Volume 6       Number 288

Even the pronouncement of the name it is a matter of conjecture: it’s an-tee-fa. The origin of its name is contraction of the phrase–“anti-fascist.”  The movement goes back to Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. It was originally an action to fight the European fascists in Italy and then Germany. What’s so bad about that?

                       Nazis & Alt-right sign


It was picked up here in the United States in the 1980s, as a group called Anti-Racist Action. By 2015, the movement was pretty much dormant here, until the rise of Donald Trump and the alt-right. The Antifa now opposes and seeks to confront all signs of racism, whether neo-Nazis, neo-fascists, Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, skinheads, the alt-right and all other right-wing supremacist groups.

It’s not Antifa’s objectives that most people object to, it’s their methods. Their contention is that confrontation, even violence, is the only way to bring about change. They don’t believe in change through political action. They view themselves as willing to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence. This is what sets them apart from other leftist groups.

Currently, Antifa’s key objective is to build a movement that insulates us from president Trump’s policies. They see Donald Trump as embodying fascist authoritarianism and his administration as representing a menace. They also seek to resist anything that can lead to fascism, even at the local level.

They go directly after alt-right events and far-right speakers. Some of their actions are non-violent but outrageous, including shouting, chanting, and forming human chains to block right wing events.  These sometimes lead to violence when fascist types react. Antifa are adept at using social media, including “doxxing”–releasing personal information about their opponents online, sometimes resulting in getting alt-right proponents fired from their jobs by identifying them.

Traditional political activities are also carried out: flyer campaigns, and community organizing on behalf of anti-racist and anti-white nationalistic causes. They engage in disaster response, conduct research to monitor far-right activities, hold conferences and workshops on anti-fascist activities, and distribute literature at book fairs among other actions.

Antifa groups engage in rallies and protest marches. The most extreme carry pepper spray, knives, bricks, and chains. That can lead to violence. Sometimes they are successful in getting alt-right events cancelled or cut short by their tactics.

Antifa members at demonstrations are sometimes distinguished by their dressing in black garb. This harks back to the Cold War era of West Germany. A common symbol of Antifa combines the red flag of the 1917 Russian Revolution with that of the 19th century anarchists. In this way they identify with these groups’ militant actions, not their political aims. Sometimes they cover their heads with black masks or black helmets to avoid identification by police and their opponents. They will move together as a “black bloc” at rallies as a show of solidarity.

There is no doubt that Antifa’s willingness to use violence distinguishes them from other leftist groups. But they say they only use it as a means of self-defense. They use the historical argument that if opponents of Nazi Germany had been more forceful in their opposition to the Nazis in 1930s Germany, perhaps World War II and the Holocaust could have been averted. Also, it is pointed out that Antifa’s use of violence is not equivalent to the extreme example, of an alt-right killing of a protester in Charlottesville, VA in 2017.

There are no hard numbers of the followers of this extremist group. Some idea of its prominence is garnered from a University of Maryland consortium that studies terrorists. Their paper estimated between 2010-2016, 53 percent of terrorist attacks in the United states were carried out by religious extremists, 35 percent by right-wing extremists and only 12 percent by left wing or environmentalist extremists. Since the Antifa movement is coupled with environmentalists and since it didn’t become active until 2015, this probably misrepresents their current importance, but it is deemed to be small.

Antifa has no real leadership here in the United States and follows a decentralized organizational structure. This is termed “leadership-less resistance,” with all groups operating independently of each other, and not reporting to a central organization or single leader. This lack of control suggests that it will never achieve any political goals. But that is not their aim. What they want is to destroy or diminish the impact of the alt-right.

As a matter of fact, Antifa’s bark is bigger than their bite. It is felt by law enforcement officials that across the country the group plays a minor role in violence. Of course, president Trump is no fan, and he periodically mutters about having Antifa declared a terrorist organization. Easier said than done. Only international groups such as Al Qaeda can be labelled as terrorist. Antifa is a domestic group. In order to make a change, this would require an act of Congress.

This would trigger First Amendment challenges, and other extremist groups with similar goals such as the president’s sacred alt-right would also be up for grabs. And such a designation, because of Antifa’s decentralized organization, is unlikely to have much impact due to its unstructured nature. Seth Jones, an expert on terrorism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes about the Floyd riots, “The vast majority of looting appeared to come from local opportunists with no affiliations and no political objectives. Most were common criminals.”

President Trump, during June 2020, has become particularly vehement in his scapegoating of Antifa as part of criticism of the George Floyd protests. He paints this as a scary conspiracy, one that Antifa is behind, with demonstrations to burn the country down, with the excuse of seeking social justice. There is no proof of this, just the president’s wild accusations. In tweets, email fundraisers, and personal appearances, he blames looting on Antifa.

Burning and looting are not Antifa’s modus operandi. Antifa uses street-level force to prevent the rise of what they see as fascist movements, not for attacking capitalistic targets. This accusation goes hand-in-hand with the president’s need for a foil, so TV viewers and social media onlookers will overlook the overwhelmingly peaceful participants in protest police brutality. An FBI Washington field office report said that, “not one of the first 22 protest-related indictments nationwide indicated that Antifa played a role in looting or property destruction.”

And one must be careful of what is called Antifa communication. There are a significant number of fake accounts on social media platforms calling themselves Antifa. Twitter shut down several accounts that were being operated by a white supremacist group called Identity Europa, posing as Antifa and calling for violence in white suburban areas.

In early June, a rumor spread in the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that supposed busloads of radical leftists were traveling from Seattle or Spokane, according to local residents and social media. So 30-50 men armed with semi-automatic weapons occupied downtown streets on successive evenings and sported tactical apparel. Some of the men were wearing insignias of conservative militia groups.

You can be sure, after they waited in vain, that they rationalized it away, saying, “we scared them off.” This same kind of thing is happening in other cities around the country. It is said that “far-right and anti-government groups are eagerly helping spread misinformation about anti-fascist protesters gathering in local communities…Extremist groups find them useful for activating their supporters and sowing turmoil and division.”

Antifa has been somewhat successful in being a counter against the far-right. They view their violence as self-defense, needed because the far-right politics are inherently aggressive, and they must be ready to defend themselves and us. We should distinguish between Antifa, the actual movement, and Antifa, the thing that Trump has positioned as his enemy. Chances are you will find them wherever the far-right is up to some mischief. If you want to know what will make the Antifa go away, it’s simple. Let the alt-right go away.

“Fascism is not to be debated; it is to be destroyed!”

 —Buenaventura Durruti, Spanish political activist of the 1930s.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Please feel free to pass this essay on to others. If they wish let them e-mail me at stolzie@speakeasy.net; I will be glad to add them to the list of recipients. Also, if you have comments on this article or any others, I would love to hear from you.



Contact Stolzie