An alt-right Donld Trump supporter holds up a sign at one of the president’s ralliesFibonacci Blue

Few things age as gracefully as fine wine – rarely, however, does anything decline quite as sharply as Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies. The book, released three months ago, attempts to chart the rise of the alt-right within the context of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory. It begins by denigrating the movement and its ties to white nationalism quite soundly, even accusing those who led to its rise, directly or indirectly, as responsible for the hate it breeds. By about halfway through, however, Nagle is parroting their anti-progressive arguments.

Let’s be clear, Nagle doesn’t support their cause. So why, then, does her book – as has been pointed out by media outlets such as Vice – depict the ‘left’ as the true aggressors, and paint the alt-right as the charismatic vanguard of social transgression? The truth is, Nagle is just one of many who have found themselves spellbound by the vacuous and seductive rhetoric of the alt-right.

Chief among this rhetoric is the idea that ‘both sides’ are ‘as bad as each other’, which, if unpalatable before Charlottesville, is afterwards patently false. You need only look at the violence during that event – in which counter-protester Heather Heyer tragically died at the hands of an extremist who injured a further 19 people, and another white nationalist freely opened fire at counter-protesters while police stood and watched – to see why.

In response to this, a common rebuttal amongst the alt-right was the early-August case of Joshua Witt, a man allegedly stabbed by an anti-fascist who thought he “looked like a neo-Nazi”. Too bad for them, then, that Witt has now been arrested for faking the attack in an attempt to smear anti-fascists.

“The hatred of anti-fascists stems from hating fascism. One side is inherently violent, the other is not.”

Of course, this isn’t to say there isn’t violence on the left: there is. But to boil the problem down simply to what is happening at street level intentionally diverts the point. The hatred at the core of the alt-right stems from their belief that the white race is superior (or Western culture is superior, or whatever other dog-whistles they use). The hatred of anti-fascists stems from hating fascism. One side is inherently violent, the other is not.

If you want to avoid violence from the left, what little there is of it, try not to find yourself at a neo-Nazi rally reciting Hitlerite vitriol. On the other hand, if you want to avoid violence from the alt-right and their fascist bed-fellows, then bleach your skin white, take conversion therapy to ‘fix’ your sexuality, or maybe just move out of their burgeoning new ethnostate. As Allen Scarsella and accomplices said in a video shouting out alt-right hotbed 4chan, shortly before shooting five peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors: “Stay white.”

To say these views and events emanate from symmetrical ‘extremes’ is no more than pathetic whataboutery: it deflects blame from neo-Nazis and provides superficial justification for their actions. But the false equivalence argument spreads further than just Charlottesville and physical violence. When Jason Okundaye, a black student at Cambridge, made the point that racism is not specific to the white working class, his comments were decontextualised by multiple newspapers and he was branded a racist, with one of his biggest critics being the actual racist, Katie Hopkins.

Even if you don’t agree with Okundaye’s statements, or his manner of presenting them, there’s no honest way you can believe that his tweets are equivalent to Hopkin’s statements stereotyping black people as violent (and so tacitly erasing police brutality as a cause of black death), abhorrently suggesting a “final solution” following the Manchester attack, or likening migrants to cockroaches.

Those who profess ‘liberal’ values, such as J.K. Rowling, have blamed ‘both sides’ after fascist-leftist conflictExecutive Office of the President

To point a finger at ‘both sides’ is not to end the argument, neither is it grounds to pat oneself on the back and call it a day. Yet, so often this smug line is employed by people who have no stake in the debate at all, people who occupy a comfortable position unaffected by the violence and so mistakenly believe they possess superiority over anyone who dares commit the only crime they seem bothered about: giving a shit.

If this false equivalency line doesn’t work, then free speech is the next rhetorical tool perverted by the alt-right to sway debates, arguing that no-platforming at universities, or banning hate speech on social media, is unethical. However, much like the ‘both sides’ argument, it’s only convincing if you’re unfamiliar with structural violence. Because the speech defended by the alt-right is ideologically hateful, and has the power to suppress through inciting fear.

There is a point at which we have to make a decision: do we allow speech that arouses violence, often at the expense of silencing the speech of those it is aimed against, or do we disincentivise those views from being manifested in public places where everyone should feel safe to speak their mind? To say “sticks and stones…” betrays an utter lack of awareness at the power of words when wielded by those who wish to oppress, and the ease with which far-right ‘free speech’ leads to violence against the most vulnerable in society. If one person’s rights are being weaponised to jeopardise another’s then tough decisions have to be made – and the only moral choice is that which defends those being attacked.

Yet the arguments that the alt-right continue to churn out on this issue are absolute, and that is perhaps their greatest, cynical strength. They inspire a complete denial of nuance and encourage those in the centre to join in shallow attempts to catch the left out for supposed ‘inconsistencies’. Free speech and non-violence are treated as unbreakable concepts by the alt-right, and heralding them as such never fails to appeal to those, often centrists, who have the principles of liberal democracy in their hearts. And once the bait is set, the alt-right can deploy their absolutist smoke-screen with ease and watch as the conversation diverts from the inadequacy of their movement, to the inadequacies of their opponents’.

“Free speech is not something afforded to those the alt-right, or even many of those on the traditional right, oppose”

That’s the reality of their absolutism: it provides standards only the left is held to. Free speech is not something afforded to those the alt-right, or even many of those on the traditional right, oppose, as the hounding of Jason Okundaye shows, and neither is a world free from violence. Yet these arguments continue to be pedalled as a means of pressuring people into tolerating the intolerable, humouring what can no longer be taken as a joke.

Of course the alt-right can portray themselves as exemplars of rationality when their entire argumentative technique revolves around minimising their fascist-lite beliefs as ‘ironic memes’, and maximising the ‘triggered’ responses of those justifiably outraged by these beliefs. By distracting from the core of each argument and directing attention to the faux-‘suppression’ and supposed violence of the left, they create a situation where their behaviour is normalised. Then, when it’s rightfully called out, they can claim to be the true victims of oppression whose freedom has been ‘eroded’, and those who continue to pander to their arguments eat it up.


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Is it okay to punch a facist?

It’s easy for anyone in the centre, like Nagle, or even the centre-left, to be swayed by this rhetoric, since it provides an easy, satisfyingly sanctimonious out to complex socio-political problems. Even figures such as J. K. Rowling have joined the bandwagon of false equivalence. And while holding everyone accountable for their actions is necessary, we need to be careful not to get lost in a feedback loop which distracts from the colossal dangers of rapidly growing fascist movements.

Because, when one side engrains itself in the status quo, and is inherently violent, it does not make you a bipartisan diplomat to stand in the middle. When white nationalists like Richard Spencer consider alt-right figureheads such as the popular Milo Yiannapolous “great entry points”, it’s time to realise that neo-Nazism is hugely benefitted by refusing to nip it in the bud. If you fail to support the side that is against fascism, you are part of the problem. The back-patting, non-reciprocated tolerance, and excessive moral allowances need to end here. We’ll soon regret it if they don’t

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