Lee Fang of The Intercept put up a tweet on Saturday that was so stunning in its historical ignorance and dangerous in its implications that I was driven to write a few brief replies. I’ve copied them below, cleaning up the format for easier reading, but not changing the wording. I’ve added a few further points afterward.
Lee Fang @lhfang
Lefty riots in 1968 gave us Nixon, LA riots gave us the 1994 Crime Bill, riots over a message board troll will help Trump win reelection
Chris Floyd @empireburlesque
@lhfang I lived thru the Wallace campaign in the South & I know EXACTLY why so many Dems deserted the party then. It wasn’t ‘lefty riots. The 60s ‘lefty riots’ were anti-war; HHH was pro-war, for god’s sake. Wallace cost Dems the South & the election because of racism — just as LBJ said it would when he signed Civil Rights Act. Wallace appealed to bedrock racism & broke the “Solid South.” I saw it with my own eyes: neighbors abandoning century-old party allegiance because of busing, fair housing laws, etc. It had absolutely nothing to do with “lefty riots” against the war. I was there. I saw the racism in action, rising to the surface.
Yet even then, the election was whisker-close. It’s just the height of ignorance or lazy thinking to say “lefty riots” gave us RN. And what “lefty riots’ are you talking about? When police attacked protestors in Chicago & elsewhere? Kent State? Or are you confusing the inner city riots over those ‘long hot summers’ with some kind of “lefty” anti-war action? And how did lefty riots give us the Crime Bill? What are you even talking about? Some ‘lefty riot’ FORCED Clinton to sign that bill?
Now here you are joining Trump, FOX, Breitbart in the hysterical inflation of a minor incident into some ‘Enabling Act’ type threat. If this is the kind of thing we’re going to see from “dissident” venues like The Intercept, then god have mercy on us all.
Just a brief follow-up. Wallace’s openly racist campaign won five states outright in the South, and drained enough Democratic votes in six other Southern states to give Nixon narrow victories there. This accounted for 98 electoral votes, which would have put Humphrey over the top.
It’s true that if Wallace hadn’t run, some of his voters might have gone to Nixon, although it’s scarcely credible that all of them would. Especially in the Deep South, where — as I know from experience — there was a deep, cultural, even visceral revulsion against Republicans. In my small, rural Tennessee town, with a population of 900 or so, there were only two families — two — who traditionally voted Republican. But in 1968, my family was one of the few in town who didn’t desert the Democrats for Wallace. And I never heard a single one of those switchers mention “lefty riots” or even anti-war protests as the reason for supporting Wallace.
But even in the absence of Wallace, the reason some of these voters might have gone to Nixon was that Nixon too was running a racist campaign, albeit with dog-whistles and code words instead of Wallace’s bluntness. Again, it wasn’t “lefty riots” that provoked them — it was the same “white panic” that we saw displayed in the 2016 campaign: the fear that “white supremacy” was slipping away, that minorities were getting “uppity,” that society was changing in ways they didn’t understand and certainly didn’t like.
But beyond the speciousness and shallowness of Fang’s comment lies something more pernicious: the adoption of the neo-fascists’ own narrative, blowing up a very minor incident into a huge symbolic event that can be used to justify an authoritarian crackdown — or, in Fang’s word, lead to Trump’s re-election. Why Fang wants to leap into bed with Breitbart and Bannon on this narrative is a mystery, but it certainly gives far more aid and comfort to the enemy than any actual “lefty riot.” It also helps the ongoing right-wing effort to elevate a nasty, hateful, third-rate twerp like Yiannopoulos into some kind of national figure.
We know this nasty twerp was planning to name undocumented immigrants from the stage — putting their lives and liberty in grave danger. Just as he outed a transgender student from another college stage a few weeks earlier. Why should he be given platforms at publicly supported universities to carry out such nefarious activities? Why isn’t there more outrage among our billionaire-backed dissidents about these College Republicans or Fascism Forever clubs (or whatever the morally constipated young folks are calling themselves these days) who are enabling this kind of hatred, this kind of evil?
In any case, it’s ludicrous to turn this grubby episode into a somber, chin-rubbing “debate” about free speech. The nasty twerp has a $250,000 book contract from one of the biggest publishers in the world. He can snap his fingers and have his every noxious belch broadcast to millions of people via a vast network of neo-fascists like Breitbart, Limbaugh and the slimeballs who whore for Rupert Murdoch. His fascist mentor Bannon is running the White House. He has the bloated orange oligarch in the Oval Office defending him. Nobody is infringing the free speech of this nasty twerp. The only thing that happened was a minor ruckus caused university officials to cancel his paid appearance. Anyone who’s wringing their hands over a man with instant access to the world’s media being “deprived” of his free speech is a damn fool.
I don’t agree with “Black Bloc” tactics — not least because the “Bloc” is obviously riddled with informants and provocateurs. But I don’t think fascists should be treated with kid gloves either. We’re talking about people who, like Yiannopoulos, are openly, adamantly intent on causing real harm to actual human beings. It’s not an abstract debate. It’s not a game. It’s not reality TV. These ugly, hate-oozing fascists mean business; and by god, so should we.