A White Supremacist beats a man NurPhoto/Getty Images

Is Violence the Way to Fight Racism?

"Antifa" activists who see violence as the answer to the far right draw parallels with the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. But if fascism is the danger, a tactic that plainly failed in pre-war Europe is not the answer.

PRINCETON – Should rallies by neo-Nazis and white supremacists be met with violence?

That question was raised by the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. White supremacists held a rally to protest the planned removal from a public park of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederate army during the Civil War. A counter-protest was organized, and street fighting broke out. A woman, Heather Heyer, was killed and 19 people injured when James Fields, a white nationalist, drove his car at high speed into a crowd of counter-protesters.

At a subsequent press conference, President Donald Trump said that “both sides” were to blame for what happened. Trump’s apparent equation of racists and opponents of racism was condemned in the strongest terms, even by some leading Republicans. There can, of course, be no equating of neo-Nazis and white supremacists with those who oppose racism. But a close reading of the transcript of Trump’s remarks suggests that a more charitable interpretation is possible.

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