The Greenwald Denial

Not the punk guy. Glenn Greenwald (R).

As anti-fascist activists organising against a far-right mobilisation in Portland, Oregon made headlines, journalist and Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald took to Twitter.

It’s become a fun online gag to scoff at anti-fascist responses to far-right protests as if they somehow distract from state and corporate power.

One could easily dismiss it as internet banter. But, given Greenwald’s stature in the media, and especially on the American left, we’re going to have to take it seriously. Greenwald’s error should be obvious.

A great many anti-fascist organisers and their sympathisers participated in Occupy Wall Street, demonstrations against the World Bank/International Monetary Fund and antiwar protests.

Around the country, protesters are taking direct action against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), resulting in arrests and state violence.

Marches against the US training of Latin American military personnel take place every year at Fort Benning. Protesters during the 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump initially faced harsh state repression. Uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri were targeted against local police who had killed black men.

It’s also untrue that one has to talk about the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, the militia movement etc. as existing separately from state power.

For example, in Portland, the Willamette Week reported how the local police have assisted far-right demonstrators while targeting the anti-fascist response; this has also been covered by journalists Arun Gupta and Jason Wilson.

One of the things anti-fascist activists are quick to point out is that non-government groups like militias or the Proud Boys can act as a sort of freikorps for a neo-fascist state.

Just after Greenwald’s tweet, two Proud Boys were found guilty of attempted gang assault and riot charges for a violent attack on anti-fascist activists in Manhattan in 2018.

The assault took place outside of the Republican club where the group’s leader, Gavin McInnes, according to the New York Times, using a “plastic sword, staged a re-enactment of the 1960 murder of a Japanese socialist leader by a teenage ultranationalist”.

That this happened at a mainstream Republican venue shows how much you can’t separate the street violence of the Proud Boys from official forms of power.

And when the White House and Republicans constantly vilify immigrants, a rhetoric that has inspired acts of racist murder in Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, El Paso and elsewhere, it’s hard to say it’s divorced from the government’s white nationalism.

Worse, given the body counts associated with these atrocities, it is a slap in the face to the victims and their families to disregard them as trivial.

Twitter is not a news organisation, so not even salaried media dons blessed with blue checkmarks are bound by the normal rules of balance, accuracy and context.

But Greenwald is a journalist who has become famous as an investigative truth-teller among a sea of cynical hacks.

To use his commanding social media presence to pretend that those protesting white nationalist mobilisations haven’t participated in other forms of organising, or to insist that kind of organising is rare, is a disservice to his own journalistic mission.

And for many on the anti-fascist left, the source of the vitriol is alarming.

Greenwald frequently appears on the show of Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, who many view as an anti-immigration extremist. (In 2005, Greenwald wrote that “illegal immigration” was responsible for a “parade of evils” that “wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally,” though he later disavowed this.)

Before becoming a journalist, Greenwald gained attention as a lawyer defending white nationalist Matt Hale, whose organisation had been tied to various instances of racist violence.

While Greenwald said he was doing his civil libertarian duty of defending unpopular speech, journalist David Neiwert points out that Greenwald displayed sneering hostility toward those seeking justice for victims of violence caused by a member of Hale’s World Church of the Creator.

Justice finally found Hale. The white supremacist is currently serving a 40-year federal prison sentence for putting out a hit on a federal judge.

Alas, few reasonable people think Greenwald is some sort of fascist foot soldier.

His husband is a socialist politician in Rio de Janeiro and Greenwald has done critical reporting on Brazil’s far-right government. Both men have put themselves at great risk doing their work.

But journalists like Greenwald should be more responsible with the influence they wield as media personalities, even in the anarchic free-for-all that is social media.

Statements like his Portland tweet are as divisive as they are ahistorical. 

Photograph courtesy of Gage Skidmore. Published under a Creative Commons license.