I am not open to debating the merits of racism or bigotry of any kind. I am intolerant of ideological white supremacy, neo-nazism, rape culture, serial killing, and other cognitive systems that I recognize as intrinsically evil. I am bewildered by many people now who feel it is fine to downplay overt racism (never mind the systemic bigotry and racism that is the experience of millions of people in their daily lives) over issues like the destruction of property. While I personally do not believe that violence, except in self-defense, is the solution, I also do not believe that the violence of the disorganized members of Antifa is equivalent to the violence of neo-Nazis.
To suggest that such is the case is to completely ignore the intent, motive and ideology behind both groups. The alt-right adheres to an ideology that has at its center ideas that are evil, that dehumanize marginalized people, and that promotes violence and murder. Members of Antifa may be misled -- I am not saying they are necessarily, particularly when their violence in Charlottesville subsisted primary in a defensive posture not aggression contrary to what Trump claimed -- but it is not equivalent to the violence initiated by alt-right groups. To suggest this is the case seems to betray a personal investment to me; it is not clear thinking either rationally or emotionally.
Peace movements have a long history of destroying property, either for symbolic reasons or as a way of sabotaging the enemy. Human life may be sacred, imbued with implicit dignity, but property is not. Rather, the latter is the substance of American idolatry. It is what is referred to in the Declaration of Independence when the authors declare the white man's right to pursue happiness. In context, happiness was understood to be equal with private property. People protesting nuclear armaments, protesting war, protesting poverty, protesting the draft, protesting taxes without representation (Boston tea party) -- the examples are numerous -- have destroyed property. During the Vietnam war, Roman Catholic groups broke into government property and burned draft records, and in some instances had to act with violence against security personnel to subdue them.
The destruction of property is not wrong, prima facie. What people seem to miss is that there is a context behind every act, and the context matters. When you ignore the context, the result is the absurdity of conservatives decrying the destruction of property by protesters during the Vietnam war, but seeming completely oblivious to the destruction of human lives, children and mothers and families. Which is more valuable?
A person's biases surface when their idols are threatened.
What happened in Charlottesville
Those who reacted to the presence of hate as demonstrated by the alt.right in town by peacefully protesting, which was a majority of the protesters, were not Antifa. People who were there make that clear. The Antifa presence stood separately from the other protesters.
Cornel West and those with him, who were surrounded twice by angry white supremacists and Nazis, agree, and West claims that Antifa saved his life.
The protesters made a human chain as an act of nonviolent resistance to prevent the alt.right hate group from entering the park. The alt.right hate group came at the protesters with clubs and semi-automatic weapons. Not the other way around, as Trump claimed. In response, Antifa stood between the protesters and the attacking alt.right group. This was a defensive posture. The alt.right group finally retreated.
Later, a member of the alt.right group drove his Dodge Charger into the crowd and seriously injured nineteen people, and killed one woman.
The blame for this incident does not spread to everyone. The rhetoric of Nazi hate, the Nazi presence, and the young man who wielded his car like a weapon are to blame and that is what should have been addressed by Trump. He refused to do so, and later claimed there were "fine people on all sides." The problem with this is not only that it equates an attack with defense, but it also legitimizes white supremacy as an ideology that can be debated. It puts them on the map. They could not have asked for a greater gift.
A culture of condemnation (a culture of hate)
As an Orthodox Christian, I was happy to see that the Church responded to the events in Charlottesville and the subsequent remarks of the President. However, in the response of The Synod of Bishop of the Orthodox Church in America, the synod of bishops apparently feel the need not only to formally reject racism and bigotry as evidenced in alt-right hate groups, but to reject the "culture of condemnation" directed towards racists and bigots.
While it is true that we who are in the Orthodox Church condemn no one to hell, and seek in a spirit of reconciliation the healing of all, the timing for this injunction seems odd.
People of color in the United States suffer on a daily basis the injustices of being second-class citizens, and of having their very identity assaulted as lesser-than, as unintelligent, as lazy or scheming, as morally suspect -- all based solely on their appearance. Black men and women are far more likely to be pulled over or assaulted or even killed by police than white people. The statistics are overwhelming. As Kia Makarrechi writes for Vanity Fair:
"An independent analysis of Washington Post data on police killings found that, “when factoring in threat level, black Americans who are fatally shot by police are, in fact, less likely to be posing an imminent lethal threat to the officers at the moment they are killed than white Americans fatally shot by police.” According to one of the report’s authors, “The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black. . . . Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed.”
It is in this kind of climate that the alt-right appears, fostering violence against anyone who is not white, and shouting out threats against those who they consider to be inferior and to not "belong." It is in this context that a young male white supremacist sped his car through a crowd of non-violent protesters, seriously injuring nineteen people and murdering a young woman. For the Orthodox bishops in the OCA to choose this moment to mention the humanity and value of those who are practicing such violence is telling. For one, it is much like reminding a woman who has just been raped that her rapist is a great asset to the community because he is a star athlete. In other words, it is insulting; it is like rubbing salt in a wound. But more than that, I think it is really a nod to a large vocal subsection of the Orthodox Church who abide in a culture of resentment, who conflate political ideology with Holy Tradition, and long in much the same way that Donald Trump desires to "make America Great again," to hang on to an authoritarian version of the Church that never was and that indeed is not Orthodox.
The culture of resentment
The Orthodox Church in America bishops talked about a culture of condemnation directed towards those on the alt.right, but I have more often seen a more dangerous culture of resentment that informs an Orthodox ethos that is corrupted by it.
Resentment of "secularism" that does not take seriously the claims of Orthodox tradition undermines a lot of the rhetoric stemming from rigorist Orthodox Christian clergy and laity alike. Resentment fuels the denial of climate change (which some prominent priests promote) and evolutionary theory. Anything that smacks of "progress" away from a pretend version of morality that is rooted in a political narrative, not Holy Tradition (though the former often substitutes for the latter) is not rejected on its lack of merit, but largely from a spirit of resentment and assumed victim-hood.
These Orthodox fully-embrace the right-wing propaganda that suggests "secularists" are engaged in an all out war against Christianity that might even be found in the way some people or businesses choose to greet one another during the Christmas season. The poor are resented for "getting something for nothing," the marginalized are resented for reparations, the educated are resented for being "elitists," ad nuaseaum. It is this kind of resentment that propelled Donald Trump to the office of the Presidency. It is a resentment easily discovered on numerous Orthodox websites online, and present in parishes throughout the United States.
So when the alt.right seeks to flex its organizational muscles and show that they are a real presence, and that they really do reflect an ideology of hate, marching through the streets with semi-automatic weapons, and these people respond not by rejecting that kind of ideology but rather by seeking to share the blame, one has to wonder if there is not some semblance of identification with what the alt.right stand for, which is basically an absolute decimation of civility in the name of nationalistic pride and tradition, founded on resentment. A resentment that I think is shared.
I believe this shared resentment is what motivates so many Orthodox not only to become stiff rigorists who substitute closed-mindedness for integrity, but also to be on the defensive whenever there is a clear reason to question the motives and actions of the status quo, to blame the victim, and to "share the blame."