Last weekend, ‘thugs for hire’ terrorized the town of Yuen Long, Hong Kong, beating up anti-extradition, pro-freedom, pro-democracy protesters.
Two days ago, University of Toronto professor, Lynette H. Ong in an article for the Washington Post, noted that there were reports the “thugs for hire” were connected to organized crime, however Ong said that there was evidence to suggest ‘that the attacks were orchestrated by pro-Beijing forces, with one pro-Beijing lawmaker reportedly congratulating the attackers.’[i]
Whether from a plausible deniability angle or open allegiance, authoritarian governments are historically known for outsourcing organized 3rd party mobs to do their bidding. The most famous being the Sturmabteilung (Nazi Storm Detachment/Troopers). According to Ong, it’s likely that “thugs for hire” offers the Communist regime an ‘expedient strategy to intimidate pro-democracy protesters. This allows authorities to skirt responsibility for any violence that may take place.’ Ong continued, stating, ‘short of rolling in tanks, outsourced violence arguably may be the most effective means to ward of protesters.’[ii]
Lily Kuo in the Guardian gave some geographical context, writing that Yeon long is ‘one of the more remote areas’ where pro-Democracy protesters ‘hadn’t planned to demonstrate’ against the extradition bill. This changed when ‘commuters returning from dinner, going to meet friends or some coming back from the pro-democracy rally in Central Hong Kong, were met by dozens of masked men in white T-shirts, armed with rattan rods (martial arts sticks) and other weapons’.[iii]
In the shadow of China’s incarceration of Church leaders, destruction of church buildings, and general persecution of Christians, including the Chinese Government’s reported reeducation camps where up to ‘one million Uighur Muslims’ have been detained, the concerns of pro-freedom, pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong appear justified.
According to Kuo, the change in law would ‘allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China [iv]; supporters say the amendments are key to ensuring the city doesn’t become a criminal refuge, but critics worry Beijing will use the law to extradite political opponents and others to China, where their legal protections cannot be guaranteed.’
The violence wasn’t just isolated to Hong Kong. On the 25th, pro-Beijing Chinese students clashed with pro-Hong Kong Chinese students during a protest on Brisbane’s, University of Queensland campus. The ABC described the clash as ‘four-hour’ standoff between the two groups.
Alex Linder of Shanghaiist said that the standoff and subsequent ‘pushing and shoving’ began when pro-Beijing Chinese students ‘arrived blasting out China’s national anthem, chanting slogans, and later grabbing [anti-Communist] protesters signs and ripping them’.[v]
If Ong is right and the white shirts are “thugs hired” by the Communist regime it’s an escalation which reinforces the concerns of pro-democracy protesters. It’s doubtful that this well-worn authoritarian tactic of political intimidation will have the desired effect.
The events in Hong Kong on the weekend are also noteworthy for their similarity to Antifa. Semi-uniformed thugs wearing masks, rampaging against anyone wearing a MAGA hat, all reflect Antifa’s modus operandi – the stand out example being Antifa’s brutal assault on journalist, Andy Ngo, back in June. An event Quillette Magazine called ‘a wakeup call for authorities and journalists alike’, stating:
We are ‘hoping that our fellow journalists might awaken from the delusion that Antifa is a well-intentioned band of anti-fascists with a few bad apples sullying the cause. As Quillette reported last month, a simple statistical study serves to show that the journalists who cover Antifa most often and most energetically have turned their outlets into pro-Antifa propaganda organs. Indeed, this bias is so entrenched that some left-wing media responded to our report not with introspection, but with paranoid and maudlin claims that Quillette and its authors must be secretly in league with Antifa’s fascist enemies.’
If Antifa are true anti-fascists, where are they’re protests in solidarity with pro-Democracy Chinese demonstrators? Where is Antifa’s stand against real suffering under oppressive authoritarianism in countries such as Communist China, Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea?
As important as Ong’s tentative conclusions about pro-Beijing “white shirts” are, her conclusions also lead us to question Antifa’s origins, and backing. Are Antifa also “thugs for hire”? If so, who’s fitting the bill?
[i] Ong, L.H, 2019. In Hong Kong, are ‘thugs for hire’ behind the attacks on protesters? Here’s what we know about these groups, Washington Post. Sourced 26th July, 2019
[ii] ibid, 2019
[iii] Kuo, L. 2019. ‘All Hong Kongers are scared’: protests to widen as rural residents fight back, The Guardian, Sourced 26th July 2019
[iv] Kuo, L. & Yu, V. 2019 ‘What are the Hong Kong protests about?’ The Guardian, Sourced 26th July, 2019
[v] Linder, A. 2019. ‘Chinese students interrupt pro-Hong Kong rally at Australian university, chaos ensues’. Shanghaiist, Sourced 26th July, 2019.