This weekend, someone shot out two electrical substations in Moore County, leaving more than 40,000 of our fellow North Carolinians without power in the cold of December. Somewhere else in the county that night, there was set to be a controversial drag show. Was the attack on the power supply due to the drag show? It’s possible. But law enforcement has not been able to find any evidence of that.
That did not stop left-wing accounts on Twitter from offering as fact the theory that right-wing, neo-Nazi, Christofascist terrorists (kind of a mouthful) knocked out much of the power to the county in order to stop the show.
Harvard Law instructor Alejandra Caraballo said, “The fascists wanted to stop a drag show in North Carolina so they shot up multiple power substations and knocked out power to over 40,000 people to prevent the show from happening. This is terrorism.”
Closer to home, the City of Charlotte’s mayor pro tem, Braxton Winston said, “Radical Christian Terrorism.”
Democratic candidate for N.C.’s 8th Congressional District, Scott Huffman, responded to Rep. Dan Bishop, who defeated him in the race, saying, “I’m your constituent @RepDanBishop. Don’t spin this as vandalism. Call it what it is. An act of terrorism. This was coordinated and your #LGBTQ #transphobic #rhetoric is fueling this. Over 42,000 and emergency services are affected over a drag queen show event.”
And when law enforcement were unable to make any immediate connection between the power outage and the drag show, the Democrat’s 2020 candidate for state commissioner of Agriculture, Jenna Wadsworth, added the inevitable next piece in the conspiracy spinning process, throwing doubt on the authorities and the “official narrative,” saying, “So, totally hypothetical question, but how can we trust police officers and elected Republican sheriffs to adequately investigate suspects they are sympathetic to, like, perhaps, right wing, Neo-Nazi, Christofascists?”
Even if this theory — about neo-Nazis, with law enforcement support, knocking out key infrastructure to stop a drag show — turns out to be correct, those above would still be in the wrong for asserting these facts before they were discovered. It was just as obnoxious and wrong when some on the right jumped to disgusting and baseless conspiracies after Paul Pelosi was attacked by a crazy person with a hammer. All sides should take a wait-and-see approach, but we don’t.
A quick examination of conscience shows me that I’ve at times basked in a moment of smug moral superiority upon learning that a political opponent had secretly been a horrible person all along. In those moments, we feel that maybe this proves we’re the “good guys” fighting on the right side of history.
Sara Pequeño, an opinion writer for the News & Observer, wrote a column recently about how to defeat all your evil conservative relatives during holiday-dinner debates. And to be fair, she largely focused on racism and “Q Anon” conspiracies, which of course deserve the treatment she discussed. But in the pushback to the piece, she said that there is no “both sides” to extremism because “there is a clear throughline between right-wing extremism and real violence,” while things like universal health care and nationalizing “the means of production” do not lead to violence. To her, violent extremism is by definition only a problem in the other guys.
Putting aside the enormous historical ignorance in being unaware of the very real “throughline” between seizing the means of production and “real violence” (think 10s of millions of bodies in the 20th century), there is also real danger in placing the entire locus of evil in other people’s beliefs and actions. It lets you off the hook to be just as evil without noticing, or even while thinking you are fighting noble battles for justice.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, one of those who had to experience the brutality of real left-wing violence in the Soviet gulags, said it best: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
We are all capable of evil. A good belief system can often guide us further from this capacity, but as we’ve all seen countless times, as our heroes are revealed to be monsters, there is no short supply of moral failures and hypocrites in even the wisest moral traditions.
The binary option of “right wing” and “left wing” can blind us to this. Personality psychologists have long known that those who prioritize the security and reliability found in institutions will be more likely to support the “right,” and those that are more open to change will support the “left.” But it’s obviously simplistic to think that a society should never change its institutions and traditions, or conversely, that they should always be throwing them into chaos.
Some institutions should be torn down (like slavery), others need tweaking, and others should be defended at all costs. Historically, the “far right” (like fascists, monarchists, and theocrats) has been willing to commit acts of violence to defend the institutions, “right or wrong,” which is close-minded and a net-negative for society. But the “far left” has often been willing to tear down these institutions (think of efforts to abolish the police, abolish ICE, abolish the gender binary), without considering if those might be societal load-bearing structures.
There are countless examples of when this leveling spirit, as Edmund Burke called it, caused just as much, and often much more, violence as that caused by reactionary protection of institutions from the right. If you doubt that, read up on the horrors of the French and Russian revolutions and their aftermath.
So, if after every tragedy you find yourself immediately confirming all your prior assumptions that the other guy is the source of all evil, even if the facts have not yet come to that conclusion, maybe take a moment of self-reflection. While you’re undoubtedly correct that there is evil in your enemy, there is some buried in you as well.