They’ve got all the weapons; they’ve got all the money…It‘s all there.
~ John Lennon
Political elections can have powerful cultural effects when infused with growing fear, deep anger, resentment of economic and social injustice, and racism. Diverse forms of social instability follow the displacement and ruined hopes for more and more people. The economic and political actions of the neoliberal economic elite have forced an intensified polarization of society along lines of race and class. Resentment, fear, and anger creep further into the political process, encouraged by narcissistic demagogic scapegoating.
KKK ~ Photo Credit: Martin / Flickr
As traditional forms of social control weaken under such conditions of political upheaval, social change, and stress, the exercise of power tends toward the violent. Violence can be cultural, psychological, physical, or any combination. The unfortunate surge of activity by racist “white nationalists,” neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the wake of the U.S. 2016 presidential elections exemplify this process. Violence is both contagious and addictive.
Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and related white-nationalist elements had been constrained by a national culture that since the civil rights movement in the 1960s had explicitly rejected racism. Those constraints were already weakening when Donald Trump’s vitriolic campaign for the presidency attacked “political correctness” and continued his “birtherism” claims. Victims of racism, sexism, and xenophobia became that much more vulnerable.
Trump a the perennial candidate for public attention, continued after the election, giving bigotry implicit political permission to go public. The rise of extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi groups in Europe accompanied social instabilities amplified by the flood of refugees from death and destruction in the Middle East, where European military units operate alongside U.S. forces. Blaming the victim prevailed there as well as in the U.S. as the “sorrows of empire” spread throughout the industrialized world.
The Rise of Antifa
A small faction among the many protesters against the rising racist neo-fascist demonstrations under the Trump presidency, called “antifa,” meaning anti-fascism, rapidly gained attention. It reflected the growing political instability in the U.S., as well as a revulsion against authoritarian groups threatening a new rise in racist violence. Antifa members proclaim their dedication to destroying fascism “by any means necessary” for their “collective self-defense.”  They have fiercely defended those protesting the neo-Nazis in Charlotte and beyond. Cornel West reported that antifa members protected him and other non-violent protesters from violent neo-Nazi attackers there.
Antifa in Charlotte
Yet, in numerous historical movements for change, avoiding street violence has contributed to positive change far more frequently than “rioting in the streets.”
So-called militia and other extreme right-wing groups had strengthened during the Black Presidency. Trump had fed their growth by championing the racist “birther” denial of Obama’s citizenship and presidency The new surge of white nationalism once Trump took office was encouraged by Trump’s not so subtle embrace of racism and xenophobia. His refusal to condemn the violent racists of the neo-Nazis in Charlotte added fuel to the fascist fire.
Republicans and Democrats alike condemned Trump’s presidential pardon of the infamous racist xenophobe, Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, shortly thereafter. A federal court had convicted Arpaio of contempt of court for having defied court orders to stop racially profiling Latinos. Trump actively enabled racism and fascism repeatedly in his first months in office while attempting to suppress federal investigations of his secret financial-political connections to the Russians. The President’s behavior only amplified the growing instability and loss of social control in the U.S.
Illusions of Violence in the Corporate State
State violence can enforce some degree of social control under any political regime, for a while. However, as demonstrated in countless cases from Chile and Argentina to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and many others, any social order enforced by violence is inherently unstable. Dictators, occupiers, and would-be autocrats who incite extremist violence in a population often lose the very control they sought.
True social control emanates from cultural values and social relations that respect both individuals and groups. The rise of movements, such as “antifa,” within protests against neo-Nazis and the “black block” among peaceful protests like Occupy Wall Street, reflect how unstable the politics of social control became in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Antifa’s goal as a group, is to oppose fascism (racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.), “by any means necessary.” However, its model of change has one weak link – the illusion of the effectiveness of violence. The history of non-violent movements demonstrates its own efficacy and the self-indulgence and futility of street violence. It is important — strategically as well as morally — to align means with ends. Democracy cannot be ‘enforced’ by violence.
There is strength in numbers, but the violence of the state can crush large crowds if given an excuse. The ‘Black Block’ pseudo-anarchists did the Occupy Wall Street movement no good at all, harming it instead. Violence, even against mere property, becomes a two edged moral sword, no matter how high minded the goal. Those concerned with the rise of racist white nationalism and the like must organize community and cultural resistance, not physical confrontation (other than in pure self-defense).
Remember, the rise of neo-fascism in the U.S. and Europe today is a direct result of the degradation of democracy and the decline of economic and social justice. These take diverse forms, often expressed in domestic and foreign terrorism. The re-establishment of genuine social control in any society must find its strength in the cultural values of compassion and peace in its communities, not the extremist hate fomented by power elites struggling to maintain their control. Violence is both addictive and contagious.
In seeking peace and stability, look to overcome the sources (the 1% of the 1%) of extreme inequity, social, economic, and climate injustice, not to confronting the particular class of victims who express their misguided rage in evil ways. We can socially sequester the haters; but the system must be transformed if society is to regain control of its destiny, a vastly more difficult task.
 In an interview by a 14 year old boy, filmed shortly before John Lennon was assassinated.
 Mark Bray, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2017) offers both a history of anti-fascist movements and an ideological argument for the rise of contemporary anti-fascist groups that confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the streets, in acts “of collective self-defense.” Antifa willingness to use “any means necessary” crosses the line from non-violent protest to street fighting. That is certainly problematic, though Cornel West reported that antifa actions in Charlotte had protected him and other peaceful protestors from violent attacks by neo-Nazis and white nationalists.