Failure analysis is probably the most important component of progress in any area of human endeavor. Figuring out what went wrong, why it went wrong and then scheming how to prevent it from happening again, is how we move forward in business, science, technology and even social organization. After every election, the losing party goes through a period of self-examination in order to figure out why they lost. The old line about learning more from failure than success is true, as long as you actually learn something.
With Joe Biden launching his campaign in Charlottesville, now is a good time to examine the catastrophe of the Unite the Right rally in 2017. Now, the first thing to note that from the point of view of the Left, this was a great success. Almost two years on, it remains an emotional rallying point for all of the tribes in the fight against whiteness. It is why very old white man Joe Biden picked it for his campaign announcement. He wanted to let those tribes know that he is their man, despite his noticeable lack of vibrancy.
That is an important lesson of this event. Activism is always about rallying your side and depressing the other side. Everything else is secondary. Most of the dissident right is happy to forget about this event, while the Left has made it one of the key events in their narrative. Put the phrase “Unite the Right” into a search engine and you first get the Wikipedia page describing it as a rally by the worst people. An image search returns pics of Nazis and noble non-whites. For the Left, Charlottesville was a triumph.
That is the first lesson of the event. It was a failure. Many involved have yet to come to terms with that reality. Instead, they keep working to correct the record about what happened and who was responsible. This recent live stream by Richard Spencer is a good example. The fact that they keep thinking the facts matter says they still don’t understand what happened. To the Left, the facts are unimportant. What matters is they have martyrs and they have a bloody shirt to wave around.
Therein lies another lesson. For too many in dissident politics, this obsession with applying the blue pencil to the Left’s myth-making remains a liability. Conservatives have always fallen into this trap. While the Left is performing yet another morality tale, the Right is busy editing the script for accuracy. In politics, factual accuracy is only important if it advances the narrative. What matters, what always matters, is convincing the public that your version of reality is the most pleasing. The facts are just part of the set.
Beyond accepting that it was a disaster for our side, however you wish to define it, the question is why did it happen? Part of it was the people involved got caught up in the moment, so they stopped thinking. They really thought they were in one of those great periods of transition. Eric Striker actually makes that point in this episode of his podcast at around the 55-minute mark. Before the event, Spencer had posted his version of the Port Huron Statement. They thought the revolution was happening.
Another reason the event turned into a great piece of propaganda for the Left and a disaster for the Right is the organizers made the classic error of thinking the Left would abide by its own stated rules. This never happens, as the Left sees rules, laws and principles as conveniences that further their efforts. The laws are like the New York subway system. You get on and off as necessary. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. For the Left, winning is always the end. They will never let the rules get in the way.
Conservatives have been making this mistake for as long as anyone reading this has been alive. American right-wingers always assume the Left has practical, tangible motivations and that they will abide by their own rules. After all, conservatives have practical goals and always play by the rules. You’ll notice that all of those Virginia democrats caught up in the black face scandal are still in their jobs. Even the serial attacker, Justin Fairfax, is still in his job. In the fight with the Left, there are no rules.
One lesson many on the alt-right have learned from the event is that all the people flying the “pro-white” banner are not the same. Those older groups, what is often called White Nationalism 1.0, are incompatible with the modern movements. Those guys remain stuck in the past, determined to remain in a sub-culture that operates on the fringes. Many of them are simply crazy or violent. There’s no need to disavow these people, but if you’re going to build something new, you have to break free from the past.
Charlottesville is a great example of why outsider movements need to first build small, in real life organizations. Holding a big public rally looks cool and gets a lot of attention, but it also draws a lot of lunatics and weirdos. In person organizing, especially in small groups, allows for careful vetting. If Jason Kessler had to apprentice in a local group for a couple of years, he never could have talked people into his venture. The goofballs with the Hitler flags could never get in front of the cameras at an alt-right event.
That’s the most important lesson of Charlottesville. Every war is a media war. This low-grade civil war in the West is about imagery and narrative. In Charlottesville, the Right allowed the Left to control the production, so they could control the narrative and the imagery. Future activism must always confound the preferred narrative, thus putting the Left on the defensive. The media organs of the Left are big and powerful, but they are not nimble or adaptive. That can be used against them with clever activism.
This AIM action over the weekend is a great example. Those aging commies in the audience were ready to celebrate their edginess until a bunch of young guys turned up to heckle and mock them. Instead of trading made up stories about their days fighting the man, they were being mocked as the man. The subsequent news stories sound like something to come from the Soviet press in the old days. The only thing missing from the reports are the words “hooliganism” and “running dog lackeys.”
In time, the tank will run dry on Charlottesville and it will cease to be a bloody shirt for the Progressive mobs. The lessons though can never be forgotten by dissidents trying to build an alternative to the current order. Mistakes have consequences. One of those consequences must be shrewder leaders and better strategies. Otherwise, the dissident right will follow the conservatives into the same dead end. The difference is there will be no cushy think tank jobs waiting for the losers of this political fight.