The parallels between the Charlottesville and Capitol Hill attacks are striking: The reluctance of law enforcement to engage in dialogue with the whites, the right-wing protesters (and their procrastination), the right-wing media’s use of anti-fascists as a source of unrest, the president’s attempts to apologize or accept the violence of his supporters – even when he urged them to go home, he declared We Love You (in a video later restricted by social media for deception and backed by demystified campaign lies).

But more than that, they are both marked by the pernicious bot-sideism that every discussion about the violence and chaos that Donald Trump has provoked over the past four years, a bot-side embodied by very good people on both sides of the line, but with a much longer history in America.

A few days after the violence in Charlottesville, Civil War historian Elizabeth Varon wrote about the false equivalent that dominated most American conversations about the Civil War for decades: a war in which both sides fought nobly for things they deeply believed in, and eventually laid down their weapons and as Americans came together again. There were heroes on both sides, men on horseback who won statues, no matter how many people they enslaved, or the American soldiers they killed, or the uprisings they led.

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It was a peace bought not only on the backs of American soldiers who died, but also on the backs of millions of liberated people who were forced to live in a system of segregation, theft and violence that lasted for almost a century after the war.

Trump made the same mistake after the violence in Charlottesville. He praised the Confederate slave and traitor Robert E. Lee, whom he repeatedly called a great general. He insisted that the people who came to Charlottesville for the event organized by violent neo-Nazis, members of the Klan and racists, were very good people who only protected Lee’s statue, even though they went to the University of Virginia campus the day before the scheduled meeting and attacked anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrators there. And he made Antifa – antifascist organizers and demonstrators – the new scapegoat from the right.

Last year we saw how useful this scapegoat is in the new era of false equality. Since then, Antifa? has been the answer to almost every act of violence by the extreme right.

Even more treacherous is the fact that the president and his supporters – from right-wing media leaders to members of Congress and Facebook postings – have repeatedly suggested that in cases of violence the real cause is the Antifa ladle.

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This was made clear Wednesday in Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, which was broadcast live during the mutinous attack on Capitol Hill. Although there was no clear contradiction from the opponents, when guest Todd Herman broke the news for the first time, he immediately suggested, without any proof, that Antifa was responsible. Apparently there are rumors that Trump’s supporters are disrupting security on Capitol Hill, he said. It probably wouldn’t be Trump’s supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Later in the show he again put forward the idea that Antifa radiates violence.

The notion of Antifa’s infiltration has already been completely demystified. Although no anti-fascist presence was confirmed on Capitol Hill, many pro-Trump activists were identified after bragging about their involvement in social media. Even without evidence, the anti-fascist conspiracy is still being built by right-wing media, including shows like Laura Ingraham on Fox News. It does this because it serves a useful purpose by transferring responsibility from right-wing political groups to a decentralised, often poorly understood group like Antifa.

Antifa-as-Boygeman exists partly because of the climate of false equality that the president deliberately blew up. Instead of acknowledging and condemning right-wing violence and the growing threat of terror in the United States – the Department of Homeland Security has called it the most persistent and deadly terrorist threat in the country – the most vociferous experts and politicians enthusiastically claim that violence is never the answer, a comforting platitude that will surely make many readers nod their heads.

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But the number of true pacifists in the United States is quite low, and even lower among politicians, experts and supporters of the trump card. Violence by the police, the army, self-defense are far-reaching social sanctions in our society. The real dividing line is not about violence or non-violence, but about when we think violence is appropriate and who we think may use it.

It is important to convey the platitude that violence is never the answer, because it reveals its fundamental purpose: to make two things unequal. Violent street gangs fighting for white supremacy are different from the protesters fighting to stop them. Most Americans regard this as part of the Second World War: The Allies and the Axis powers fought disastrous battles, but some fought on behalf of the Nazi regime and others fought to stop it. But when similar fights break out on American streets, too many people forget this moral difference.

The same attempt to level the playing field took place in the Senate before it was interrupted by mutiny. The leader of the Senate majority, Mitch McConnell, has slipped into the dark tone of his state and condemns not only the coordinated Republican attempt to overturn the election results, but also the democratic protest of 2004: The Republicans then condemned these unfounded attempts and we have just spent four years condemning the disgraceful attacks by the Democrats on the legitimacy of President Trump’s own election.

But of course the Democrats, who were worried about the 2004 elections in Ohio, did not want to cancel them. They accepted that George W. Bush would remain president and acknowledged his victory. They did not cooperate with the president and spread lies and conspiracies to try to stay in power in an increasingly illegal attempt to overturn the elections and destroy Americans’ trust in democracy.

By way of argumentation, let us assume that the actions of the Democrats in 2004 were wrong. Even then, they weren’t the same as they are now, and they weren’t the cause of the chaos that we experienced in the last two months after the elections. It has become popular, especially but not exclusively on the right, to report such cases and to look for minor offences from earlier times. But such monitoring of political discourse does not protect democracy. Pretending to be thugs and vigilantes with similar crimes doesn’t make people safer. At best it’s confusing, at worst it’s apologetic.

If we want to have any hope of building a fair and functional democracy in this country after the disappearance (or removal) of Trump, we cannot continue to discuss these terms. This is also what we do when we invoke false equivalency (a popular activity on Twitter). We should rather focus our political debates and conversations on a different kind of discussion about ethics, one that looks at the battlefield of civil war or the streets of Charlottesville or the floor of the U.S. Senate and sees that there are some battles that are right and some that are wrong – and that is built from there.

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