Libertarians are often perplexed by the militant antifascist practice of disrupting fascists’ attempts to speak publicly and promote their ideas; a practice known as No Platform. If they are grievously wrong, why not demolish them in public debate? We believe in a free marketplace of ideas, and that the better ones will win out as long as openness prevails. To silence them and keep them marginalized, even through non-violent pressure campaigns and private property exclusion, looks to some of us as a refusal of the spirit, if not the letter, of free speech, and a slippery slope toward totalitarian thought policing.
Libertarians: This is why we insist on denying fascists a platform. It’s for the same reason we ban trolls, except the stakes are much higher. At core, fascism has always been post-fact. It has always proceeded from a place of postmodern relativism; hence the preoccupation with identity markers and the power (not reality) of mythic narrative. Adherents knowingly employ opportunistic dishonesty. Their only goal in arguing with us is to come away with a semblance of strength and legitimacy, and to wear us down with evasions. Their self-styling as iconoclasts speaking verboten un-PC truths: the empty edgelording of 4chan.
Fascists are not looking to cooperatively discover truth and refine positions. They don’t want real discourse, they want to trollishly undermine the very idea of discourse until everything is a morass equally arbitrary assertions, judged solely by their popularity and immediate emotional resonance. For them a platform is just a means to recite lies over and over again in the manner of Goebbels, as if they were mantras and the whole world their mirror. There is no truth, there is only those who know how to play the game of power and sentimental losers that think ideas can save them. They and their adherents don’t care how well you can fact check them; what matters is that they be seen commanding a room, and the recognition that comes with that.
Anyone who’s ever been bullied or gaslighted knows just how powerful these kinds of mind games can be . . . and how futile it is to argue against the person doing them. You don’t reason with bullies and abusers; you hit back and rob them of their confidence, so that the promise of power becomes a transparent lie, and their supporters desert after seeing they’re not going to get any either.
Yes, pretty much everyone who’s not an anarchist supports aggression in some respect. But not everyone sees the world purely in terms of tribal antagonism, and everything else window dressing or delusion. Conservatives, liberals, even your obnoxious college Marxist*; people arrive at these positions for a mix of good and bad motivations. Sometimes they default on coercive power through error in pursuit of some otherwise neutral end. But they at least implicitly accept that there’s more to reality than the Game of Thrones and the Darwinian grind**. They are open to ethical update.
Fascists qua fascists are not. It’s a cult dynamic that routes around people’s rational faculties and tickles their lizard brain. Even smart people fall for cults. When fascists speak, it’s a combination of dog whistles and slogans. They speak both to encourage their current adherents, and to offer an easy and comforting promise of power to the disaffected. What they’re really doing is recruiting and organizing. What they’re doing is rallying a mob to hate, and to feel strong and comforted by that hate. As we have seen this past year, purified power-through-joiner dynamics can snowball very quickly.
All of this would be irrelevant if fascism was the kind of memetic hazard that lead to people eating wheat grass on a commune, praying to extraterrestrials. But it’s not. It’s the kind of thing that elects Presidents and firebombs mosques.
When antifascists say that fascist speech is violence, it’s not a hyperbole or an Orwellianism. It’s the result of careful study and repeat confrontation with fascist movements for almost a century. It springs from the knowledge that the windup to their punches did not start at the ballot box, but with rallies in the streets and the impassioned ramblings of their strongman leaders.
This does not mean we call for states to get in the business of suppressing fascist speech, as many European governments do. In fact, many other antifa agree with us on this point, for several reasons. For one, police, courts and legislatures are rarely on our side, and what hate speech laws exist can be deployed against other political extremists. See for example the classification of anarchist circle-A’s as “gang symbols” alongside swastikas. Aside from that, these laws have been largely ineffective in stopping the rise of far-right parties in the past decade. Suit-and-tie racists like the National Front and UK Independence Party know how to play the line and euphemize their scapegoating and xenophobia. It’s for that reason that antifascists have long preferred a direct action approach.
Allowing fascists a platform, much less providing it, is grossly negligent and does more to undermine the conditions of free speech than keeping them confined to their mothers’ basements. You can waste your breath trying to show them that they’re idiots, but when your opponent has already declared you a loser beta cuck moralfag and offers you a helicopter ride, it’s time to put down the microphone and pick up the banhammer.
* Not counting hardcore Stalinists and Maoists , who operate on dynamics similar to fascism.
** Referring to passive supporters of course, not politicians and other state agents.