A pacifist minister on how the antifa saved him from a beating


I ruminated recently on how the issue of violence has got more problematic recently with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and religious extremists using the language of violence to incite their followers. The group that has come to be known as ‘antifa’ consist of anonymous people, sometimes dressed in black, who have arrived ready to combat these groups with violence if necessary and have become part of counter-protests that have sometimes turned violent. The people on the left have been ambivalent about how to deal with the antifa, some seeing them as allies in the cause though not agreeing with the tactics they adopt.

Logan Rimel is a pacifist pastor who attended the Charlottesville counter-demonstration against the neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Here is his thoughtful essay re-evaluating his anti-violence stance in light of what happened there and the role of the antifa. Rimel describes himself this way: “A white, transgender, genderfluid man currently living in the Bay Area. He is a stress baker, podcast fiend, snarky cross-stitcher, and reluctant Episcopalian. He works as the parish administrator at University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley.”

TLDR: White Christians, if you aren’t willing to personally take a bat to the head, shut up about antifa.

One disquieting aspect of this experience has been how I think about pacifism and nonviolence. I’ve always considered myself a pacifist, though I recognized that it was an untested, hypothetical kind of pacifism. Weak sauce, really. In Charlottesville, my “nonviolent” stance was met with heavily armed men. They came with bats, clubs, plywood shields painted with swastikas, brass knuckles, tear gas canisters, and wooden sticks. Not to mention the guns. The heavily armed militia were everywhere. They liked that they made you feel nervous. It was fun for them.

They came to hurt people, and they did.

I never felt safer than when I was near antifa. They came to defend people, to put their bodies between these armed white supremacists and those of us who could not or would not fight. They protected a lot of people that day, including groups of clergy. My safety (and safety is relative in these situations) was dependent upon their willingness to commit violence. In effect, I outsourced the sin of my violence to them. I asked them to get their hands dirty so I could keep mine clean. Do you understand? They took that up for me, for the clergy they shielded, for those of us in danger. We cannot claim to be pacifists or nonviolent when our safety requires another to commit violence, and we ask for that safety.

And so I come to this – white liberal Christian friends, I’m talking to you. I’ve seen a lot of condemnation of “violent response,” lots of selective quoting Dr. King, lots of disparagement of antifa and the so-called “alt-left,” a moral equivalency from the depths of Hell if I ever saw one. You want to be nonviolent? That is good and noble. I think…I think I do, too. But I want you to understand what you’re asking of the people who take this necessary stance against white supremacy, the people who go to look evil in the face. You’re asking them to be beaten with brass knuckles, with bats, with fists. To be pounded into the ground, stomped on, and smashed. You’re asking them to bleed on the pavement and the grass. Some of them are going to die. And you’re asking them to do that without defending themselves.

Are you willing to do that?

If you are unwilling to risk your bodily integrity to stand against literal Nazis, but you are willing to criticize the people out there who are taking this grave threat seriously but not in a way of which you approve….I just don’t know what to say to you. Truly. Your moral authority is bankrupt and you’re not helping. You’re a hypocrite.

It is a stirring challenge to those who condemn antifa. Are we merely outsourcing violence so that we can feel good about ourselves?

Comments

  1. says

    It is a stirring challenge to those who condemn antifa. Are we merely outsourcing violence so that we can feel good about ourselves?

    From the way you phrase that, are you including yourself in with those who condemn antifa?

    FWIW, I actively approve of antifa’s actions. I just hope they are able to demonstrate to the fascists how unpleasant the violence they want can be, before the fascists conclude that the rest of civilization won’t act to stop them. I believe the fascists need to understand that being beaten and maced for beating and macing people represents a measured response. The alternatives are worse and the one alternative that’s not on the menu is “we stand around like a bunch of sheep while you hurt us.” Well, mr episcopalian unarmed maybe will stand around like a sheep. Historically, that has not been a great way of discouraging wolves.

  2. Siobhan says

    “We will clog the shears if only we let them shave enough of us.”

    I mean, if folks wanna try it, be my guest I guess. >_> I’ll be over here plotting the ambush of the shearers.

  3. Henry Gale says

    There are some very liberal Christian congregations out there that push progressive causes. I say that knowing the inherent contradiction of the phrase “progressive Christian.”

    That said, I’d like to see progressive Christians go after their pro-war anti-gay racist cousins.

  4. says

    Are we merely outsourcing violence so that we can feel good about ourselves?

    This ‘we’ doesn’t. Like Marcus, I approve antifa. You have to have people willing to stand, unequivocally against fascists of all stripes; you have to have people who are not willing to watch crosses burn and people being beaten to death and lynched, and so on. As long as there have been people, there have been those willing to stand, even in the face of odds they knew they could not win. Look at those tortured and burned to death for daring to speak out against the church during the inquisition.

    I’ll stand. I’ll fight. I’ll try to protect those around me. I did not stare at over a hundred nasty cops at Standing Rock and try to tell them they were being naughty for gassing people for no reason. Pacifism is an ideal, and it’s a noble one. When you’re surrounded by people who wouldn’t have a problem beating you to death, that’s not an ideal I’m going to try to sell at that moment. All that said, like Shiv, I prefer a good strategy behind me, because it’s fucking scary facing such people down, and I don’t want to die just yet. There still comes a time, you have to decide to hide or stand.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Marcus @#2

    The ‘we’ was rhetorical.

    I am not a pacifist and can see the need for violence on occasion. I do not like the idea of giving the neo-Nazis and white nationalists and other extremists the assurance of immunity from violent retaliation because that seems to give them encouragement to ply their hate.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    “men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them”.

    “PACIFIST. Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.”

    George Orwell, both.
    ————————————-

    my “nonviolent” stance was met with heavily armed men. They came with bats, clubs, plywood shields painted with swastikas, brass knuckles, tear gas canisters, and wooden sticks

    … and as I’ve said elsewhere, in most civilised countries those heavily armed men would have been arrested immediately for “going prepared” or similar, because the problem the US has is not with the first amendment, it is with the second. It is the job of the police to protect you from armed men. It is a mark of how far the US is from civilised that to even suggest that that’s the case invites ridicule.

  7. Jo Seyton says

    I was finally able to log in using yahoo -- none of the other buttons seem to work.

    My comment:

    Why does everyone assume pacifism means either doing nothing in the face of evil or ‘we stand around like a bunch of sheep while you hurt us’ or ‘ try to tell them they were being naughty’?

    Yes -- you must be “willing to personally take a bat to the head”, but pacifism doesn’t mean doing nothing but talk while that happens. Pacifism is not cowardice. Pacificsm is not passivism. If you want to be violent -- go ahead and be violent, but if you are going to condemn pacifists and pacifism, put in at least as much effort into thinking about what tactics you might use as you do thinking about what violent response you will make.

  8. Holms says

    You want to be nonviolent? That is good and noble. I think…I think I do, too. But I want you to understand what you’re asking of the people who take this necessary stance against white supremacy, the people who go to look evil in the face. You’re asking them to be beaten with brass knuckles, with bats, with fists. To be pounded into the ground, stomped on, and smashed. You’re asking them to bleed on the pavement and the grass. Some of them are going to die. And you’re asking them to do that without defending themselves.

    Excuse me, but since when does nonviolence exclude self defense? I can’t think of a single person that has condemned antifa for defending themselves against attackers; the criticism of them is that they are frequently the attackers.

  9. Jo Seyton says

    Holms @8 -- nonviolence generally does include refraining from violence in self defense as well. And, in this case, defense of others. Nonviolence is a rejection of the use of violence as a tool. If you are willing to use it sometimes, well -- that’s not really nonviolence, is it?

    Note also -- nonviolence can be considered the same as pacifism (as I used it above), but some consider pacifism to be a subset of nonviolence and limited to a rejection of _war_, not necessarily all violence. ‘Pacifism’ can be used either way and I should have specified what I meant above in case it was not clear from context.

    Another thought -- although I espouse nonviolence, I do not _condemn_ those who are using violence. I do ask them to reconsider, I try to point out that as good as ‘punching a nazi’ may make you feel, it is probably not the best response (it is certainly not the _only_effective_ response as some have tried arguing). I do not condemn antifa as I agree with their goals (regarding fascists) -- I disagree with their tactics and often their general strategy, just as they (and others who support them, but are not joining them) disagree with mine.

    On the other hand, I have heard a lot of condemnation of those who will not use violence. Much of it has been directed at me -- I have been called a coward and a nazi sympathizer, all because I reject the use of violence to oppose them. Often this is coupled with a mischaracterization of what it means to be nonviolent.

  10. KG says

    Why does everyone assume pacifism means either doing nothing in the face of evil or ‘we stand around like a bunch of sheep while you hurt us’ or ‘ try to tell them they were being naughty’? -- Jo Seyton@7

    Why don’t you tell us what it does mean, specifically, in the case of armed Nazis marching through town?

    I can’t think of a single person that has condemned antifa for defending themselves against attackers; the criticism of them is that they are frequently the attackers. -- Holms@8

    You mean they actually try and show the Nazis they are not going to be allowed control of the streets? Horrors!

  11. Holms says

    Holms @8 – nonviolence generally does include refraining from violence in self defense as well. And, in this case, defense of others. Nonviolence is a rejection of the use of violence as a tool.

    Yes, meaning rejecting violence -- or the threat of violence -- as a means of coersion, punishment, spite and such. It means opposition to being a violent aggressor.

    If you are willing to use it sometimes, well – that’s not really nonviolence, is it?

    See above -- it does not preclude self defense.