The most striking thing about the ‘antifa’ mob gathering in Portland at which the journalist Andy Ngo was violently assaulted at the weekend is that it described itself as ‘milkshake-themed’. There was a milkshake truck handing out fruity beverages to the antifa agitators. They hurled these milkshakes at alt-right protesters and at cops, too. And of course when Ngo was rounded on and punched and kicked for the crime of having criticised antifa’s behaviour, he was ‘milkshaked’. Masked protesters pelted him with milkshake as a kind of final humiliation. After all, that’s how you indicate that someone is an unperson these days, right? You throw milkshake at them.
The reason this is striking is that it is so clearly influenced by events in the UK, where during the Euro elections it became positively fashionable to pelt supposedly ‘far right’ people with milkshakes. Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage and Carl Benjamin were all assaulted in this way as they campaigned for votes. And the chattering classes lapped it up. They celebrated the milkshakers. Scribes from the bourgeois press and even some mainstream politicians gave their nod of approval to the milkshaking of these allegedly evil people. And now antifa in the US has giddily embraced the same tactic. There could be no clearer proof that antifa is not the rebellious, revolutionary outfit it fantasises about being, but rather is the armed wing of the cultural elite; the militant front of the bruised establishment; the attack dogs of a political class still reeling from Trump and Brexit and consumed by disgust for ordinary voters whom they increasingly view as a dumb, far-right throng. The Anti-Capitalistic ... Best Price: $10.08 Buy New $3.95 (as of 04:10 EDT - Details)
The attack on Ngo was deeply disturbing. He writes primarily for Quillette and has in recent months focused on the impunity of antifa mobs in Portland, the Jussie Smollett case and the fashion for making up hate crimes, and issues surrounding Islam, especially on the censorious trend for branding anyone who criticises Islam as ‘Islamophobic’. For doing these things, for expressing these opinions, he has of course been denounced as racist, Islamophobic, and a facilitator of white supremacy. (They can’t actually call him a white supremacist, given he is of Vietnamese descent.) At the weekend, in Portland, antifa visited extrajudicial corporal punishment upon Ngo for his various speechcrimes. A mob of middle-class white people beating up an Asian man in the name of challenging white supremacy – you couldn’t make it up.
Yet while the assault on Ngo was clearly vicious, an act of extreme intolerance, a form of violent censure, it would be wrong to view the antifa people who carried it out as eccentric outliers, as crazed, masked members of a dangerous fringe movement. The demand from supporters of Ngo that antifa be designated a terrorist movement or branded as fascists rather than anti-fascists is a mistake. The terrorist label would have authoritarian implications, potentially criminalising the antifa movement more broadly, including those who merely subscribe to its outlook and never take part in its actions. And to insist that we call antifa ‘fascists’ only plays into antifa’s own infantile game of seeing fascism everywhere. We can say antifa is censorious, authoritarian and intolerant without having to call them fascists.
But the main problem with singling out antifa idiots for particular opprobrium is that it overlooks the utterly mainstream role antifa plays these days. These people are best seen as the violent enforcers of political orthodoxy, the masked footsoldiers of an elite wounded and dizzied by the votes for Trump and Brexit. It is not remotely coincidental that antifa in its modern incarnation came into its own in the aftermath of these two electoral earthquakes – it is because it embodies, in bovine, agitated form, the fury of a bourgeoisie that has found itself rejected by voters. Its milkshake-themed gathering and milkshake-themed acts of violence over the weekend confirm the extent to which it is really just a Guardian editorial made flesh, the Twitterati in physical form, the children of the old establishment raging against those idiot voters who dared to defy that old establishment.