Everyone who has been following the current state of affairs in the US, has become familiar with ANTIFA. It has become a synonym for anti-fascist protests, which is exactly what it stands for. It consists of numerous loosely affiliated groups and also individuals, who are joined together by a common goal, which is to achieve their objectives through the use of both violent and non-violent action, rather than going through the usual motions, which is commonly known as policy reform.
Despite the fact that they are a decentralized movement, their action covers numerous areas of political activism. They engage in protest tactics, in an effort to fight fascism and racism, in the form of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other forms of far-right extremists. They don’t refrain from harassment and physical violence, including property damage, too. However, it’s important to note that most of their actions are non-violent, appearing in the form of poster and flyer campaigns, peaceful protests, public speeches and community organizing, in an effort to raise the public awareness regarding these issues. Unfortunately, sometimes the peaceful way doesn’t obtain the necessary results, and more desperate measures are employed.
The individuals who uphold these beliefs follow radical leftists views, which include but aren’t limited to anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-state views. Their ideologies are those of anarchism, communism, social democracy, Marxism and socialism. Their name and their logo is taken from the German Antifa movement, and it represents two flags: anarchism and communism, the colors black and red.
As it is common with any radical movement, some will condone their actions, other will not. Thus, Antifa is no exception to this rule. They are mostly criticized for their general willingness to resort to violence and violent acts in order to obtain their goals. Many believe this to be almost counterproductive, or that it will simply eventually backfire, due to counter-attacks and blame for the possible results. Those who disagree with their views have even gone so far as to refer to them as a domestic terrorist organization.
However, Antifa continues to fight for what they believe is right, and so far, nothing is able to stand in their way, as several reports and studies have deemed that it is not actually Antifa that is the biggest risk in the US. It is in fact, the far-right extremism and white supremacy.
The name Antifa first appeared in public in 1932, and it was a shorter form of Antifaschistische Aktion, which was a group that lasted only one short year. However, it served as an inspiration for the subsequent Antifa movement in Germany, and that was where it all started from.
The word Antifa existed before that as well. There are records of it in 1930, and the long form of the word, Antifaschistisch, was actually borrowed from Italian language and their version of the word, which was anti-Fascisti. Both versions of course mean the same: anti-fascist.
In the mid-1920s, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini consolidated power under his National Fascist party. The result was the emergence of an opposing, anti-fascist movement. This notion wasn’t confined solely to Europe. Such movements appeared in the US as well. This was simply because later on, many anti-fascist leaders which rose to prominence in the US were immigrants from Italy or other European countries. The modern Antifa of the US see themselves as the successors of the anti-Nazi activists from the 1930s. These European groups which fought the World War II fascist dictatorship surfaced again in the 70s and the 80sfor the same reason: white supremacy had started to become a problem once more, spreading like wildfire throughout the States. They also appeared on the Britain’s punk scene at the same time, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is exactly where young leftists rose their fists high into the air, renewing this ideology on the streets of Germany. This is how in the late 80s, in the USA, left-wing punks set up the so called Anti-Racist Action (ARA), more concerned with racism in the US than fascism. Bray claims again that this movement was the precursor of modern Antifa groups in the US.
What ARA did was simple. They toured with popular rock and skinhead bands, so they could prevent them from recruiting new force. Their motto was clear: we go where they go. What they meant by this was that they would have no problem confronting these people in concerts and remove any of their recruiting material from any public place.
Former Antifa organizer Scott Crow told an interviewer:
The idea in Antifa is that we go where they (right-wingers) go. That hate speech is not free speech. That if you are endangering people with what you say and the actions that are behind them, then you do not have the right to do that. And so we go to cause conflict, to shut them down where they are, because we don’t believe that Nazis or fascists of any stripe should have a mouthpiece.
In the US, this word became shortlisted for the word of the year 2017 by Oxford dictionaries, after the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, which took place in August 2017. This was where the aggressive confrontation of Antifa had started and it only continued through the many subsequent events held by white supremacists and other right-wing extremists. This was why the word Antifa had become an established part of the English lexicon over the course of 2017.
As it was mentioned in the introduction, their ideology subscribes to numerous left-wing ideologies, including but not limited to anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and anti-state views. They refer to themselves as communists, anarchists, socialists, stretching all the way into revolutionaries.
Mark Bray, a historian who is considered to be an expert on the topic claims that “a vast majority of anti-fascist organizing is nonviolent. But their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists.” There is no hierarchy within the movement. They are simply united in their goal, which is the opposition to right-wing extremism and white supremacy. At the same time, they refuse to acknowledge both conservative and liberal Antifascism, having no respect for mainstream politics, and focusing on direct action rather than electoral politics.
As stated, there exists no hierarchy within the movement. Rather, there are countless autonomous groups and individuals. There is no chain of command. Instead of reporting to one big boss, these small individual Antifa groups collaborate between themselves, sharing resources and information through close knit networks and other types of informal relationships, which need to have trust. According to Mark Bray, “members hide their political activities from law enforcement and the far right” and “concerns about infiltration and high expectations of commitment keep the sizes of groups rather small.” As of August 2017, it is estimated that there are roughly 200 groups in existence, whose levels of activity vary.
Many scholars believe that Antifa activists don’t simply resort to violence because they are inherently violent as a group. On the contrary, their rebellion starts off peacefully, but there is always that need to take part in violent actions, because a big statement needs to be made, due to the fact that their enemies are controlling both the government and the media. This is what direct action is all about. They want their voices to be heard, and the will get their message across, one way or another.
However, even while they are infamous for violent action, they do not promote it. They warn volunteers that they won’t be accepted if they are just looking to fight someone. That would be an empty fight, simply a desire to do harm to another human being, without any underlying message or ideology underneath. That isn’t what Antifa is about. Physically confronting their enemies is crucial to their success, and at the same time, it is a necessary part of their fight. However, it is not the most important part. There are other means through which they can achieve their goals, and they will all be mentioned in this chapter.
What Antifa activists are trying to do at the same time, is work on publicly identifying white supremacists. They refer to this as doxing. Doxing is finding out everything they can about someone who is a white supremacist and a racist, such as their complete identity, their address, their work place, and anything else they can get their hands on. Then, it’s a simple matter of using this info to their advantage. They openly call them out, which in turn leads to these people being harassed throughout their daily lives. It’s not infrequent that they end up losing their jobs or getting evicted from their apartments. This is Antifa’s way of disrupting their enemies’ lives, so that they can eventually do even more damage.
Another tactic the Antifa employs is the disruption of white-supremacist rallies, even if that means using force. What they are trying to do here is provide their enemies with no platforming. In other words, they want to keep the white supremacists silent, without an opportunity to speak out in public and thus, recruit more people. Antifa continue to obstruct and prevent their events, destroying the white supremacist propaganda, and even using physical violence to prevent the actual event from taking place.
Many continue to criticize their openly violent approach. The National Public Radio keeps doing this, and even CNN describes Antifa as an organization that brings forth violence wherever it goes. Antifa members are known to cause damage to property, they are known for mob violence, using clubs and dyed liquids against their enemies. They are even known for carrying weapons on them, and even the police required of them to remove their ammunition at a September 2017 rally in Kansas City.
Another tactic that Antifa uses is the black bloc. It refers to people dressing all in black and hiding their faces in hoods or any other way they can think of, so that they would evade surveillance. This is also done so that there would be equality among all those who take part in it. They believe that a hierarchy serves no purpose, and remaining anonymous allows them to remain fully grounded and focused on the task at hand, instead of focusing on getting recognized for something. However, they hide their faces also because of police and cameras, and because they know that the retribution would be severe. They believe that the police are on the side of the fascists, and they would never stand together with the Antifa ideology.
But, not all Antifa related activities are violent. On the contrary, Antifa activists are famous for mutual aid such as disaster response. One of the most notable examples was their involvement in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. In addition to this, Antifa groups are known for their collaboration with churches and other faith-related groups in an effort to create spaces for refugees and immigrants in the United State. They have also taken it upon themselves to monitor right-wing activity and all those involved. They continually organize conferences and workshops, during which they give speeches and seminars on anti-fascism, they also freely distribute literature and they are staunch advocates of peaceful communities.
Even though Antifa has been in existence for many years, it has only surfaced more actively in the United States from 2016 and especially, 2017, which was wrought with events where Antifa activists were present and accounted for.
The 2016 election of Donald Trump didn’t go unnoticed by Antifa. In fact, they were among the first who protested his election, with numerous black bloc activists. They also raised their voices in February 2017, during the infamous Berkeley protests, and they gained mainstream attention here. Unfortunately, it was for the use of violence, because the media reported them throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows. Overall, it is estimated that the damage they’d caused amounted to a whopping $100,000.
In April 2017, the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade was supposed to take place in Portland, Oregon. As everyone would later come to find out, the Multnomah County Republican Party was to participate in this important event, and naturally, that didn’t sit well with Antifa, and its representatives in the area. Tow anti-fascist groups, who refer to themselves as the Direct Action Alliance and the Oregon Students Empowered made sure that this parade wouldn’t take place. Interestingly, they did it in the most peaceful way, even though they publicly made their threats regarding this parade. What happened was that there was a mysterious email, sent to the organizers of the parade. It read:
You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads, so please consider your decision wisely.
As it was to be expected, the parade was cancelled. The reasons stated as the explanation for this were simply safety concerns, while the two groups denied and continue to deny any involvement in sending that email.
Following these events, in August 2017, the Antifa protesters used clubs and dyed liquids in Charlottesville, Virginia. But, that is only one end of the story, or as they say, one side of the coin. The other side was that the right had a good squad, so of course Antifa needed something as a countermeasure. Antifa activists showed their kindness once again when they protected Cornel West and other clergy from attack by white supremacists, and West later went on to report that he believed they indeed saved his life. This is also how they defended the First United Methodist Church.
Subsequently, the Boston Free Speech Rally also took place on August 2017, and the protest was well on the way, following the violence in Charlottesville. Despite what everyone expected, there were about 40,000 counter-protesters, and it was mostly a peaceful crowd which didn’t resort to violence. Still, there are always exceptions to the general rule, and several people did end up getting arrested. Records state that 33 people were under arrest, but they were mostly pushed over the edge by a few Antifa agitators in the crowd.
Following the Boston Free Speech Rally, the Berkley protests took place on August 27, 2017. An approximation of 2,000 to 4,000 people was stated to have been in attendance for the Rally Against Hate protests against a far-right Say No to Marxism rally which was scheduled for Martin Luther King Civic Center Park in Berkeley. The Say No to Marxism rally ended up being cancelled, and the reasons stated were safety concerns. Only a very small number of anti-Marxist protesters were in attendance. A mostly peaceful protest followed the rally, and it was held the day before in nearby San Francisco. The Berkeley protest rounded up people from different labor unions, churches and other liberal activist groups, but also Antifa activists. In addition to them, there were about 500 police officers in attendance, who banned weapons, and were forced to set up a barricade of dump trucks, in order to be able to shelter the crowd from oncoming vehicles. The whole protest started off peacefully, but then, about 100 masked anti-fascists dressed all in black appeared. They had shields and sticks, they broke the police wall and bypassed all security checks. The end results was that the Berkeley police chief ordered his police officers to leave the park. His reasoning was that remaining there and confronting the Antifa activists would only lead to more violence and bloodshed. The masked activists started pepper-spraying the people who attended the rally, they were chasing them away and in some cases, also resorted to physical violence. When they saw that the media was recording them, they threatened to break the cameras of any journalist who dared to record the events. Nine people were injured, with two of them needing hospital treatment. Eventually, 13 people were arrested. The charges were numerous, including but not limited to assault with a deadly weapon and felony assault.
In June 2018, a list of names and their adjoining photographs started circulating. The names belonged to 1,595 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Their info was taken from their online LinkedIn profiles, and the people responsible for publicly revealing them are all part of a Nebraska Antifa group.
In November 2018, a protest took place outside the home of Tucker Carlson, The Daily Called founder. He had been known to public as an avid supporter of President Trump and his policies, and this was the reason why he was targeted. The police investigated Smash Racism D.C., an Antifa group for this, who had claimed earlier that Carlson was responsible for hate speeches. They even went so far as to chant under his window the following words: We will fight, we know where you sleep at night! They spray painted an anarchist symbol on his driveway. They even went so far as to boast about it on Twitter, and they posted Carlson’s home address, along with the home address of his brother and friend, who co-founded The Daily Caller with him, an act which granted them a suspension of their Twitter account, for violating Twitter rules.
Then, in February 2019, a white-supremacist, neo-Confederate rally was being planned out. They wanted to attract attention by marching at the Stone Mountain during Super Bowl weekend. The location of the rally was Stone Mountain Park. Anti-fascist activists turned to a march in protest of this rally, which was eventually cancelled for fear of personal safety. But, the organizers paid no heed to this denial of permit, and they continued their organization of the rally, until Facebook and Twitter terminated the accounts and pages which served as information and guides regarding the rally. The reason for this was stated as fear of violence from counter protesters. Still, more than a hundred Antifa activists went ahead with their own plan, and they simply marched peacefully through a nearby village. They made sure to chant slogans, such as Good night, alt-right, and Death to the Klan. They also burned a Klansman effigy, in protest.
Public reactions to Antifa
There has been numerous research done regarding the Antifa movement, and one of the most prominent historians who has covered the topic extensively is Mark Bray with his Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, published in 2017, covering the movements resurgence in the 1920s and 1930s, up to the modern times. Bray claims that militant anti-fascism is a rational and appropriate political tradition, that seeks to equip a new generation of anti-fascists with necessary knowledge of history which is crucial to the modern struggle. His book was called revolutionary, his writing methodical and informative, while his arguments were seen as incisive and cohesive.
Bray has stated that “[g]iven the historical and current threat that white supremacist and fascist groups pose, it’s clear to me that organized, collective self-defense is not only a legitimate response, but lamentably an all-too-necessary response to this threat on too many occasions.”
Alexander Reid Ross, an author on contemporary right and a lecturer in geography, claimed that Antifa activists were “one of the best models for channeling the popular reflexes and spontaneous movements towards confronting fascism in organized and focused ways.”
Seeing that Antifa’s ways are often violent, it is no wonder then that law enforcement and other government officials got involved. The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness stated in June 2017 that Antifa activists were closely related to anarchist extremists. Then, in 2019 they stated the following: “Antifa is a movement that focuses on issues involving racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, as well as other perceived injustices. The majority of Antifa members do not promote or endorse violence; however, the movement consists of anarchist extremists and other individuals who seek to carry out acts of violence in order to forward their respective agendas.”
The Politico, an American political journalism company from Arlington County, Virginia was able to obtain confidential documents and interviews, back in September 2017. The leaked information stated that the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation considered anarchist extremists the primary instigators of violence at public rallies in 2016. As of July 2020, the FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency “considers Antifa more of an ideology than an organization.” He also went to say that Antifa are anarchists who purposefully employ violent ways in achieving their agendas. When he stated this, and then repeated it that same year, his statement immediately contradicted what President Trump’s administration considered Antifa to be. Wray then went to correct himself, stating that the FBI does consider Antifa a serious concern, and in light of this, the bureau has taken up numerous actions and investigations regarding this issue. Wray stated that “racially motivated violent extremists, such as white supremacists, have been responsible for the most lethal attacks in the U.S. in recent years”, although “this year the most lethal violence has come from anti-government activists, such as anarchists and militia-types.
The August DHS report didn’t contain any mention of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization, and instead, it focused on white supremacy as the country’s main concern, even more dangerous and worrisome than foreign terrorist groups.
When it comes to politicians, the views here are separated as well. Immediately after the events in Berkeley in August 2017, Nancy Pelosi, the then House Minority Leader for the Democratic Party, stated she didn’t agree with the Antifa violence.
In July 2019, republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Ted Cruz introduced what is known as a nonbinding resolution, according to which Antifa would be considered a terrorist organization.
In June 2020, Republican Senator Tom Cotton spoke in favor of using military force to drown out protests against police brutality and racism, in an effort to fight what he referred to as Antifa terrorists. He even went so far as to accuse Antifa activists of organizing acts of terror, and called for law enforcement to actively target Antifa and other similar terrorist groups.
Finally, in September 2020, Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden expressed his preference for peaceful protests, thus also condemning Antifa’s actions which turned violent.
Antifa and Trump administration
When the whole affair started to heat up in 2017, a petition was immediately lodged with the White House petitioning system We the People. President Trump was called into action, to formally categorize Antifa as terrorist. It took them a whole year to come up with a proper response to this, which was that federal law does not have a mechanism that allows for the designation of domestic terrorist organizations.
As time went by, the Trump administration came to view Antifa as a conservative term which encompassed all violent acts done in protests. Even Black Lives Matter was labeled as Antifa, by conservative writers such as L. Brent Bozell III.
The Politico reported in one of their editions that he conservatives find it liberating to classify Antifa as everything they fear. It’s a simple question of branding the opposition with one single word.
During the nationwide protests which took place after the killing of George Floyd, in May and June 2020, the subsequent violence was blamed on anarchic and far left extremist groups resorting to Antifa-like tactics. Attorney General William Barr even went so far as to claim that the actions of Antifa and other similar groups can be classified as domestic terrorism.
Trump was very vocal on Twitter about his views on Antifa, blaming them for the violence that took place, and he kept pledging that the federal government would eventually categorize Antifa officially as a terrorist organization. Despite what he may have claimed, he actually doesn’t have the authority for making such a decision, due to the fact that under existing law, the federal government is allowed to designate only foreign organizations as terrorist. Also, according to the FBI, Antifa is more of a movement than a specific organization. Many believe that classifying Antifa as a terrorist organization would be against the constitution, questioning the First Amendment and other issues in the process.
To quote Mark Bray, Antifa can’t really be classified as a terrorist organization due to the fact that “[t]he groups are loosely organized, and they aren’t large enough to cause everything Trump blames them for.” In addition, Bray argued that the political right has attempted to “blame everything on Antifa” during the George Floyd protests and that in assuming Antifa to be “predominantly white”, it “evince[s] a kind of racism that assumes that black people couldn’t organize on this deep and wide of a scale.”
However, September 25 brought on new decisions. Namely, the Trump administration released a plan under which Antifa as well as the Ku Klux Klan would be classified as terrorist organizations and prosecuted as such.
It seems that everyone has their own personal views on how effective Antifa is, and more importantly, if all that violence is actually justified. The media and the news have been following these responses, however, no singular conclusion has been reached as of yet.
As it is usually the case, conspiracy theories tend to surface every time there is a somewhat inaccurate portrayal of the real state of affairs. So, Antifa is no exception to this rule. There are numerous conspiracy theories out there which try to portray Antifa as an organization that actually has a leader (or maybe more of them) and that they have secret sources of funding. These theories have been spread by different media organizations, politicians, right wing activists, and even Trump administration officials and the 2020 Trump campaign.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, publicly stated that Antifa as well as Black Lives Matter, together with unknown communist individuals were working together to undermine the United States system of courts. He even went so far as to accuse George Soros of funding them.
When wildfires started to rage on the West coast in September 2020, there were online rumors that Antifa was setting these fires on purpose, all so they could loot the property that was being evacuated. The local law enforcement officials dismissed these allegations as untrue.
What Antifa continued to stand for is perfectly summarized in the following statement of Scott Crow, a formed Antifa organizer:
“There is a place for violence. Is that the world that we want to live in? No. Is it the world we want to inhabit? No. Is it the world we want to create? No. But will we push back? Yes.”
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