alt Right/White supremacist groups came to protest the possible removal of a Confederate war monument, express support for Trump, and defend their rights to ‘free speech.’ In reality, it was a gathering of white nationalists intent on stirring up chaos. Many of the white-supremacists, believe they were “taking their country back” for their people. Thus, Alt-Right activists are stuck with a misguided belief that they are fighting for a greater good, and therefore any antisocial action done in the name of the “greater good” is justified in their minds. This is what makes them equatable with the more violent, radical side of ‘the left.’
The so-called “Alt-Right” movement is a collection of various far-right circles that reject “political correctness,” multiculturalism, and the advent of identity politics, etc. Ironically, these individuals have ended up pushing a different kind of identity in politics, focused solely what they think is a white race in jeopardy, by overshadowing the advancement and assimilation of other racial groups.
On the opposite side, we have also have a variety of far-left activists, most notably members of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ‘Antifa.’ Like the alt-right, they too are stuck with a disingenuous belief that they are doing what is best for the world around them, but that’s as far as this comparison will go. The young, anarchistic ideologues of Antifa genuinely believe they are protecting America from fascism; a goal so noble and heroic to them that anyone who isn’t on their side is treated as the enemy.
By now, far-left groups like the modern Antifa are experiencing what philosopher Eric Hoffer described as the ‘active phase’ of mass movements. Detailed in Hoffer’s The True Believer, the active phase is a point in which the original purpose of a mass movement has been overshadowed by ruthlessness and extreme actions of its followers.
Looking past all the political rhetoric, radical fringe groups on the right and the left are all motivated by a desperate desire for social change — whether it’s racial segregation or the complete dissolution of capitalism. It should then be no surprise as to why Neo-Nazi or a Left-wing anarchist will instantly reject any notion of ‘rational thinking.’ They have already abandoned the old standards of society and have chosen to pursue radical change.
Each side, no matter how extreme, has a point to make. The issue here is the fact that Americans today are utterly incapable of debating and/or exchanging ideas without some kind of hostility. As a result, mutual resentment only builds up like student loan debts as our country becomes more and more polarized. Flashy slogans like ‘resist’ or ‘stand and fight’ will not help.
It would be wrong to blame “both sides” for the death that occurred at the ill-fated demonstration at Emancipation Park. You can point fingers at Antifa or “the left” all you want, but that cannot change the fact that white nationalist Alex Fields Jr. acted of his own accord when he killed civil rights activist Heather Heyer and injured dozens more. He made a conscious decision to commit an act of violence; nobody is responsible for his own actions but himself. The problem is that Fields Jr., like millions of other Americans, chose not to blame himself for his antisocial actions.
We as a society cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the festering hatred of the “alt-right,” but we also need to realize how dangerously ineffective our methods of ‘fighting’ truly are. By all means, keep fighting the good fight against injustice and tyranny, but for the love of God, do not take it too far. The road to hell is built on ‘good intentions.’