False Equivalence is Trendy but it’s Not a Good Look

Rational people, it is said, should be able to spot a logical fallacy from a mile away, so I’ve watched, aghast, in the last few days as people (who are normally pretty balanced and fair about current events) are suddenly unable to see that they are guilty of this fallacy with their hand wringing about anti-fascist protesters being “as bad” as white supremacist and Nazi protesters.

People recently protesting Nazis in Charlottesville, Va. also participated in the violence and, according to many- including Donald Trump -this makes them just as bad as the Nazis they were protesting. When questioned about the white supremacist violence which resulted in at least one death, Donald Trump said “What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’?” (Lee, 2017)

In the last few days, I have seen so many acquaintances tripping over themselves to point out that “Nazis are bad, but punching Nazis is bad, too” and I find it quite alarming. Everyone should be able to see that it’s possible to criticise anti-fascist protesters without likening them to Nazis and that by doing so is to be guilty of false equivalence.

The Cato Institute recently published a piece which examines 25 years of terrorism in America. They found that 3,342 people have been murdered by terrorists in the US during that period, with 92% of those murders committed by Islamists. Cato reports ‘Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists are the second deadliest group of terrorists by ideology and account for 219 murders and 6.6 percent of all terrorist deaths …  Left Wing terrorists killed only 23 people in terrorist attacks during this time but 13 since the beginning of 2016 … Regardless of the recent upswing in deaths from Left Wing terrorism since 2016, Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists have killed about 10 times as many people since 1992.’ (Nawrasteh, 2017)

I get really nervous when I see normally rational people echoing Donald Trump with his hesitation to outright condemn Nazis, without looking at the statistics, and happily blaming both sides for being equally violent and dangerous. Those of us who identify as rationalists or skeptics should always be hesitant before making such bold claims. We should know by now that things are not always as they initially appear to be. If you’re not going to condemn Nazis because you don’t feel informed enough then feel free to stay quiet, but to condemn “the left” in the same breath is disingenuous as fuck.

As the New York Times reported, ‘White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.’ (Qiu, 2017)

It’s really difficult to not form snap judgements about incidents like those that took place in Charlottesville, Va. but we should hold ourselves to as high a standard as we hold others to when they make claims about chemtrails, government plots, skinwalkers, and the illuminati… because otherwise you’re suddenly the guy with ‘skeptic’ in his Twitter profile who has written more words condemning anti-fascist protesters than you have actual fucking Nazis.


Lee, C (2017) ‘President Trump says the ‘alt-left’ was partly to blame for the violence at Charlottesville. Wait: What’s the alt-left?’ Los Angeles Times, 16 August [Online] Available at http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-alt-left-20170816-story.html (Accessed 17 August 2017)

Nowrasteh, A (2017) ‘Terrorism Deaths by Ideology: Is Charlottesville an Anomaly?’, CATO Institute, 14 August [Online] Available at https://www.cato.org/blog/terrorism-deaths-ideology-charlottesville-anomaly (Accessed 17 August 2017)

Qiu, L (2017) ‘Trump Asks, ‘What About the Alt-Left?’ Here’s an Answer’, The New York Times, 15 August [Online] Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/us/politics/trump-alt-left-fact-check.html (accessed 17 August 2017)


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About Hayley Stevens 448 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

2 Comments on False Equivalence is Trendy but it’s Not a Good Look

  1. Very well said. Though the Cato data should have eliminated the 9/11 deaths as a clear outlier event. When 90% of your 92% is caused by a single event, that can be misleading when the idea of a 25 year analysis leads one to think in terms of continuous events and trends. If you go over the data and adjust for # of attacks and results, the data in regards to right wing violence is even more disturbing.

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