The American left have never been able to reconcile themselves to losing the 2016 presidential election. Having quickly moved past denial, they’ve become permanently lost in the second stage of grief: anger.
Such violent and unrelenting anger, in fact, that many, on both sides of politics, have been moved to wonder if America stands on the precipice of a new civil war. But, some historical reflection might help put the current ructions into perspective.
This is not the first time that the American left has erupted into violence with the explicit goal of launching another civil war – or revolutionary war, as its proponents claimed. Although all-but forgotten today, in the early 1970s, America was wracked with unprecedented leftist violence.
As Bryan Burrough’s excellent history, Days of Rage, chronicles, America in the early 70s was subjected to a campaign of terrorist violence on a shocking scale. Bombings were a more than daily occurrence. In 1972 alone there were more than 1900 bombings in the United States. “It was every day,” says a retired FBI agent. “Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace.”
While Antifa – and the American left in general – have embarked on a wave of violence over the last three years, they have a long way to go to match the leftist terrorists of the ‘70s.
While the Department of Homeland Security has (rightly enough) labelled Antifa as domestic terrorists, so far only one indisputable terrorist attack can be unequivocally attributed to Antifa. Other terrorist attacks, such as the shooting of Republican politician Steve Scalise, or the El Paso mass shooting, are more generally aligned to the political left than Antifa especially.
In the ‘70s, too, while several groups became more or less prominent – the Weather Underground, the SLA, the Black Liberation Army – the fact was that dozens, if not hundreds, of radical leftist groups were all embarked on a common cause: the overthrow of the US government. In that respect, Antifa should be seen as only the most prominent face of a culture of violence gripping today’s left.
Like today, the 1970s bombing campaign also originated in leftist impotent fury. As in 2016, in 1968 the American left realised they had lost. Ordinary Americans rejected the left and elected Richard Nixon. Love and peace quickly gave way to the violence of Chicago, Altamont, and the Manson murders. Contrary to its self-serving “three days of peace and music” mythology, it was in fact at Woodstock that the instigators of the 1970s bombing campaign first began to hatch their scheme of revolutionary violence.
Also like today, the central conceit of the left-wing terrorists of the 1970s was “anti-racism”. Middle-class white students glommed onto the Black Liberation movements, and lost themselves in the euphoria of “revolutionary” violence. “Oh, the glamour of it,” recalls one former hippy radical.
But there is at least one crucial difference between the 1970s and today. Despite their commitment to revolutionary violence and their declared willingness to kill – and kill they did – the death toll from the 1970s bombing and shooting campaign was remarkably low. Less than 1% of the 1970s bombings resulted in a fatality. Many targets were given advanced warning, to allow evacuation. In a sense, as Burroughs says, they became “exploding press releases”.
By contrast, leftists like Antifa today are committed to inflicting injury, even death, as a first resort. They’re living up to their promise, too. Hundreds of people, especially journalists, have been viciously beaten by leftist groups in the last three years. James Hodgkinson wanted to kill, and very nearly did, as did Antifa supporter Willem van Spronsen. Antifa groups are openly parading weapons and declaring their intention to use them.
Yet, the death toll in the 70s was not non-zero: 184 people were murdered by left-wing terrorists in the early-mid 70s (keep that figure in mind, when today’s legacy media gibber about “the threat of rising right-wing violence”). With even the best intentions to minimise casualties, once the decision to embark on a course of violence is taken, the bodies are going to hit the floor.
So, the big question is: has Antifa just gotten started, or will their rage peter out, like their grandparents in the 70s? Eventually, the revolutionary terrorists of the 1970s realised that they couldn’t win. Despite their unrelenting campaign of terror, America remained firmly immune to the siren call of revolution and civil war. “Stupid me,” one radical has said. “We were gonna make a revolution. We were so, so, so deluded.”
Only time will tell if the violent children in Antifa also grow up and realise the futility of their campaign of terror.