Pages:12 (3640 words)
Document Type:Research Paper
Proud Boys vs Antifa War of Words
Introduction and Research Question
When it comes to domestic extremism, there are groups on both the Right and the Left of the socio-political spectrum in America. And while they may differ ideologically, they can also have a great deal of similarities. This paper looks at two extremist groups in particular—Antifa on the Left and Proud Boys on the Right. The questions this paper poses are: What is the nature of Antifa and how does Proud Boys mirror the group from the opposite spectrum? How can these extremist groups best be countered? The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to compare and contrast the two groups while showing that they both represent deep sub-cultural trends among the American populace that are emerging into popular culture and have the potential of disrupting and subverting mainstream cultural norms. To accomplish this objective, this paper first reviews the literature on the subject, then provides profiles of both groups while comparing and contrasting them and also discussing ways to counter violent extremism; finally, it adopts a holistic approach to interpret the data, discuss the findings and draw conclusions. Ultimately, by comparing and contrasting these two extremist organizations it is hoped that some understanding of the left and right worldviews can be acquired and how those worldviews feed into, support, and diverge from the extremist groups that purport to project them.
Review of the Literature
One of the problems of today’s American socio-political system is that it is a two-party system in which all of society is essentially forced to choose sides—Right or Left. This binary way of thinking and of approaching society creates dichotomies that can become reactionary and polarizing instead of understanding and collaborative. Drutman (2019) notes that today’s political system reflects “a binary party system that has divided the country into two irreconcilable teams.” Meanwhile, Hartmann (2012) notes that “a two-party system isn’t really that democratic at all … [because] more parties mean more ideas”—and yet in America when ideas clash, war can break out. The nation’s system is set up to be a contest between two opposing views. Thus it should not be surprising when extremist groups on either side form and wage war upon one another.
One example of this can be seen at the national political level with the election of Donald Trump, who is popularly perceived by the Left to be a Fascist (Klein, 2019; Koch, 2018). Antifa movements in the US organized in direct response to events sponsored by supporters of the Trump Administration—such as the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017 (Klein, 2019). Proud Boys organized in direct response to antagonism from the left via groups like Antifa, and proudly promoting their support for Trump and his policies while denouncing the leftist movement and its violence (DeCook, 2018). Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes attempted to dissociate the organization from neo-nazism and white nationalism, yet the group attracted people like the violent murderer Jeremy Christian, accused of stabbing three men on a train after taunting to minority women (Feuer, 2018). Antifa on the other hand has never shied away from embracing aggressive, hostile and violent tactics in order to beat back what it perceives as a rising tide of Fascism in society (Doyle, 2018).
The themes associated with the literature on domestic terrorism, extremism and violence focus three important categories: 1) how culture makes extremism socially acceptable; 2) how culture fosters violent attitudes and beliefs; and 3) how laws are responsible for shaping the culture that fosters the first two (Breger, 2017; Cramer, Choi & Ross, 2017; Klingspohn, 2018). These themes interact and intertwine because each overlaps with the other. A nation’s laws should not reflect any bias or prejudice in society, but if they do not disallow a toxic culture of extremism and violence then they are ultimately responsible for the violence that ensues, which is largely what has happened in American society. Culture has to be addressed at the legislative level because this is where laws are determined and where expectations for social behavior are identified (Breger, 2017). If people do not know what is acceptable behavior or what will not be tolerated, they cannot be blamed for acting in ways that are unacceptable. The law has not told them how to behave.
The importance of culture cannot be overstated: culture is the key by which domestic violence can be both understood and effectively addressed. Cramer et al. (2017) state that “culture is a social construction that is influenced by the ways in which people make sense of who they are; the beliefs, practices, and values with which they might identify or reject, partially or wholly; and the institutional influences that promote or suppress the beliefs, practices, and values that appear to be in line with that culture, such as religion, government, and education” (p. 89). When these values are not determined or enforced, domestic violence increases, especially for minorities or marginalized groups who are not valued by the society’s culture. The end result is that the nation has a set of laws that promote a toxic culture. Breger (2017) posits that “norms have been defined as ‘rules or expectations of behavior within a specific [culture]’ (p. 173) and that these norms have to be redefined so that the problem of toxic culture can be better addressed. To stop the rise of domestic terrorism, extremism and violence, the overall mainstream culture has to become more humane in terms of how it sees others and what it can do to help others instead of promoting a binary, polarizing, politicized culture in which one must choose between the Right and the Left. For as Vitolo-Haddad (2019) puts it, such polarization leads to a symbolic type of violence that extremist groups on both sides promote and use to attract followers, who self-identify as patriots and use violent symbolism to represent their attitudes. At the core of it all is violence motivated by ideologies from two extremes by people who cannot help but logically take their views to their extreme conclusions (Wynia, Eisenman & Hanfling, 2017). For that reason, the laws that a nation erects are what will ultimately guide, govern and help to dictate human behavior (Breger, 2017).
However, as Brockhoff, Krieger and Meierrieks (2014) point out, education also plays a large part in the formation of…
…changing the culture by creating laws that reflect a more balanced approach to politics are the approaches that show promise (Breger, 2017; Dalgaard-Nielsen, 2016; Wynia et al., 2016). The culture of American society is what needs to change if extremist groups from the Right and the Left are to be neutralized, but the current culture is immune to change because the laws facilitate the paradigm and polarization that Proud Boys and Antifa represent (Breger, 2017).
To create a more equitable society in which empathy, rapport, collaboration and positive communication are core staples and values, a culture needs to be fostered that encourages respectful debate rather than pompous action based on violent credos and militant action. Violence is viewed as needed by both sides because communication barriers exist and prejudices are ingrained. Instead of seeing one another as enemies, a public health approach like that recommended by Wynia et al. (2016) should be adopted to raise awareness and fill the education gap. For people in these groups who refuse to accept education and are adamant in their positions, government agencies should work together to monitor their actions and words so as to prevent their impact on society (Dalgaard-Nielsen, 2016). This interventionist approach by law enforcement can be made possible if the government overall becomes more bi-partisan and less polarized and creates laws that prohibit the polarizing jabs that the Right and Left make upon one another. By reforming the norm as Breger (2017) suggests, a more empathetic culture can be developed, which will in turn reduce the influence of groups like Antifa and the converse need for or response by groups like Proud Boys. Neutralizing the acidic culture in which they exist will help to stop their spread overall since they naturally feed upon one another and the invective that they both communicate.
To answer the research questions, it has been shown that Antifa and Proud Boys are essentially two sides of the same coin. Both represent the extreme sides of the Left-Right paradigm and both believe in violent action to counter the actions of the other side. They are ideologically divided in terms of socio-political values that are accepted at the mainstream cultural level as a result of a deeply entrenched two-party system that perpetuates polarization. This project conducted a literature review to better understand the rise and impact of extremist groups in America and how those groups on the Left and on the Right come into existence, recruit followers, organize and act. The strategy of analysis was holistic and the results showed that both groups feed off one another and exist essentially as extreme representations of the already existing culture that dominates American discourse. The members of both groups tend to be young, enthusiastic, impressionable and wanting to act. They see violence as necessary to suppress the irrationality of the other side. They are militant in focus but they are lacking in education that is empathetic. To combat these groups, a change in culture is needed, which can be facilitated by a three-pronged approach using a public health method, governmental collaboration, and a change in laws regarding the expression of polarizing views. Future research for scholars should focus on how…
Breger, M. L. (2017). Reforming by re-norming: How the legal system has the potential to change a toxic culture of domestic violence. J. Legis., 44, 170.
Beinart, P. (2017). The rise of the violent left. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/the-rise-of-the-violent-left/534192/
Brockhoff, S., Krieger, T. & Meierrieks, D. (2014). Great expectations and hard times: the (nontrivial) impact of education on domestic terrorism. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 59(7), 1186-1215.
Brown, D. (2017). Proud boys founder. Retrieved from https://www.portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2017/12/12/19540403/proud-boys-founder-wants-to-trigger-the-entire-state-of-oregon-by-helping-patriot-prayers-joey-gibson-win-the-oregon-person-of-the-year-p
Cramer, E. P., Choi, Y. J., & Ross, A. I. (2017). Race, Culture, and Abuse of Persons with Disabilities. In Religion, Disability, and Interpersonal Violence (pp. 89-110). Springer, Cham.
Dalgaard-Nielsen, A. (2016). Countering violent extremism with governance networks. Perspectives on Terrorism, 10(6), 135-139.
DeCook, J. R. (2018). Memes and symbolic violence:# proudboys and the use of memes for propaganda and the construction of collective identity. Learning, Media and Technology, 43(4), 485-504.
Doyle, E. (Ed.). (2018). Antifa and the Radical Left. Greenhaven Publishing LLC.
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