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September 28, 2017

Student Group Holds Debate on Antifa

By Alex Ward   

The Chicago Debate Society (CDS) held a public debate Tuesday on the topic of whether or not anti-fascist groups should condemn violence at their rallies.

The two-person team arguing that Antifa and similar groups should condemn violence framed their argument around the likelihood of negative reactions to violence and the potential for anti-fascist groups to win greater support by rejecting violence. They also argued that, with a presidential administration potentially more sympathetic to the fascists, violence on the left could be used as an excuse for crackdowns on protests and other freedoms.

The opposing team argued that violence against fascist groups could often be justified as self-defense, and that the benefits of condemning violence could not necessarily outweigh the downsides. They contested that condemning violence would cause division within activist groups and could be taken as appeasement or capitulation, whereas there would be no guarantee of any significant change in narratives about the groups’ movement.

Fourth-year Zach Lemonides, the president of CDS, said that the topic was chosen because it engaged issues relevant both at UChicago and nationally.

“Even in the University, there’s been lots of talk about the sort of general questions about Antifa and the lengths to which opposing fascism can go, on University discussion groups and things along those lines, so we thought it would be a topic that a lot of people would be interested in,” Lemonides said.

The group made clear on Facebook and at the event that it does not have an official stance on the debate topic, but was trying to promote and provide a venue for discussion.

The debate was originally set to cover the justifiability of violence by anti-fascist movements. The question was changed from “Is the use of violence by groups such as antifa justified to oppose hate speech?” to “Should groups, in the United States, explicitly dedicated to opposing fascism publicly condemn all instances of violence in their protests?” Lemonides said the topic was changed to avoid moral issues distracting from the actual events on the ground. “While rigorous discussions on philosophical principles are interesting, the event was not a dissertation on the different systems of ethical reasoning,” Lemonides said.

The CDS focuses primarily on competitive, inter-university debating in the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) style. APDA focuses on breadth of knowledge and ability to argue a position on relatively short notice rather than on in-depth advance preparation. CDS hosts meetings in Cobb Hall at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

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