At least five people were stabbed in a statehouse skirmish between members of the white-nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP) and "anti-fascist" activists from a group called By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The white-power group had gotten a permit and was demonstrating in front of the California capitol. BAMN members came brandishing wooden bats and shouting "fuck fascists. Beat the fascists. Beat them." One member Yvette Felarca told CNN she was "very, very proud" of the counter-protest that had produced such violence.
"We've got to build a movement in this nation," said Felarca, noting that her group was full of people of many races and sexual orientations "standing together saying we will not accept or allow racist, genocide organizing to take place on the front steps of the capitol of California. And we would do it again."
— Frances Wang (@ABC10Frances) June 26, 2016
According to the Sacramento Fire Department, five people were hospitalized with stab wounds and several more suffered cuts and bruises that didn't warrant hospitalization. "It was quite a bit of a melee," Chris Harvey, the department's public information officer, told CNN. He did not know which of the groups stabbing victims were from.
Matthew Heimbach, a chairman of the Traditionalist Worker Party who helped organized but did not attend the statehouse rally, said that one of his people had been stabbed in the artery, "but we got six of them." Heimbach blamed "leftist radicals" for instigating at a non-violent demonstration and said TWP members had been acting in self defense.
Meanwhile, the anti-facists "came ready to fight," as California Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) put it. They arrived wearing plastic shields and carrying wooden batons. They got physical with reporters that had come to cover the white nationalist rally.
"The Nazis are dangerous, and that's why we need to take them on directly," a bandage-wearing Felarca told reporters. "Take them on head-on."
Mass casualty incident, multiple stabbing victims at State Capitol during rally. SFD crews triaging patients now. pic.twitter.com/0jGU3hpMXs
— SacFire PIO (@SacFirePIO) June 26, 2016
Sunday's statehouse rally, according to TWP's website, was designed "to protest against globalization and in defense of the right to free expression." The group bills itself as anti-globalist, but its ideology is old-fashioned white supremacy. Yet while the group's views may be racist and reactionary, it doesn't—at least in writing—advocate violence or destruction. The group's mission, according to its website, is to defend America against "economic exploitation, federal tyranny, and anti-Christian degeneracy." It encourages members to lobby lawmakers and go canvassing in their communities. It get permits for statehouse demonstrations.
I'm not suggesting each and every member is a paragon of propriety in their personal interactions with people of color, but there's no evidence TWP members were in any way threatening the lives, livelihoods, or property of those whom they disdain. They were just standing around the statehouse wearing Nazi-themed t-shirts.
Moral considerations aside, initiating violence against people protesting peacefully—no matter how odious their ideas—will never be a winning step strategically. And especially not in this case. It becomes clear in about five minutes of perusing the TWP website that what these "race realists" want more than anything is to be taken seriously—not just in the realm of politics but also (perhaps more so) in the realm of ideas. They want people to see what their view as common-sense Christian/conservative traditionalism, rooted in science—not promoters of violence or a fringe, hate ideology. And we live in a time where that's increasingly plausible. As one white-nationalist leader put it, "For many, many years, when I would say [certain 'racialist'] things, other white people would call me names: 'Oh, you're a hatemonger, you're a Nazi, you're like Hitler. Now they come in and say, 'Oh, you're like Donald Trump.'"
What white supremacists and the "alt-right" thrive on is is portraying their cause as a righteous and necessary response to moral degeneracy and/or "social justice warrior" illiberalism. They pine for credibility, culturally and intellectually. I'm not some sort of crusader for "civility" or purely passive resistence, but behaving like these sorts of groups merit this much attention and counter-action certainly doesn't work against them or their ideas. It doesn't actually benefit the cause of anti-fascism, racism, or bigotry.
Even if BAMN is a fringe group itself, not condoned by most on the broad-spectrum U.S. left, its own ideology and tactics seem only shades, not substantive principles, away from the bizarre authoritarian bent in progressive activism on college campuses today. And even if initiating physical threats and violence to stop some perceived rhetorical "violence" could be ethically justified (I don't think it can), reacting this way only gives the white-identity-politics brigade what they want: a legitimate claim to victimhood and an excuse for escalation, whether that means actually physically attacking back or using this toward political and public-relations agendas.
"We knew we were outnumbered. We stood our ground," said Traditionalist Workers Party chairman Heimbach said after the incident. "We will be back."