Paul Welch is not a fascist. He is a liberal who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary, and for Hillary Clinton in the general election. On August 4, he attended a far-right rally in Portland, Oregon, as a counterdemonstrator intent on signaling his opposition to the “tacitly fascist event,” he told The Oregonian.
Tell that to Antifa: One of the masked militants attacked Welch, striking him over and over again with some kind of metal rod concealed in black cloth. One blow landed on his head, which caused Welch to immediately crumple to the ground. He would eventually need four staples to close up the gaping wound.
How did Antifa misidentify Welch? He had brought an American flag with him in an attempt to take the symbol back from Patriot Prayer, the group holding the rally. According to The Oregonian:
“The right and certainly a lot of smaller groups like Patriot Prayer might rush to things like the flag and try to take it up as, ‘This is our symbol exclusively,'” [Welch] said. “Part of my thinking was to take it back.”
Aside from a few odd looks, Welch did not encounter any problems when he joined hundreds of other counter-protesters who gathered at City Hall late that morning.
In fact, Welch said, he saw several other people with American flags sprinkled among the group of progressives, union members and social justice activists.
But then, two members of Antifa confronted him and demanded he hand over the flag, which they characterized as a “fascist symbol.” When Welch resisted, they attacked him. The concussion landed him in the hospital for two days.
It was, of course, wrong to attack Welch regardless of his political views. Even if Welch had been a Trump-worshipping alt-right troll, the masked man still had no right to try to take Welch’s flag and club him over the head when he resisted. This was an ill-founded and immoral initiation of violence, full stop.
But it’s also a good reminder of why Antifa’s resistance strategy, punch Nazis in the streets, wherever and whenever they appear, is deeply misguided. Not everybody who attends a protest is a Nazi. Not everyone who waves an American flag is a fascist. Not every Republican is racist (Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness is right). A group that endorses political violence while claiming that everyone who isn’t with them is against them, and that centrists are essentially fascist collaborators, is not a group that is making careful distinctions or thoughtfully considering its tactical approach. A broad endorsement of violence as a resistance tactic is certain to result in innocent people getting hurt, and to turn the moderate masses away from whatever it is Antifa supposedly represents. As a general matter, civil resistance works and violent protests backfire.
It’s easy to abuse the whole “See, this is why Trump won!” thing. But beating the crap out of a liberal because he committed the sin of carrying an American flag does in fact seem like it belongs in the win-for-Trump column. If the left wants to defeat Trump, the worst thing it can do is make people fear Antifa more than they fear the administration.