In his life so far, Arnold Schwarzenegger has logged an extraordinary, eclectic mix of accomplishments. Most notably, he is a former Governor of California, a movie star, and a five-time winner of the Mr. Universe title. If it weren’t for his status as an immigrant, which under the Constitution prohibits him from running, there is a good chance that he would have been elected U.S. president by now.
Schwarzenegger’s greatest political strength, apart from being a likable, accomplished man, is that he is a political centrist. This has earned him the enmity, some of it richly deserved, of conservative populists, but such is the price of trying to be part of a moderate centrist coalition.
Regardless, Schwarzenegger recently made a huge mistake.
On January 10, Schwarzenegger released a video, “My message to my fellow Americans and friends around the world.” In this seven-minute video, Schwarzenegger discusses his upbringing in post-war Austria and explains how in that time and place, events leading up to World War II were fresh in everyone’s memories.
In particular, Schwarzenegger brings up one of the pivotal moments in the Nazi regime’s transition to absolute tyranny in Germany, the “Kristallnacht,” which took place in November 1938. Although the Nazis had already been in power since 1933, the events on Kristallnacht (rough translation is “night of broken glass”) served notice to any Germans still wondering: They were no longer free. To Germany’s Jews, whose homes and businesses were specifically targeted, the message was much worse: You are enemies, and we are coming for you.
Schwarzenegger goes on to claim that Kristallnacht was carried out “by the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys,” and that the mob that overran the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was America’s “Kristallnacht.” He accuses President Trump of provoking the mob and trying to engineer a coup and calls for any politicians who have supported Trump to be “held accountable.” He concludes by reminding us how strong our democracy is, “like a tempered sword,” and how it is important to support president-elect Biden “in defense of our democracy and those who would threaten it.”
Despite whatever Schwarzenegger may have intended, this video will only cause further polarization. It reinforces the same one-sided narrative that has infuriated at least half the nation for years. It is yet another salvo of a biased, offensive narrative that is one of the reasons Trump got elected, and one of the reasons why the movement he catalyzed is not going to go away.
Reminding people of the double standard applied by the media to events of the past year and in prior years has become almost insipid. We’ve heard this story over and over. But when someone with Schwarzenegger’s influence wants to compare the events of January 6 to Kristallnacht and wants to compare the Proud Boys to the Brownshirts of the 1930s, it’s time to go down double-standard lane, yet again.
Schwarzenegger might want to review the video files, readily available, showing formations of militant Antifa cadres marching through the streets of every city in America, chanting violent slogans, carrying clubs and shields, wearing helmets and body armor, all dressed in black. He might watch videos showing these dangerous militants beating the hell out of unarmed, outnumbered victims who dared to wear a MAGA hat or carry an American flag. Schwarzenegger would do well to review the pitched battles against police that have been fought by Antifa militants for months on end—even before the unrest of 2020—in cities across America. He should note the looted and vandalized shops, the burned-out buildings, and the broken glass.
These videos of Antifa in action are terrifying. They reveal a growing movement with tens of thousands of members who are well-trained, well-organized, and committed to sustained violence and intimidation against anyone who doesn’t support them. Antifa has served notice to local political candidates and politicians in cities all over the country: Don’t defy us.
If anyone in the United States today should be compared to the Nazi stormtroopers who terrorized Germany throughout the 1930s, it is Antifa.
A good source for Schwarzenegger would be the Twitter account of Andy Ngo, a journalist who has been a victim of Antifa violence. Ngo gets little press coverage, and when he does, this gay, Asian, immigrant journalist is accused of having ties to “right-wing extremists.” Not only is this accusation a flagrant lie, but even if it were true, Ngo’s videos aren’t doctored. The videos don’t lie.
As another exercise in contrary facts so obvious it feels insipid to bring them up, Schwarzenegger ought to review the plentiful examples of prominent Democrats and news commentators encouraging the leftist violence that gripped the nation throughout 2020. Pointing out double standards isn’t “deflection.” It’s justice.
Before Arnold Schwarzenegger makes another video, he might consider what’s really happening on the streets of America.
It is true that some Trump supporters have become militant or have succumbed to the momentum of the mob. Nonetheless, if any mass demonstrations could accurately be described as “mostly peaceful” over the past year, it would be those held by Trump supporters, including the massive rally and march on January 6. A minute fraction of that massive crowd got out of hand, and facts are still surfacing as to the ringleaders’ background and motivations. It is a self-serving lie, defying all observational data to claim that Trump’s supporters are usually the aggressors. Events over the past year contradict this claim.
Whenever Trump supporters held a rally or a march, or even whenever GOP candidates held a meeting or a convention, it was Antifa that would show up to provoke violence. After Trump supporters hold events, Antifa gangs stalk the streets, looking for stragglers to beat up. This pattern is well-documented online, but the news media either ignores it or attempts to present the confrontations in a manner that makes the Trump supporters appear to be the instigators.
Ultimately, by going down this well-worn path of one-sided condemnation, Schwarzenegger enables further violence. Everything the establishment is doing, from escalating online censorship to presenting outrageously slanted news and analysis to conducting mass arrests, plays into the hands of extremist provocateurs. Where was the censorship, the news spotlight, or the mass arrests last year, during months of orchestrated violence and vandalism coming from the Left?
Violence escalates in any nation when people lose hope. The nihilistic passion that drives Antifa cadres to call for the overthrow of the American government is because young Americans do not have the opportunities they had a generation ago. The irony here is deep. It is the marriage of big business and socialist government—also known as economic fascism—that has dried up opportunities and elevated the cost of living in America, with Schwarzenegger’s adopted state of California as ground zero for this disaster.
If he were willing to work as hard on his next video as he once worked on his biceps back in his bodybuilding days, Schwarzenegger could articulate a view that steers clear of blaming either wing of disaffected Americans for their anger and militancy, and instead offers hope.
That could be hope in the form of deregulating the housing market, standing up to the extreme environmentalists, reviving the timber industry to thin the forests and end catastrophic wildfires, spending more money on freeways to make room for all those electric cars, keeping Diablo Canyon open and commissioning another nuclear power plant in California, investing in water storage projects and desalination plants, breaking the power of the teachers’ union monopoly on public education, and restoring law and order to California’s cities while moving the homeless—fast—into supervised tent encampments instead of spending billions to build them free housing on the beach.
The extent to which these solutions are controversial, or even portrayed as “right-wing” instead of centrist, is thanks to the special interests that control California. If anyone understands the nature of these special interests, Schwarzenegger does. But he is operating out of their playbook and merely adding his voice to a one-sided divisive chorus instead of doing the hard work of fighting for policies that offer hope.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared originally in the California Globe.