The “Unite the Right” rally had little to do with “defending” Confederate memorials, or any particular reading of southern history, however misguided.
.. Two of the billed speakers were anti-Semitic podcasters from New York; another fancies himself an American version of France’s Nouvelle Droite. The Robert E. Lee statue was a MacGuffin — or, rather, he was Antifa bait, and the college town that it happened to be in was just a place where Antifa could be expected to swim. The organizers don’t want heritage, they wanted footage.
.. Really, what they wanted to do was to set a trap for conservatives. The explosive growth of Antifa during the 2016 campaign and since the election of Donald Trump has become a fixture in conservative media. Conservatives had warned that mainstream-media figures were summoning an awful thing into being by cheering on masked left-wingers who punched Nazis. Soon, anyone you wanted to punch would start looking like a Nazi.
.. A spectacle would attract Antifa, who would predictably use violence. Some mainstream-media figures would endorse that violence, and some conservatives, they believed, would feel obliged to defend the ActualFascists because, hey, these left-wing mobs are attacking America’s legal and social norms of free speech. In other words, even if the assorted Jew-haters and fashy dorks can’t persuade conservatives to adopt a “no enemies to the right” posture, perhaps Antifa would.
.. That fact scuttled the rally organizers’ talking point that it was Antifa or poor policing that initiated and caused all the violence.
.. The murder of Heather Heyer was a revelation, and so too was the way that rally co-organizer Christopher Cantwell, met news of her death — by sneering, “The fact that nobody on our side died, I’d go ahead and call that points for us.”
.. There seemed to be a real upside to cultivating a reputation as the edgiest and most transgressive political movement going. You’re free of the pieties that come from longer-lived movements. You look authentic, even fresh. And your stock goes up. But there’s an iron law at work here: As soon as anyone identifiably on the right gets the reward of attention for being transgressive, the Neo-Nazis swiftly show up, and the value of transgressive right-wing politics returns to its true value in America, near zero.
.. Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction. The rally organizers came prepared for violence, and they wanted it. They wanted footage of themselves getting punched and maced so that they could use conservative antipathy to Antifa to erode conservative antipathy to ActualFascists. Don’t fall for it.