As a kid it was hard not to have a girl crush on Samantha, the blonde and sassy star of Bewitched who could so effortlessly confound her crabby neighbour Gladys Kravitz.
Then, last week, along came another blonde and cheeky Samantha who rocked it on television. The Seven Network’s Samantha Armytage interviewed American comedian Kathy Griffin, notorious for her image earlier this year holding up a fake severed head resembling Donald Trump.
Morning TV could have been an easy gig for Griffin to promote her upcoming Australian tour where she apparently explains why she’s no longer sorry for her behead-a-president schtick. Except that Sunrise’s Samantha effortlessly exposed a cranky, confused and unamusing comedian.
When Armytage asked Griffin whether she crossed a line with her attempt to mimic Islamic State terrorists, a peeved Griffin said: “You’re full of crap. Stop this. Stop acting like my little picture is more important than talking about the actual atrocities that the President of the United States is committing.”
Griffin then suggested she meet Armytage in an alley: “I got your number. You’re like a white Trump voter in America. I got your thing.” Responding to Armytage’s questions with threats of violence cloaked as clumsy jokes, the comedian at least served one useful purpose as the poster girl for those on the left who have a messed-up relationship with words and violence.
The following night Griffin got her easy ride on Ten’s The Project, with no challenge to her daft and unamusing claim that America has an “insane, possibly Nazi, I’m going with Naziesque President in the White House”. Here again, Griffin is the useful idiot for those on the left who have redefined Nazi to mean anyone you don’t agree with, whether to justify jokey violent threats if comedy is your thing or carrying out real violence if you’re a street activist.
Writing in the latest edition of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart traces the rise of the violent left in recent months starting with this year’s Portland Rose Festival in Oregon. A fixture since 1907, the April festival was cancelled because a group called the Direct Action Alliance warned that “fascists plan to march through the streets”. In fact, the marchers were Republicans from Multnomah County. Beinart mentions an anonymous email sent to organisers warning that, in response to marching Trump supporters and those who promote “hateful rhetoric”, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade … and drag and push there (sic) people out”. Portland police said they lacked resources to keep people safe from the protesters.
The Portland activists have ties to the deceptively named “antifa” movement, an Orwellian group that pretends to be anti-fascist but uses a plainly fascist code of violence. There is an obvious demand and supply problem here: there simply aren’t enough Nazis today to meet their demand so they invent new categories of Nazi to mean anyone they disagree with.
If you’re not a real Nazi, being Nazi-esque is enough to justify a vile photo of Griffin holding the severed head of a democratically elected president or real violence increasingly used by those on the left.
In February, antifa protesters violently disrupted a planned speech by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley.
In March, more violent antifa members caused Charles Murray, a conservative political scientist to flee an address at Middlebury College in Vermont. Caught in the violent melee of protesters, many in masks, left-liberal professor Allison Stanger (there to debate Murray) was injured and ended up in a neck brace. “I feared for my life,” Stanger wrote in The New York Times days later.
A free-speech rally in Boston two weeks ago by libertarians intending to protest against campus speech codes was forced to wrap up early after a mob of club-wielding antifa protesters confronted them. Wearing masks, they threw rocks and urine-filled bottles at police.
Last weekend, antifa-led violence erupted again at UC Berkeley. Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said officers were instructed not to actively confront the weapon-laden anarchists.
Here is the new normal, says Bret Weinstein, a left-liberal academic at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, forced off campus in May because campus security could not guarantee his safety against violent left-wing protesters.
Berkeley’s “unapologetic progressive” mayor Jesse Arreguin called for antifa to be classified as a street gang. But it’s complicated being a progressive; the mayor of the town, home to the 1960s free-speech movement, also wants the university to cancel the Free Speech Week event planned by conservative groups for September. A win for the Orwellian fascists parading as anti-fascists.
Last week, University of Sydney student newspaper Honi Soit invited two views to the question “Should we punch Nazis?”. Kishor Napier-Raman said yes, arguing that when the far right advocates genocide “we must be prepared to fight fire with fire”. The fourth year student, whose university education seems woefully inadequate, failed to provide any evidence that the far right advocates genocide. The student seems to have been taught that it’s enough just to assert genocidal intent to rationalise violence against the far right.
The opposing view was put by Noa Zulman, whose “no” case ended with this: “Punching a Nazi is good; hanging one by the gallows is better.” Harking back to the Nuremberg trials and the 1945 public execution of Nazi war criminals, the student, a self-described “activist” and “history & philosophy nerd” also failed to provide any evidence of genocidal plans on the far right. Who among Sydney University’s most senior administrators have denounced these calls for violence in Honi Soit?
Like Griffin’s sick joke, none of this is amusing. While left and right may debate whether words that merely offend should be censored in a free society, we are in trouble when both sides cannot agree to draw the line at words that incite violence and at violence against people because they have different views. And given the moral depravity of Nazis murdering millions of Jews, and the historical evils of fascism, it’s wicked to redefine these labels to excuse violence against people with whom you disagree.
Alas, distorting words is essential to the left’s use of force, and violence is mounting precisely because of an industry premised on using feelings to censor words and views. Claiming that words should be censored because they offend has become so commonplace that it no longer carries the ideological punch it once did. It’s a small leap, then, to redefine words as a form of violence to justify actual violence by fascists masquerading as anti-fascists.
You don’t need to say anything to be labelled a fascist, either. Being a policeman or attending a Trump rally is enough. An article at It’s Going Down, a website linked with antifa, described physical attacks on people leaving a Trump rally in San Jose, California, last year as “righteous beatings”.
Responsible media outlets ought to draw the line right here. Yet the Huffington Post recently published pieces that called for violence or deliberately blurred the line of violent disruption.
“A Violent Response to Trump is as Logical as Any” was the Huff Post headline to a piece by Jesse Benn in June demanding that “violent resistance matters”. Queer activist Michelangelo Signorile wrote in Huff Post in May, “from here on, no elected official —―certainly those in the GOP defending and supporting Trump … — should be able to sit down for a nice, quiet lunch or dinner in a Washington, DC, eatery or even in their own homes”.
Signorile says he doesn’t advocate violence but that’s hardly convincing when you call for Republicans to be publicly hounded when they eat at a restaurant.
Left-wing media outlets in Australia are deplorably quiet about violence by activists on the left. Fairfax and the ABC repeatedly condemned Pauline Hanson for offending Muslims by wearing a burka in the Senate.
The same media outlets cannot muster the same outrage about violence and intimidation by same-sex marriage activists against the Australian Christian Lobby. ACL’s Canberra headquarters have been firebombed, staff have been threatened and white powder was recently stuffed in an envelope addressed to the ACL. Yet when interviewing ACL’s Lyle Shelton last week, the ABC’s Joe O’Brien was worked up about whether someone who believed in the traditional definition of marriage was entitled to cheer a gay athlete at the Olympics. Clamouring to expose hypocrisy from an opponent of same-sex marriage, O’Brien displayed his own, in spades.
Beinart makes the point that how the rest of the activist left responds to the rise of left-wing violence will define its moral character in the Trump age.
So far the signs point to deepening moral decay on the left unless more decide to call out violence, whether it’s by fascists hiding behind ski goggles orcomedians hiding behind sick jokes.
This week Armytage tweeted this after interviewing Griffin: “I just don’t find beheadings to be particularly funny. And I think I have a fairly decent sense of humour.” Slam-dunk, Sam.