Politics

Michael Shermer Says Nazis are Left Wing

(And the Ethics of Violence Against Fascists)

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With the recent relaunch of Skepchick, I’ve started paying a bit more attention to what’s happening amongst my old friends, the Skeptics. And I’m often left horrified. Because they’re the worst.

Take an actual former friend of mine, Michael Shermer. Shermer helped launch Skepchick by letting me promote it in Skeptic Magazine email blasts, and we became friends after that. Shortly thereafter, I realized that he was, in fact, a bad person. Then I learned someone accused him of raping her, with what I felt was some pretty compelling evidence behind it. Then he fell down the “Intellectual Dark Web” rabbit hole and here we are today.

As an aside, I still can’t believe some dweebs decided to call themselves the “Intellectual Dark Web.” It’s like they’re LARPing at being cool. Go back to middle school, losers.

So this week I learned that Shermer, who once wrote an entire book about Holocaust denial, tweeted about antifascists, “Beating up a journalist because he criticizes your political ideology is what the Nazi party did in Germany. Now it is happening in Portland, OR. Good to remember that Nazi = National Socialism. Not far right but far left. True liberalism opposes both.”

It’s hard to say that this is the dumbest Tweet of this year, because Donald Trump is still on Twitter. The bar is too high. What we can say is that this is the dumbest Tweet that Michael Shermer has sent. This year.

Of course, he got ratioed, hard — hundreds of people lined up to point out what an absolute moron he is, and he eventually realized they were right and he deleted his Tweet. But let’s talk about it just a little bit.

Most people focused on the “Nazi = far left” part of his Tweet, and for good reason. This is a popular talking point amongst absolute morons who know that “socialism” is something the Left likes, and so “National Socialism” must be something the Left likes on a NATIONAL scale. The same people point out that Lincoln was a Republican in 1861 so Republicans 150 years later can’t be racist. In the same vein, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a democratic republic, and the peanut is both a pea and a nut.

So that’s obviously a ridiculous statement to make. But what about the first part of his Tweet: “Beating up a journalist because he criticizes your political ideology is what the Nazi party did in Germany”? This is a reference to Andy Ngo, who writes for Quillette, the “Intellectual Dark Web’s” paper of record. He’s the guy who published a completely made-up “study” that connected a list of journalists with Antifa, leading white supremacist groups to make threats on their lives. He also published a misleading Wall Street Journal op-ed that slandered English Muslims.

He may not consider himself a fascist, but he is quite obviously a useful idiot to fascists. Should people have thrown milkshakes and silly string on him? Absolutely. Should someone have punched him in the face? Personally I’m not a fan — punch the fascists who are actively yelling out Nazi slogans and calling for a race war. Milkshake their helpers. Just my personal opinion. These are the cases that drive everybody nuts…it’s easier to throw our hands and the air and say “no violence ever,” or “no being mean ever” and that may make it easier on law enforcement but is it the ethical choice?

So no, I’m not on board with beating up Andy Ngo, but I do take issue with Shermer’s Tweet: one, Ngo is not a “journalist.” Journalists investigate and report — they do not randomly blog whatever fascist propaganda happens across their desk. There’s a difference between a person attending an event to remain separate from it and dispassionately record what’s happening, and a man who foments hate against Muslims and black people on Twitter while crying nonstop about milkshakes. Literally anyone today can start a blog — you can’t just call yourself a journalist, do nothing but support fascists, and then be surprised when you show up to a fascist rally and are “confused” for a fascist.

And my other concern is with the idea that Ngo was beaten up because he “criticizes your political ideology” and that that is “what the Nazi party did in Germany.” The Nazis systematically murdered people due to their religion and culture, and that’s what the Nazis here are continuing to call for, aided by people like Ngo. It’s a beautiful dream that we can defeat Nazis with pacifist ideals but it didn’t work in the 1930s and ‘40s and I don’t think it’s going to work now. 

Fascism is dangerous because it uses the tools of liberalism against liberalism. Fascists hide behind the protection of absolute “free speech” in order to ultimately destroy it. They demand a stage so that they ultimately can remove others from that stage, which they do right now by complaining about universities deplatforming them at the same time they complain about university professors discussing politics in the classroom.

And it is incredibly simplistic to decide that we cannot fight fascism head on because if we do then we become the fascists. We will not become the fascists by driving fascists away. We would become fascists by marginalizing and ultimately destroying minorities based upon their skin color, their religion, their nation of origin, their sexuality — you know, the things that fascists kill people for. More than that, we would become fascists by letting fascists gain a foothold in our society and by pretending that fascism is just another political ideology. When your “political ideology” is fascism, then yes, there’s a good case to be made for physical violence as a response. It’s what our grandparents and our great grandparents had to do to snuff it out. They tried to use liberal tactics and the result was that 6 million Jews were murdered. The problem is at what point do we need to employ that violence? If we could go back in time and kill all Nazis before 6 million Jews died, would we? We don’t have the benefit of that retrospect, that clarity of knowing who the bad guy is and what is required to stop him. So if we can prevent the next fascist government from taking hold, and we can do it by physical intimidation (but not grievous bodily harm), should we try?

Because for all the cries about antifa violence, their body count remains zero. They haven’t killed a single fascist, while still managing to make fascists afraid. The fascists, however, are murdering antifascists, Muslims, Jews, and women at an astonishing rate. I don’t have all the answers on the morality of violence against fascism, but I do know that when it comes to fascists versus antifascists, those of us on the side of progressive democracy have more reason to be afraid than getting hit with a milkshake.

I’ll conclude by pointing to one of Shermer’s desperate follow-up Tweets in which he attempts to still be seen as a vaguely serious and intellectual person. He Tweets that his “problem with Antifa (& the violent fascist groups they oppose) is violence doesn’t work to achieve political goals as well as nonviolent protest/civil resistance as evidenced by Erica Chenoweth & Maria Stephan in their data.” Here’s that chart. Two points about it: first of all, there was a time in history when, according to this data set, violent protests were more effective than nonviolent. That was in the 1940s. What was happening in the 1940s? Oh right, Nazis.

The second point is that these researchers labeled any campaign as “nonviolent” if it had fewer than 100 combat deaths. Considering that Antifa is currently at zero deaths, and considering that violent resistance was more effective when Nazis were at their peak, all Shermer has done here is argued for Antifa to be more violent. Good job, Shermer, I’m sure more people than ever are proud to call themselves “skeptics.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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4 Comments

  1. Rebecca, what is your position? On the one one hand you say you’re not on board with beating Ngo (although throwing a milkshake is ok? Isn’t that assault?) then you suggest we might have avoided millions of Jewish deaths if we had only beaten up Nazis when it became clear what they stood for. Since you have made it clear you believe Ngo is a fascist (Nazi) then why wouldn’t it be ok to beat him up?

    You say Antifa’s body count is zero and compare that stat against fascists who are “murdering antifascists, Jews, Muslims, and women at an alarming rate.” Is that fair when “fascist” is such an arbitrary label? Antifa is visible, mainly because they mask themselves, while facists are…? Who decides who is fascist? Obviously you think Shermer isn’t able to identify one, so who is the authority?

    You want to prosecute people who commit violence? You want to confront VIOLENCE with violence? You stand next to me and I got your back. But as long as a person is not directly calling for violence against others, stating an opinion, no matter how idiotic, is not violence. The most inspirational, powerful, moving, and persuasive arguments in favor of freedom and human rights throughout history have often been responses to people expressing really bad ideas. Setting aside the question of who gets the privilege of determining which ideas are “wrong,” prohibiting people from expressing bad ideas denies everyone the right to hear the responses of those who disagree.

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