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Friday Night with Linda Sarsour and Winnipeg Antifa

"Controversial" speaker Linda Sarsour came to town and I couldn't stay away, and neither could Antifa.

I love protests. I really do. I used to live in Ankara, Turkey and MAN there were some amazing protests that I went to there. It was fascinating. And my fascination with protests continues. So, seeing as there was one tonight here in Winnipeg, I decided to go. 

What was the protest over? A lady named Linda Sarsour. She is one of the organizers of the Women's March. She is also a Palestinian-American (Or American-Palestinian? Not sure how that goes). She is a Muslim and she is very focused on the Palestinian cause. She has made a number of statements about Zionism and Jews that some construe as being anti-Semitic. There is a lot of debate over that with some saying that her rhetoric against Israel is, indeed, anti-Semitism. Others argue that it is not, that Israel has done of a lot of things and deserves to be called out on it. Criticism of Israel, in these cases does NOT equal anti-Semitism. Both sides make decent points on this issue. 

So, there were a few Jewish, pro-Israel groups of people who felt that Linda Sarsour should not be allowed to speak at a Social Planning Council of Winnipeg event that she was invited to take part in. And, the mayor of the city also got involved, agreeing that she should be disinvited. This, I feel, was going too far. Banning speakers seems to be a new trend that I really can't get behind. A number of months ago, the infamous Jordan Peterson came to town. And there was a contingent of people who wanted his event cancelled. Part of the reason I went to see Jordan Peterson was because of the fact that people wanted him cancelled. He was portrayed as an alt-right, hate mongering bigot who had no place in Winnipeg. Sigh. Ya, ya, ya. Okay, I get it that he has said some things that people don't like, but an alt-right bigot? Well, whatever. Anyway, I went to see him speak. He wasn't spectacular, but he was interesting enough. But NOTHING that he said that night could possibly be considered hateful or bigoted. Nothing. Not a single thing. So, what the heck were people so scared of?? 

Regardless, tonight, Linda Sarsour was in town. And it was her turn to have people want to cancel her. Even though I am not a fan of hers for a number of reasons, fortunately the event went on. But that didn't stop a relatively small number of protesters from coming out and expressing their dislike of her as well. They were, mostly, hardcore Israel supporters. And there isn't really anything wrong with that, but I got the sense that not many of them would be looking objectively at the state of Israel to see that it's not exactly an angelic entity. But there they were with their signs and their Israel flags and they were actually very laid back, not aggressive. They stood across the street from the venue. They stuck to themselves. They made their point. It was a very Winnipeg type of protest. In other words, very polite...and uneventful. Uneventful for the most part, I should say. 

Now, on the OTHER side, by the venue, was a fellow who leads the local Antifa group. He decided that he had to be there, I suppose. So he was. He didn't have a ticket, but neither did I. But, he was there. He wanted his presence known. And he is no fan of Israel so I'm sure he had this day marked on his calendar for awhile. I have had online exchanges with him, and he is quite anti-Israel. So, this was right up his alley. I didn't expect Antifa to have a presence there. Why, I don't know. It was kind of stupid of me to think that. This is exactly the kind of place you would find Antifa. And, as it turned out, voila, they were there. Not a lot of them, but a few. And, most prominently, the leader. And THIS is where I got frustrated by the whole situation. 

The protesters against Linda Sarsour speaking were calm, cool, kept to themselves and just had a very quiet protest. But here is the dude from Antifa standing across the corner (and I ended up standing near him and was able to hear him) and he was making all kinds of snide comments. Clearly, he loathed those people across the street. It was quite sad to hear, actually, given the fact that the other side were behaving themselves quite well. So, I was further annoyed by the Antifa leader. 

Now, one person who was there was a fellow there representing Rebel Media. His name was Keean Bexte. I saw on twitter that he would be there and, sure enough, he did not lie. He was. Now, I am not a big fan of Rebel Media. It is a right wing news outlet and I don't agree with a LOT of the views presented or, for that matter, a lot of the staff. But, I had no idea who this guy was, and I have no clue what his views are, really. I'm quite sure, however, that when it comes to politics we would disagree on 99 percent of things. That said, he was there. Now, I watched him work and even went up and chatted with him. You know what? He was a nice guy. Just a regular dude, really. And he was quite professional I thought. I was quiet, filmed the event on his iPhone, had his microphone, went around and talked to some folks. He wasn't doing anything wrong. In fact, he seemed pretty professional. Again, I'm not endorsing Rebel Media. I'm not exactly a fan. But, this guy impressed me. 

So, back to the Antifa "side." As a stood on the corner, not far from the leader of Antifa, I watched as a girl who seemed to be friends with the Antifa leader go over to the Rebel guy and proceed to harass him. Really, from the moment I got to the Antifa "side" all I could hear from them was talk about the fact there was a Rebel reporter across the street and I could hear them tell some people not to talk to the guy. Fine, they don't like Rebel Media either. That would be pretty much a given seeing as there is a WIDE divide between ideologies between the Antifa group and Rebel Media. At least on some issues. 

But the Rebel Media guy was on the opposite corner, by himself, filming, not bugging anyone, and one of the girls walked across the street, had a bluetooth speaker and proceeded to film him (I believe) and play crappy music loudly on her bluetooth device to drown him out so that he couldn't say anything into his own device. She was harassing him. She was following him around blasting this speaker and trying to prevent him from going about his business. This made me angry. Here the Rebel guy is showing professionalism and restraint, even though I most likely don't agree with his views. Meanwhile, the Antifa girl was harassing and provoking. Huh? Why? I get it that she disagrees with the dude, but, seriously? This annoyed me. 

Then, as the Rebel Media guy began to cross the street to come over closer to the venue, the lead Antifa dude decides to call out an ultimatum. This part really angered me. Now, I can't recall what his exact words were but it was something to the effect of "Don't cross that street, don't come over here." And it was clear that he was implying that there would be consequences if he did do that. And that's when I got very angry. You can't say, "I'm an antifascist!" and then turn around and act like a fascist. 

Basically, he is telling someone from a media organization, no matter how distasteful they are, that they don't have the freedom to move about, that if he comes into their "territory," he will face consequences. Now, what I should always do is probably not even go to these events, because I do get worked up. And I got worked up this time, and I got angry and I told the Antifa leader off. I told him that I had a real problem with him telling someone that they can't come across the street. The Rebel Media dude might not be someone that he likes, but he still has the freedom to go where ever he wants. Now, because I was angry, the exact words said are not coming to me. But, essentially, he told me that the Rebel Media guy was going to come over to provoke violence. What? The Rebel Media guy, who had been professional and calm throughout this event was the one who would be provoking violence? Huh? I don't think so. Besides, he wasn't the one trying to restrict anyone in any way. He was open to talking to anyone it seemed. So, this further angered me. Antifa guy said shouldn't come over because no one would talk to him anyway. Okay, yeah, that's fair. No one HAS to talk to him. There was no need. And a simple, "Look, dude, I don't want to talk to you," would suffice. If he did start harassing people, then one of the police officers on hand would have been able to deal with him, assuredly. But, the ONLY people I saw harassing anyone were the Antifa people. What the?? Anyway, apparently, Antifa guy runs this town. At least he acts like it. He apparently feels that he gets to decide where people can walk or stand. I don't know where this entitled view comes from? But it is sad. 

Anyway, because I'm not very good at staying calm, I attracted the attention of the police. They were quite nice though and just wanted to keep the peace. The Antifa guy said he no longer wanted to engage with me, and that was fine. So, I crossed the street and it was over. 

But I am left with a sour taste in my mouth. I have been disappointed in many things that the far left have been doing, especially in terms of shutting down speakers, using intimidation techniques in their protests or counter-protests, and their broad generalizations about people, smearing people on the right as fascists and Nazis and blah, blah, blah. It's gotten not just tiresome, but enraging. And here I was, watching in person, as these folks were engaging in these acts. And I was appalled and disappointed even more. And I am worried about the society that the far left, which includes groups like Antifa, want to create. I don't want a society where a girl is harassing a reporter by blasting him with music. I don't want to live in a society where people are told where and when they can walk based on their political leanings. I don't want a society where people are calling others Nazis on a whim. I don't want to live in a society where speakers are shut down. I want to live in a free society. And that's why I was there. To say that it is okay for a controversial speaker to speak. To say that it is okay to protest that speaker. And to say that shutting people down, preventing them from walking or preventing them from going about their peaceful business is not a way to run a civilized society. 

On a final note, I do feel a bit embarrassed. I raised my voice and got a bit into Antifa guy's face. Really, of anyone there, in the end, I kind of ended up being the rowdiest. And I feel bad about that. I am not always the best at keeping my cool, and when I believe in something strongly, I will probably speak out. Unfortunately, sometimes it comes out loudly. It did tonight. 

And, I do wish, in the end I had a ticket for the event itself. It would have been interesting to hear Linda Sarsour speak. As I said, I have a number of issues with her. But, it still would have been an interesting experience. 

Rebel Media's Keean Bexte, violently interviewing people in the street. Photo by Author

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