Richard Spencer, the white-nationalist provocateur, is beating a retreat, at least for now. In a YouTube video, Spencer called off his tour of colleges, saying a “course correction” is in order and adding: “Antifa is winning to the extent that they’re willing to go further than anyone else, in the sense that they will do things in terms of just violence, intimidating, and general nastiness.”
At The Intercept, Natasha Lennard writes that “Spencer’s statement, celebrated by antifa groups and supporters across social media, offers a sharp rebuttal to the glut of claims that antifa practices serve as a gift to the far right.” For Lennard, Spencer’s acknowledgement that antifa activists have taken the “fun” out of being a fascist settles a longstanding argument about antifa’s tactics.
Lennard is right to call out “a cottage industry of panicked media commentary [that] has dedicated itself to decrying the threats that antifa and its ‘no-platforming’ stance pose to free speech.” As UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said last year, “Free speech has been adopted by the alt-right as one of its strategies to construct a narrative about universities that is extremely useful for their political goals.” There have been scattered incidents of violence by campus activists, including antifa members, but most of the mainstream “free speech debate” has centered around conservative speakers’ “complaining about an atmosphere of intense pushback and protest that has made some speakers hesitant to express their views and has subjected others to a range of social pressure and backlash, from shaming and ostracism to boycotts and economic reprisal,” as Thomas Healy wrote for The Atlantic.
The answer to hateful speech is more speech, according to the cliché, but that doesn’t seem to apply to college kids condemning intentionally provocative reactionaries, even when their protests are nonviolent.
Left unstated but implied in Lennard’s piece is that Spencer’s apparent withdrawal from the campus wars not only proves that standing up to Nazis makes it harder to be a Nazi, but also vindicates all of antifa’s tactics, including fighting them in the streets.