Seven people were arrested in Columbia last week after police used social media posts to identify rioters and looters who staged a violent confrontation with police following a day of peaceful protests at the Statehouse.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said two of the men were affiliated with the Boogaloo boys, a right-wing extremist group with a variety of racist and antigovernment views. The self-stated goal of the group — which showed up at protests across the country in Hawaiian shirts, often armed — is to trigger a second U.S. civil war.
The fact that some of the violence in Columbia and elsewhere was caused by anarchists on the right rather than anarchists on the left doesn’t suddenly make the rioting wrong; it was always wrong. And it certainly doesn’t make it OK — just as the involvement of some people who were protesting police brutality doesn’t make it OK. There is no justification for throwing rocks at police and bashing in doors and windows and assaulting innocent bystanders.
But anyone who wants to use the riots as an excuse to dismiss protesters as a bunch of lawless extremists on the left needs to explain how that narrative fits with the arrests of the anarchists on the right.
They can’t, because that narrative is completely removed from reality.
There is an unbridgeable chasm that divides marching, kneeling, chanting and yelling down opposing voices on the one side, and rioting, looting, setting fires and assault on the other side. Even blocking streets and peacefully resisting arrest is wholly unrelated to the aggressive, violent actions we saw the first weekend after the gruesome police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And conflating those actions is a deliberate attempt to further inflame our communities.
No, there haven’t been a lot of right-wing extremists arrested for rioting and looting. But there also haven’t been a lot of members of antifa and left-wing extremists arrested either, because thank goodness those lawless actions were committed by a tiny fraction of the people who have participated in protests over Mr. Floyd’s death. And they occurred during only one night in South Carolina and seem to have faded in the rest of the nation.
As for those on the left who take offense at suggestions that the violence was stirred up by outsiders: We recognize that there’s a long history of blaming even peaceful protests on “outside agitators,” in an attempt to paint a false narrative of satisfaction with an unacceptable status quo; it’s akin to the “happy slave” narrative. And we understand that the president in particular has tried to give an outsize role to antifa and then to conflate that organization with the Democratic Party.
But none of that changes the fact that antifa does exist, and extremists on the left have hijacked some peaceful protests — just as, apparently, the new Boogaloo boys on the right has done.
And the only way we can ever hope to block their mutual goal of sowing further distrust, discord and chaos is for all reasonable, peace-loving people on the right, the left and in the center to recognize that our real enemies are these violent extremists. We need to direct our anger to them, rather than each other, so the rest of us can work together to find solutions to the complex problems highlighted by the peaceful protesters.