Antifa (United States)

Antifa (/ænˈtfə, ˈæntiˌfɑː/)[1] is a predominantly left-wing,[2][3][4][5] anti-fascist political activist movement in the United States[11][16] comprising autonomous activist groups that aim to achieve their political objectives through the use of direct action rather than through policy reform.[17][18][19][20] Activists engage in protest tactics such as digital activism and militancy, involving property damage, physical violence and harassment against people whom they identify as fascist, racist, or on the far-right.[25]

Individuals involved in the movement tend to hold anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist views[26] and subscribe to a range of left-wing ideologies such as anarchism, communism, Marxism, social democracy and socialism.[27][34]

Etymology

An antifa sticker, based on the logo of the German Antifa movement

The English word antifa is a loanword from German, taken as a shortened form of the word antifaschistisch ("anti-fascist") and the name of Antifaschistische Aktion which inspired the wider Antifa movement in Germany.[35][36][37][38] Oxford Dictionaries placed antifa on its shortlist for word of the year in 2017 and stated the word "emerged from relative obscurity to become an established part of the English lexicon over the course of 2017".[37] The Anti-Defamation League makes a point that the label antifa should be limited to "those who proactively seek physical confrontations with their perceived fascist adversaries" and not be misapplied to include all anti-fascist counter-protesters.[22]

Ideology

Individuals involved in the movement tend to hold anti-capitalist[20][32] and anti-government views,[20] subscribing to a range of left-wing ideologies.[33] A majority of adherents are anarchists, communists and other socialists who describe themselves as revolutionaries,[39] although some social democrats and other leftists adhere to the antifa movement.[39] The movement is pan-leftist and non-hierarchical[39] and is united by opposition to right-wing extremism and white supremacy[20][28] as well as opposition to a centralized state.[40] Antifa activists reject anti-fascist conservatives[41] as well as liberals.[28][41] The movement eschews mainstream liberal democracy[39] and electoral politics in favor of direct action.[20][28] Despite the movement's opposition to liberalism, right-wing commentators have accused antifa adherents of supporting liberalism and being aided by "liberal sympathizers".[42]

The Anti-Defamation League states that "[m]ost antifa come from the anarchist movement or from the far left, though since the 2016 presidential election, some people with more mainstream political backgrounds have also joined their ranks".[22]

Movement structure

Antifa is not a unified organization but rather a movement without a hierarchical leadership structure, comprising multiple autonomous groups and individuals.[22][39][43] The movement is loosely affiliated[20] as it has no chain of command, with antifa groups instead sharing "resources and information about far-right activity across regional and national borders through loosely knit networks and informal relationships of trust and solidarity".[44] Activists typically organize protests via social media and through websites.[45] Some activists have built peer-to-peer networks, or use encrypted-texting services like Signal.[46] Chauncey Devega of Salon described antifa as an organizing strategy, not a group of people.[47] The antifa movement has grown since the 2016 United States presidential election. As of August 2017, approximately 200 groups existed, of varying sizes and levels of activity.[48]

History

Logo of Antifaschistische Aktion, the militant anti-fascist network in 1930s Germany that inspired the antifa movement
The logo as it appears on a flag held by an antifa protester in Cologne, Germany in 2008

When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini consolidated power under his National Fascist Party in the mid-1920s, an oppositional anti-fascist movement surfaced both in Italy and countries such as the United States. Many anti-fascist leaders in the United States were anarchist, socialist and syndicalist émigrés from Italy with experience in labor organizing and militancy.[49] Ideologically, antifa in the United States sees itself as the successor to anti-Nazi activists of the 1930s. European activist groups that originally organized to oppose World War II-era fascist dictatorships re-emerged in the 1970s and 1980s to oppose white supremacy and skinheads, eventually spreading to the United States.[48] After World War II and prior to the development of the modern antifa movement, violent confrontations with fascist elements continued sporadically.[50]

Modern antifa politics can be traced to opposition to the infiltration of Britain's punk scene by white power skinheads in the 1970s and 1980s, and the emergence of neo-Nazism in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall.[40] In Germany, young leftists, including anarchists and punk fans, renewed the practice of street-level anti-fascism.[40] Columnist Peter Beinart writes that "in the late '80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action (ARA) on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than they would be with fighting fascism".[40]

Dartmouth College historian Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, credits the ARA as the precursor of modern antifa groups in the United States.[51] In the late 1980s and 1990s, ARA activists toured with popular punk rock and skinhead bands in order to prevent Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other assorted white supremacists from recruiting.[40][52][53] Their motto was "We go where they go" by which they meant that they would confront far-right activists in concerts and actively remove their materials from public places.[43] In 2002, the ARA disrupted a speech in Pennsylvania by Matthew F. Hale, the head of the white supremacist group World Church of the Creator, resulting in a fight and twenty-five arrests.[40]

One of the earliest antifa groups in the United States was Rose City Antifa which was formed in Portland, Oregon in 2007.[17] Other antifa groups in the United States have other genealogies. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group called the Baldies was formed in 1987 with the intent to fight neo-Nazi groups directly.[32]

Activities

According to historian and Rutgers University lecturer[54] Mark Bray, an expert[55] on the movement, "[t]he 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".[43] According to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University, San Bernardino, antifa activists feel the need to participate in violent actions because "they believe that elites are controlling the government and the media. So they need to make a statement head-on against the people who they regard as racist".[12]

Mark Bray wrote that the adherents "reject turning to the police or the state to halt the advance of white supremacy. Instead they advocate popular opposition to fascism as we witnessed in Charlottesville".[39] The idea of direct action is central to the antifa movement.[56] 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.[12]

A manual posted on It's Going Down, an anarchist website, warns against accepting "people who just want to fight". It furthermore notes that "physically confronting and defending against fascists is a necessary part of anti-fascist work, but is not the only or even necessarily the most important part".[57]

Rose City Antifa activists with modified anarchist red and black flag and transgender pride flag in a protest against Patriot Prayer in 2017

According to Beinart, antifa activists "try to publicly identify white supremacists and get them fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments", and they also "disrupt white-supremacist rallies, including by force".[56] A Washington Post book review reports: "Antifa tactics include 'no platforming,' i.e. denying their targets the opportunity to speak out in public; obstructing their events and defacing their propaganda; and, when antifa activists deem it necessary, deploying violence to deter them".[41] According to National Public Radio, antifa's "approach is confrontational" and "people who speak for the Antifa movement acknowledge they sometimes carry clubs and sticks".[58] CNN describes antifa as "known for causing damage to property during protests".[12] Scott Crow says that antifa adherents believe that property destruction does not "equate to violence".[12] According to the Los Angeles Times, they have engaged in "mob violence, attacking a small showing of supporters of President Trump and others they accused, sometimes inaccurately, of being white supremacists or Nazis".[59] Antifa activists used clubs and dyed liquids against the white supremacists in Charlottesville.[60] According to The Kansas City Star, "Kansas City police told antifa members to remove ammunition from their firearms at a rally Saturday in Washington Square Park". The far-right militia movement Three Percenters, who were carrying firearms at the rally in 2017, were also approached by police.[61]

Apart from the other activities, antifa activists engage in mutual aid such as disaster response in the case of Hurricane Harvey.[62][63][64] According to Natasha Lennard in The Nation, antifa groups as of January 2017 were working with interfaith groups and churches "to create a New Sanctuary Movement, continuing and expanding a 40-year-old practice of providing spaces for refugees and immigrants".[65] Antifa activists also conduct research to monitor far-right activity, hold conferences and workshops on anti-fascist activism, distribute literature at book fairs and film festivals, and advocate ways of "fostering sustainable, peaceful communities" such as working in neighborhood gardens.[66]

Antifa activists often use the black bloc tactic in which people dress all in black and cover their faces in order to thwart surveillance and create a sense of equality and solidarity among participants.[67] Antifa activists wear masks to hide their "identity from protestors on the other side (who might dox people they disagree with) or from police and cameras" and for philosophical reasons, such as the beliefs that "hierarchies are bad and that remaining anonymous helps keep one's ego in check".[68] Joseph Bernstein from BuzzFeed News says antifa activists also wear masks because "they fear retribution from the far right and the cops, whom they believe are sympathetic if not outright supportive to fascists".[69]

Notable actions

Antifa groups, along with black bloc activists, were among those who protested the 2016 election of Donald Trump.[40][65] They also participated in the February 2017 Berkeley protests against alt-right provocateur[70][71][72] speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, where they gained mainstream attention,[45] with media reporting them "throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows"[12] and causing $100,000 worth of damage.[73]

In April 2017, the Direct Action Alliance and the Oregon Students Empowered, described as "two self-described antifascist groups", threatened to disrupt the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade in Portland, Oregon after hearing that the Multnomah County Republican Party would participate. The parade organizers also received an anonymous email, reading: "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". The two groups denied having anything to do with the email. The parade was ultimately canceled by the organizers due to safety concerns.[74][75]

On June 15, 2017, some antifa groups joined protestors at Evergreen State College to oppose the far-right group Patriot Prayer's event. Patriot Prayer was supporting biology professor Bret Weinstein who became the central figure in a controversy after he criticized changes to one of the college's events. In addition to peaceful antifa activists who held up a "community love" sign, USA Today reported that one slashed the tires of far-right activist Joey Gibson and another was wrestled to the ground by Patriot Prayer activists after being seen with a knife.[76]

In August 2017, antifa counter-protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia "certainly used clubs and dyed liquids against the white supremacists".[60] Journalist Adele Stan interviewed an antifa protester at the rally who said the sticks carried by the protesters are a justifiable countermeasure to the fact that "the right has a goon squad".[77] Some antifa participants at the Charlottesville rally chanted that counter-protesters should "punch a Nazi in the mouth".[58] Antifa participants also protected Cornel West and various clergy from attack by white supremacists, with West stating he felt that antifa had "saved his life".[78][79] Antifa activists also defended the First United Methodist Church, where the Charlottesville Clergy Collective provided refreshments, music and training to the counter-protesters. According to a local rabbi, they "chased [the white supremacists] off with sticks".[78][80]

Groups that had been preparing to protest the Boston Free Speech Rally saw their plans become viral following the violence in Charlottesville. The event drew a largely peaceful crowd of 40,000 counter-protestors. In The Atlantic, McKay Coppins stated that the 33 people arrested for violent incidents were "mostly egged on by the minority of 'Antifa' agitators in the crowd".[81] President Trump described the protestors outside his August 2017 rally in Phoenix, Arizona as "antifa".[82]

Portland's police chief said that antifascist and anarchist protesters at June 2017 event in downtown parks in Portland, Oregon launched objects at police using slingshots. Protesters and the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Portland Police Department's use of crowd-control weapons, saying it was disproportionate to "the behavior of a handful of antifa protesters" in the crowd.[83]

During a Berkeley protest on August 27, 2017, an estimated one hundred antifa protesters joined a crowd of 2,000–4,000 other protesters to confront alt-right demonstrators and Trump supporters who showed up for a "Say No to Marxism" rally that had been cancelled by organizers due to security concerns.[73][84] Protestors threatened to smash the cameras of anyone who filmed them.[85] Jesse Arreguin, the mayor of Berkeley, suggested classifying the city's antifa as a gang.[86] The far-right group Patriot Prayer cancelled an event in San Francisco the same day following counter protests. Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, blamed antifa, along with By Any Means Necessary, for breaking up the event.[87]

In June 2018, a Nebraska antifa group published a list of names and photographs of 1,595 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, drawn from LinkedIn profiles.[88]

In November 2018, police investigated the antifa group Smash Racism D.C. following a protest outside the home of The Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson.[89] Activists of the group said through a bullhorn that Carlson was promoting hate and chanted "We will fight, we know where you sleep at night!" and defaced the driveway of Carlson's property by spray-painting an anarchist symbol onto it.[90] Twitter suspended the group's account for violation of Twitter rules by posting Carlson's home address. The group also posted addresses of Carlson's brother and a friend who co-founded The Daily Caller.[91][92][93][94][95][96]

In February 2019, anti-fascist activists marched in celebration through Stone Mountain, Georgia as a white supremacist, neo-confederate rally planned to be held at the adjacent Stone Mountain Park was cancelled due to infighting and fear of personal safety. White supremacist groups originally sought to attract attention by marching at the Stone Mountain, a Confederate landmark carving, during the Super Bowl weekend. The groups ignored the park's denial of permit due to "clear and present danger to the public health or safety", but this was thwarted when Facebook and Twitter terminated their organizing accounts and pages, and by one group leader's retreat due to "fears of violence from counter-protesters". In their absence, more than 100 antifa activists marched peacefully through the adjacent village, burned a Klansman effigy and chanted slogans such as "Good night, alt-right" and "Death to the Klan", before joining another civil rights rally at Piedmont Park held by the NAACP and the SPLC.[97][98][99]

Response from law enforcement and government officials

In June 2017, the antifa movement was linked to "anarchist extremism" by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.[100] This assessment was replaced with one in 2019 which states that "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".[101]

On May 30, 2020, at least a thousand protesters gathered in Downtown Pittsburgh to demonstrate against the killing of George Floyd. Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said that "anarchists" and "ANTIFA" were responsible for having "hijacked that message" and turned a peaceful protest into a violent riot.[102]

Trump administration

In August 2017, a petition was lodged with the White House petitioning system We the People calling upon President Donald Trump to formally classify "AntiFa" as terrorist. The White House responded in 2018 that federal law does not have a mechanism for formally designating domestic terrorist organizations.[103][104][105] The writer of the petition later stated he had created it to "bring our broken right side together" and to "prop up antifa as a punching bag".[106]

In September 2017, Politico obtained confidential documents and interviews indicating that in April 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believed that "anarchist extremists" were the primary instigators of violence at public rallies against a range of targets. Politico interviewed unidentified law enforcement officials who noted a rise in activity since the beginning of the Trump administration, particularly a rise in recruitment (and on the part of the far-right as well) since the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally. One internal assessment acknowledged an inability to penetrate the groups' "diffuse and decentralized organizational structure". By 2017, the FBI and the DHS reported that they were monitoring suspicious antifa activity in relation to terrorism.[107]

During the Trump administration, the term antifa became "a conservative catch-all" term as Trump, administration officials, Trump base supporters and right-wing commentators applied the label to all sorts of left-leaning or liberal protest actions.[108] Conservative writers such as L. Brent Bozell III labeled Black Lives Matter as "antifa".[108] Politico reported that "the term [antifa] is a potent one for conservatives" because "[i]t's the violent distillation of everything they fear could come to pass in an all-out culture war. And it's a quick way to brand part of the opposition".[108] Alexander Reid Ross, who teaches at Portland State University, argued that the popularization of the term antifa was a reaction to the popularization of the term alt-right, "to the point where [the word antifa] simply describes people who are anti-fascist or people who are against racism and are willing to protest against it".[108]

Attorney General William Barr blamed "anarchic and far left extremist groups using Antifa-like tactics" for violence during the nationwide George Floyd protests in May and June 2020 while President Trump tweeted that "ANTIFA and the Radical Left" were responsible.[109] National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said the violence was "being driven by antifa"[110] and Trump warned antifa and other "organizers of this terror to be on notice that you will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail".[111] On May 31, Barr issued a statement describing the actions of "Antifa and other similar groups" as "domestic terrorism"[112] and Trump tweeted that "[t]he United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization".[113][114][115] Since under existing law the federal government may designate only foreign organizations as terrorist, the president has no authority to officially declare antifa a terrorist group.[116] Moreover, antifa is a loosely associated movement rather than a specific organization.[116] Legal experts believe designating antifa as a terrorist group would be unconstitutional, raising First Amendment and due process issues.[116][117] On June 2, The Nation published an internal situation report from the FBI's Washington Field Office stating it had "no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence" in the violent May 31 D.C.-area protests.[118] On June 4, Attorney General Barr said: "We have evidence that antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity".[119]

Reactions of others

Antifa actions have received criticism and praise from lawmakers and political commentators.[120][121]

Political commentators and members of Congress

Nancy Pelosi, then House Minority Leader for the Democratic Party, condemned the violence of antifa activists in Berkeley on August 29, 2017.[122][123]

Talk show host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham suggested labeling antifa as a terrorist organization.[124] In July 2019, Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Ted Cruz introduced a nonbinding resolution that would designate antifa a domestic terrorist organization.[125]

In June 2020, Republican Senator Tom Cotton advocated using military force to quell nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, calling for the 101st Airborne Division to be deployed to combat what he called "Antifa terrorists".[126]

Civil rights organizations

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), "most established civil rights organizations criticize antifa tactics as dangerous and counterproductive".[22] The ADL criticized antifa for its use of "unacceptable tactics" such as violence, and warned that such tactics provided a powerful propaganda and recruitment tool to right-wing extremists.[22] However, the ADL stated that "it is important to reject attempts to claim equivalence between the antifa and the white supremacist groups they oppose", noting that right-wing extremist movements are much more violent and have been responsible for hundreds of murders in the United States while "there have not been any known antifa-related murders".[22]

Academics and scholars

Dartmouth historian Mark Bray, who has studied the antifa movement, has stated: "Given 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".[127] Alexander Reid Ross, a lecturer in geography and an author on the contemporary right, has argued that antifa groups represented "one of the best models for channeling the popular reflexes and spontaneous movements towards confronting fascism in organized and focused ways".[128] Eleanor Penny, an author on fascism and the far-right, argues against Chomsky that "physical resistance has time and again protected local populations from racist violence, and prevented a gathering caucus of fascists from making further inroads into mainstream politics".[129] Cornel West, who attended a counter-protest to the Unite the Right rally, said in an interview that "we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists", describing a situation where a group of 20 counter-protesters were surrounded by marchers whom he described as "neofascists".[130]

Noam Chomsky described them as "a major gift to the right".[129] Other "anti-anti-fascists" on the left have argued that antifa attack a symptom of liberal democracy rather than combating structural racism itself and in doing so distance themselves from revolutionary politics.[131] Historian and Dissent magazine editor Michael Kazin wrote: "Non-leftists often see the left as a disruptive, lawless force. Violence tends to confirm that view".[132] The historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat argued that "[t]hrowing a milkshake is not equivalent to killing someone, but because the people in power are allied with the right, any provocation, any dissent against right-wing violence, backfires", with the effect that "[m]ilitancy on the left" can "become a justification for those in power and allies on the right to crack down" on the left.[17]

Hoaxes

There have been multiple efforts to discredit antifa groups via hoaxes on social media, many of them false flag attacks originating from alt-right and 4chan protagonists posing as antifa backers on Twitter.[133][134][135] Some of these hoaxes have been picked up and reported as fact by right-leaning media.[135][136][137]

These include an August 2017 "#PunchWhiteWomen" photo hoax campaign spread by fake antifa Twitter accounts.[138][139] In one such instance, Bellingcat researcher Eliot Higgins discovered an image of British actress Anna Friel portraying a battered woman in a 2007 Women's Aid anti-domestic violence campaign that had been re-purposed using fake antifa Twitter accounts organized by way of 4chan. The image is captioned "53% of white women voted for Trump, 53% of white women should look like this" and includes an antifa flag. Another image featuring an injured woman is captioned "She chose to be a Nazi. Choices have consequences" and includes the hashtag #PunchANazi. Higgins remarked to the BBC that "[t]his was a transparent and quite pathetic attempt, but I wouldn't be surprised if white nationalist groups try to mount more sophisticated attacks in the future".[133] A similar fake image circulated on social media after the Unite the Right rally in 2017. The doctored image, actually from a 2009 riot in Athens, was altered to make it look like someone wearing an antifa symbol attacking a policeman with a flag.[140] After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, similar hoaxes falsely claimed that the shooter was an antifa "member"; another such hoax involved a fake antifa Twitter account praising the shooting.[141][142] Another high-profile fake antifa account was banned from Twitter after it posted with a geotag originating in Russia.[134] Such fake antifa accounts have been repeatedly reported on as real by right-leaning media outlets.[135][137]

On May 31, 2020, @ANTIFA_US, a newly created Twitter account, attempted to incite violence relating to the nationwide George Floyd protests against police brutality and racism. The next day, after determining that it was linked to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, Twitter suspended the fake account.[143] An FBI's Washington Field Office report stated that members of a far-right group on social media had "called for far-right provocateurs to attack federal agents, use automatic weapons against protesters" during the D.C.-area protests over Floyd's murder on May 31, 2020.[118] A study by Zignal Labs found that unsubstantiated claims of antifa involvement were one of three dominant themes in misinformation and conspiracy theories around the protests, alongside claims that Floyd's death had been faked and claims of involvement by George Soros.[144]

Some of the opposition to antifa activism has also been artificial in nature. Nafeesa Syeed of Bloomberg reported that "[t]he most-tweeted link in the Russian-linked network followed by the researchers was a petition to declare Antifa a terrorist group".[145]

See also

References

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