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BY REV. JEFF WELLS

March 3, 2021
Not equivalent. (Left: CNN; Right: Yahoo)
A CNN report published on Wednesday, February 24 indicates that Republicans in congress want to both limit and broaden the scope of any commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot - “Democrats and GOP at odds over scope of commission to investigate Capitol riot.” 
Teach us your way, O God, and lead us on a level path
    because of our enemies.
Do not give us up to the will of our adversaries,
    for false witnesses have risen against us,
    and they are breathing out violence.
- Psalm 27:11-12, adapted from the NRSV
Prominent Republicans want to prevent any investigation of the pretext for the assault on the Capitol – the big lie that the election was “stolen” from Trump voters. At the same time, Sen. Mitch McConnell and others want to expand the scope of any investigation to include other “domestic extremists,” saying, “Rioting and political violence are abhorrent and unacceptable no matter what the cause.” This is a thinly veiled and specious attack on Black Lives Matter and other groups who participate in protests for Black lives.

Similarly, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who now heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that this body’s investigation of “domestic extremism” must include both left-wing and right-wing expressions. Warner did cover himself by stating, “I don’t want to make a false equivalency argument here,” but we know from past experience that such an investigation and the way it is covered in the media often will not make that distinction, and the hearings will be used to lump together non-violent progressive and peaceful protesters with neo-Nazis and other white nationalists and supremacists. This happened after the murderous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. Along with then-President Trump, major newspapers across the country – including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post – condemned fascist and anti-fascist protesters equally (“Equating White Nationalists and “Left Radicals” Is What Got Us Here in the First Place”).

The false equivalence can be deadly. Antifa and other left-wing activists are regularly labeled “terrorists.” Yet a database of nearly 900 politically motivated attacks and plots in the United States from 1994 to 2020 shows one left-wing attack that lead to a death (of the leftist activist himself), while right-wing attacks have left 329 victims dead in the same period (“Anti-fascists linked to zero murders in the U.S. in 25 years”).

Being labeled “extremist” or “terrorist” when you are progressive or a person of color puts a target on your back. That is even more true when the labeling has official sanction. The FBI and other police agencies are ramping up efforts to investigate violent far-right groups, but the history of COINTELPRO and other “anti-extremist” government programs tells us that progressive Black and white activists and organizations will continue to be the main targets.

The God who loves, lures, and inspires us is a God who sides with the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, and calls us to take that side too. God is the rock of our resistance and our dreams for the new world that is possible.
Let us call out both Democratic and Republican legislators and administration officials at all levels of government who engage in such dangerous false equivalence. Post on social media and write letters to the editors of publications or producers of TV news programs that promote this misinformation. Be an accomplice in the work of freeing the oppressed, ending economic inequity, and creating a just and loving world.
God of Love and Justice, help us to be wise in recognizing and confronting dangerous labels used to target those seeking justice. Help us to be courageous in calling out the politicians and leaders of all parties who put our advocates and movements in harm's way. And, in all that we do, help us to lead and speak out of love as well as out of our righteous indignation at the injustices we see all around us. In the way of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jeff Wells is the lead pastor at The Church of the Village in New York City, a progressive, radically inclusive, and anti-racist congregation that seeks to undermine all forms of oppression and promote the affirmation and flourishing of every human person. Email: pastorjeff@churchofthevillage.org.
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