Trump turn­ing words into weapons of ide­ol­ogy

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - OPINION - ROBIN BARANYAI

In the on­go­ing bat­tle for the hearts and minds of dis­en­chanted Trump sup­port­ers, ter­mi­nol­ogy has emerged as an im­por­tant bat­tle­ground. Specif­i­cally, defin­ing the “An­tifa” move­ment — what it stands for, and who’s in­cluded.

The left is di­vided over An­tifa. Few still use the la­bel — an ab­bre­vi­a­tion for anti-fas­cist — as a big-tent term en­com­pass­ing any­one protest­ing white na­tion­al­ism. Most are ea­ger to dis­tin­guish peace­ful anti-racist demon­stra­tors from a mi­nor­ity fac­tion of black-clad counter-pro­test­ers wield­ing clubs.

Some feel An­tifa tac­tics are a jus­ti­fied re­sponse to neo-Nazi and white su­prem­a­cist rhetoric, which ex­pose mi­nori­ties to hate crimes. Oth­ers be­lieve en­gag­ing with force un­der­mines the cred­i­bil­ity of a move­ment protest­ing hate.

At its core, the An­tifa move­ment’s goal is to con­front or­ga­nized fas­cism “by any means nec­es­sary.” Self-ap­pointed spokesper­son Mark Bray, au­thor of An­tifa: The Anti-Fas­cist

Hand­book, agrees force is jus­ti­fied to quell any resur­gence of fas­cism, which he ar­gues is not a po­lit­i­cal opin­ion to be coun­tered with rea­son, but “an en­emy to hu­man­ity.”

We might seek the wis­dom of philoso­phers. They, too, are di­vided. Phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor Samir Cho­pra writes: “Cur­rent cri­tiques of An­tifa fetishize phys­i­cal vi­o­lence ... they fail to ad­dress the vi­o­lence present in a re­lent­less pat­tern of in­tim­i­da­tion and abuse and overt ex­er­tions of power.” In a Face­book post he queried: “Is it OK to punch a Nazi in the face? Ask­ing for a Vir­ginian friend.”

On the other hand, el­der states­men Noam Chom­sky and Peter Singer warn vi­o­lence by counter-pro­test­ers only plays into Trump’s au­thor­i­tar­ian hand, not­ing the per­cep­tion of in­creased law­less­ness height­ens the ap­peal of a tough-on-crime can­di­date.

Time will tell how An­tifa is judged by his­tory. But some on the far-right are seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity to char­ac­ter­ize all anti-fas­cist pro­test­ers as thugs.

A new code word in the bat­tle was pro­vided by the pres­i­dent him­self, at the in­fa­mous news con­fer­ence where he de­scribed some Char­lottesville marchers as “very fine peo­ple” and counter-pro­test­ers as “the alt-left.” The in­vented ne­ol­o­gism mir­rors “alt-right” — the hip­per-sound­ing, re­cruit­ment-friendly term adopted by white na­tion­al­ists to nor­mal­ize their “al­ter­na­tive” views. Since they’ve been outed as hate-mon­gers, Trump ap­pears to be us­ing the pre­fix “alt” as a stand-in for hate­ful ex­trem­ism.

The pres­i­dent has a his­tory of re­peat­ing non­sense la­bels un­til they stick. When the term “fake news” emerged to de­scribe elec­tion pro­pa­ganda am­pli­fied through so­cial me­dia, he clev­erly de­flected at­ten­tion by co-opt­ing the term to mean some­thing else en­tirely.

Faced with any ques­tion he didn’t like, the pres­i­dent be­gan hurl­ing the re­tort “You’re fake news” at es­tab­lished me­dia out­lets — a gram­mat­i­cal in­con­gruity that made about as much sense as “You’re in­fluenza.” With de­ter­mined rep­e­ti­tion, the id­iom stuck.

Trump hasn’t had to work so hard to nor­mal­ize the faux term “alt-left.” His fol­low­ers are do­ing it for him. It’s been glee­fully adopted by ex­treme right-wing out­lets in­clud­ing Bre­it­bart and In­fowars. Mean­while on Twit­ter, the hash­tag #al­tleft is turn­ing up on top­ics rang­ing from so­cial justice protests to “lib­tard logic.”

Fur­ther­ing the quest to tie the left to a dis­cred­ited An­tifa, ag­i­ta­tors launched a smear cam­paign to make it ap­pear An­tifa pro­motes vi­o­lence against women. BBC re­ports re­searcher Eliot Higgins traced sev­eral fake Twit­ter ac­counts to 4Chan, a mes­sage board used by white su­prem­a­cists. The fake ac­counts cir­cu­lated memes us­ing An­tifa lo­gos, pair­ing photos of bat­tered women with taglines such as “She said she was right wing, so I gave her a left hook. #pun­chanazi.”

In other words, fake news.

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