A political column analyzing contemporary U.S. culture
Less than 100 days into the Trump presidency, a new trend is gaining popularity on college campuses: fighting between groups with polarized views. Imagine two forces carrying weapons such as M80s, rocks, bottles and bricks. Imagine acts of violence and vandalism such as breaking windows and starting fires. Imagine something close to a battlefield.
One group establishes the proposed battleground somewhere on campus where the forces will clash while the other marches in like a scene from Braveheart. Each side challenges the other by exchanging words, then as tensions escalate, those words become warnings followed by action.
To some, it might sound like LARPing, Live Action Role Playing, which is a game that has grown in popularity on college campuses. However, this is anything but LARPing. It has been an all-out brawl on college campuses such as UC Berkeley and University of Washington. People are getting hurt. One person at University of Washington was shot.
Anti-fascists known as the Antifa (an-teef-a) are clashing with a collective known as the Alt Right. The two tend to engage when one plans a protest or rally, whether on a street corner or college campus.
These battles, over enough time, tend to escalate into complete mayhem. Any moral compass a person should have seems to go out the window. For example, during the Berkeley clashes, a man punched Antifa protester Louise Rosealma in the face. Others hit her repeatedly and kneed her in the head, according to a CBS account and online videos. People have had their heads bashed by 11-inch U lock bicycle locks. Other participants used pepper spray and stun guns to disable their opposition according to numerous videos circulating the internet.
The Antifa are often identified by their attire. Many operatives wear masks to cover their faces and protect themselves from tear gas deployed by police. The Antifa have also been known to wear red and black colors which are used on the flags they carry when in action. Some members have caused damage to businesses and police vehicles, according to news from AOL.
The Alt Right “army” can be identified by their American red, white and blue colors and their red MAGA “Make America Great Again” hats. Some of these Alt Right protesters consist of Trump supporters, others are known as patriots, and the hipster frat boys in the melee call themselves “Proud Boys.”
According to the Rebel.media website, Gavin McInnes refers to himself as the leader of these Proud Boys. McInnes was the co-founder of Vice Media which he left in 2008. Since his departure from Vice, he has been a regular guest on Fox News and The Blaze. Probably not well known to many, McInnes has been referred to as “the Godfather of the Hipster movement,” according to NBC New York. Salon magazine calls McInnes a “right-wing provocateur.”
In an interview with New York Magazine’s local site Bedford + Bowery, McInnes describes that being one of the “Proud Boys” is much like joining a frat. There is hazing and initiations. To be allowed into this frat, first, pledges must declare themselves a “Proud Boy.” Next, pledges will have to videotape themselves being punched by five guys while trying to name five brands of breakfast cereal. The final obligation, called the third degree, is the tattoo. Pledges must have “Proud Boy” tattooed on their bodies.
This fraternity has rules that members must abide by. Members are not allowed to wear flip flops. Members can’t consume girl [sic] drinks like blackberry margaritas. Lastly, they can’t wank it more than once a month, according to Bedford + Bowery.
Whether these people have just joined the Proud Boy fraternity or been fighting for progressive rights since the Occupy movement, they went through a process to get there. People don’t wake up one day and decide to beat up anti-fascists or Alt Right protesters. People don’t camp out in snow because it’s cool. They get there through a process of radicalization.
To be radicalized, a person becomes convinced there is a cause to adopt, a radical position on political or social issues to fight for.
Anthropologist Scott Altran, who advised the United Nations and the White House on terrorism, has studied people who have self-radicalized. “They were searching for meaning in their lives and found it through friends who shared their idealism,” Altran said as quoted in an NPR interview.
Those who have a shared idealism tend to isolate themselves from others as much as possible. They build walled-gardens and pull the weeds when needed. Often in these walled-gardens, it is possible for false information or exaggerated facts to taint the minds of the group causing them to take action. Sometimes, people in the group feel like fighting is the only resort because they think in hegemonic cultures that they are losing. Or, in recent cases, they just don’t like what the other side has to say.
The latest battles in Berkeley and other colleges have been partly over free speech. Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator known her for insults, has had speaking engagements canceled at colleges due to protests by anti-fascist agitators and requests from local officials. And it keeps escalating.
The Avenue of Roses parade in Portland, Oregon was canceled due to violent threats from a person who was opposed to Republican organizations marching in the parade, as news media sources reported. On May Day, May 1, riots broke out in Portland. Destruction ranged from dumping and burning trash in streets to businesses having their windows broken. One person went as far as throwing a flare inside a police car which already had busted windows from the melee.
Before UCC becomes a battleground for these types of clashes, we should ponder. Should we set limits or create a balance for free speech on campus? What is considered free speech? What can we do besides battle if we don’t care for certain types of speech that we are exposed to on campus? What happens if someone takes an aggressive stand against an act of free speech here on campus?
See my next column in two weeks for some ideas on where we are and where we could go.
The series started here.