When it comes to Antifa, how real is an idea?
The just-concluded presidential debate is already taking its place among various Wrestlemanias for its trash-talking, in-your-face, rather un-presidential performance by both men.
Less noticed amidst the histrionics was a statement by Joe Biden that speaks worlds about the true differences underlying the two parties in America today.
"Antifa is an idea, not an organization." When asked about dealing with violence in Portland, this was part of Biden's explanation.
Unfortunately, because Trump was so quick to countermand him, we did not get more color on this assertion.
However, just the statement itself, without embellishment or elaboration, is jaw-dropping. As an idea, does this mean that there is no structure, no control, no organization, as Biden put it?
Does this mean there are isolated people sitting around, hypothesizing about the need for anarchy, or better yet, totalitarian overthrow of the existing order, and then they somehow materialize simultaneously to undertake various acts of senseless violence?
Might it mean that the idea is in the eyes of those who oppose Antifa, ascribing to them all sorts of motives and aspirations, which happen to correlate with the rioting they undertake?
How real is this idea? Is it the province of fear and paranoia, as in, it's all in your head?
And why would it be problematic if Antifa were in fact (as it is in fact) an organization? Does it make it more of a threat and a concern if it's a real-life organization?
There is an analogy here to ISIS. Like Antifa, ISIS is amorphous, decentralized and seemingly, ephemeral. That made it initially easier to dismiss, as Barack Obama blithely did with his assertion that ISIS was "the J.V. team."
What Obama said was akin to Biden's assertion: it was a dismissal, a minimization, and a subtle way of criticizing those who took the threat seriously.
At least a J.V. team is a team. At least it exists. An idea might be a figment of our imaginations, a construct that we have created, rather than a definable (yes, organized) presence.
I don't believe that it is a major stretch to see in this depiction the core, the encapsulation of the differences between left and right in the U.S., and increasingly throughout the world, including, to my sorrow, Israel.
To the left, those committing violence are reacting, expressing the indignation warranted by various social ills or perceived injustices. There is no agenda other than righteous outrage, which galvanizes others to act similarly.
Such violence will end, appropriately, when the ills are addressed and the injustices are redressed. In the meantime, the violent perpetrators are expressing the idea of such outrage. There is nothing that goes beyond this outrage in terms of a larger agenda that the violence committed might serve.
This interpretation sounds dreamy and wish-like and seems to clearly violate Groucho Marx's Iron Law of Perception: "What are you gonna believe? Me, or what's right in front of your eyes?"
To those on the right, what's right in front of all of our eyes is Antifa as an organization that has morphed in different places at different times. It has a distinctly Marxist agenda that features violence against the institutions of the existing order, as well as individuals who are seen either to support that existing order or even just not to be supporting Antifa.
While Antifa might not have a clubhouse and a recording secretary, it is most definitely organized in the sense of having a much deeper and pervasive agenda than just redressing social ills.
The social ill that Antifa seeks to address is the existing liberal democratic constitutional order of the United States. While they might be in fact the J.V. team, it is not for the lack of trying, nor for the lack of big ideas, a mission, and the willingness to effect it.
In other words, Antifa means business.
Somehow, Antifa as idea means there is no big threat there, sort of like the political equivalent of "boys will be boys." And to those who, like President Trump, see the need to forcefully address their actions, well, all Trump is doing is exacerbating the situation. He is the one creating the true violence by harassing the "mostly peaceful protesters."
Unfortunately, history has shown that pooh-poohing violence, as Biden effectively did, has a bad track record. One-offs become patterns, and patterns become waves.
We got a bit of a taste of this during the summer. It was one thing for Seattle and Portland to see concerted violence (Portland's continues as we speak) because, well, they are heavy "blue" cities, and that reflects the temperament of the places.
But Kenosha represented something of a quantum leap, as it is a quiet, could be anywhere, small Midwestern city. Kenosha was the realization that Antifa violence could be coming to a town near you.
When Trump insists on clamping down on violence, he is mindful of the potential for unchecked or tolerated or wished away violence to grow and to intensify. It is based on a recognition that the will and willingness to act out by revolutionary groups such as Antifa only grow when not confronted.
At the end of the day, the importance of confronting Antifa has nothing to do with any social ills that might be used as pretexts for violence. By all means, we need to address ills and remediate grievances.
But we minimize, look the other way, or seek to dismiss the threat that groups like Antifa pose at our peril. The idea of Antifa is also the reality of Antifa. They must be confronted.
Douglas Altabef is the chairman of the Board of Directors of Im Tirtzu, Israel's largest grassroots Zionist movement, and a director of the Israel Independence Fund.