I’ve covered protests as a photojournalist in the Twin Cities off and on for the last ten years. The skirmish between anti-fascists, alt-right and Trump supporters at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 6 was by far the most immature display that I’ve witnessed, and I’ve seen anarchists taunt heavily-armed riot police to instigate violence against their own bodies so that they could cry brutality.
ANTIFA, which is shorthand for anti-fascists, protested a controversial speaker at a rally intended to commemorate President Trump’s first 100 days in office. The speaker was cancelled by organizers because they apparently didn’t want the hassle, but the self-described militant group wasn’t satisfied and still showed up to prevent everyone from attending the rally.
They were too busy pushing people down the marble stairs, kicking them in the head and slinging insults into megaphones to notice that the Trump supporters slipped inside the north entrance when Proud Boys arrived to counter-protest their attempt to shut down the event.
Protesters are generally eager to talk with press because they assume you’re on their side and it’s a chance to be featured in the media, but some members of ANTIFA were also openly hostile toward journalists.
I was photographing a man harassing another photojournalist for taking a photograph of a child that was chanting at the front of the demonstration line. Then he turned to me and screamed that I was “fucking pervert” for taking a photograph of the child I was not currently photographing.
He didn’t do anything to shield her from the cameras, or take actions indicating they were together, so it’s doubtful that he was the father. The insult was apparently only a convenient reason to abuse fascist media. It’s not inappropriate to photograph anyone at an event like this one.
Multiple news agencies reported that ANTIFA members tried to snatch recording devices from journalists, and CityCollegeNews witnessed a scuffle over a mobile phone between them and an apparent Trump observer.
Agree with President Trump or not, his supporters have the right to assemble and exercise their rights to free speech. Those freedoms are still in the Constitution and apply to everyone equally. The State Capitol is also not a playground for aggressive games of insult dodgeball.
Although these three groups are at the far ends of the spectrum, extremist division is also the natural state for everyday American politics. Republicans and Democrats are increasingly unwilling to work with each other to solve the country’s problems. “My way or the highway” is the philosophy they follow.
Political activists are paid to appear on television news networks to engage in yelling matches over issues, instead of thoughtfully participating in honest dialog about how to solve the problem they’re supposed to be discussing. There’s little or no room for compromise on anything, and it’s doubtful that they could cooperate long enough to declare the sky blue.
Sure, it’s all very entertaining to watch and networks love the ratings on-air battles generate. It would be dishonest to say that I don’t enjoy having contentious protests to photograph. However, I know that perpetuating it creates of a system of political back-and-forth that makes it impossible to accomplish anything meaningful. There’s nothing to improve if there is no continuity of policy.
Extremists will never come together on their own, or be capable of solving the country’s problems, yet they’re allowed to dominate public discourse. If America was never great, or needs to be great again, it’s because too many Americans passively watch the world on-screen as though it had no real meaning or impact on their lives, not because one of these groups don’t have full control over the government.
Treating politics as sport for the entertainment value, or being disengaged out of sheer laziness and selfishness, is just as childish and irresponsible as violently suppressing speech and trolling. Americans need to get off the couch and prevent extremists from directing the conversation.
Make America adult again.