Who Are the ‘Antifa’?

Photography by Alex Milan Tracy/AP from the New Yorker magazine

And why are some people saying such bad things about them?

We Go Where They Go

Source: Mother Jones

Here, in a poetic nutshell, is Antifa:

You fight them by writing letters
and making phone calls so you
don’t have to fight them with fists.
You fight them with fists so you
don’t have to fight them with
knives. You fight them with knives
so you don’t have to fight them
with guns. You fight them with
guns so you don’t have to fight
them with tanks.

The “them’ in the above missive are white supremacists, neo-Nazis, skinheads, “alt-right” members…you know: fascists. Antifa exists to fight fascists; “we go where they go.” They’ve been doing it for a long time. The emergence of Donald Trump and his perceived empathy to fascist groups and individuals has brought Antifa front and center into the American psyche.

There are Antifa (pronounced AN-tee-fah)groups around the world, credited with fighting Mussolini’s Blackshirts, exchanging fire with Hitler’s Brownshirts and resisting Francisco Franco’s nationalist Army.  Antifa was present in Europe in the 1980s and ’90s, battling the fledgling white power skinhead movement.

It is not an interconnected organization, with leaders and headquarters (think Alcoholics Anonymous). There are “chapters” in most American cities. It’s impossible to get a precise count of its membership (again, like AA), partially because numerous  anti-fascist groups don’t necessarily call themselves Antifa. According to New York City Antifa, “new groups are popping up everywhere.”

Antifa members are definitely left of center, but are not socialist per se: A cursory look at its website, “It’s Going Down,” reveals its prevailing ideology is Anarchist in its varying forms. This is a very important distinction when it comes to relying on government to enforce civility and fair play. Anarchists have no use for government.

White supremacists rally in Charlottesville. Photo by Karla Cote/Flickr.


The woman is Heather Heyer, murdered by white supremacists in Charlottesville.

The Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” clash in Charlottesville, VA, is the latest example of Antifa’s mission and tactics. White supremacists of all stripes gathered in this Virginia college town of 46,000 to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. They lit torches and recited the old Nazi meme, “Blood and Soil.”

Counter-demonstrators gathered and protested. By early afternoon, a speeding car rammed into a group of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. According to Mother Jones, Antifa formed a security perimeter around the anti-fascist demonstrators.

One protester, the distinguished professor and historian Cornel West, remarked, “If it hadn’t been for the anti-fascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.”

(When one “Unite the Right” racist complained, ‘Oh, we’re being attacked,’ One protester told the History News Network, “What did they expect? A brass band and covered dishes”?)

Critics Have Their Say

But Antifa was present not only to protect the counter-demonstrators. According to historian Mark Bray, Antifa activists believe fascists forfeit their right to speak and assemble the minute they call for the persecution of religious or minority groups. In other words, Antifa will not rule out exchanging shoves and fists when fascists aggressively pursue their hateful agenda.

This makes Antifa a convenient punching bag for “alt-right” sympathizers. The White House, through its Department of Homeland Security, is working to brand Antifa “domestic terrorists.” Right wing websites and even the New York Post gleefully spread misinformation about Antifa’s alleged brutality. (Antifas aren’t packing like their barely literate adversaries, like “the Oath Keepers,” who are armed to the teeth.)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions brilliantly remarked that Antifa and the KKK were the same because they both wore masks.

After Charlottesville, President Trump, after some false starts, blamed “both sides” for the tragedy. Trump left no doubt: The “false equivalency” argument is uttered by those who are cheering for the bad guys.

Anti-fascists have been around for a long time. They’ve taken a higher profile in the year of Trump. Photo: Getty Images.

By Any Means Necessary

The explosive issue of “free speech” is hardly settled law in this country. Slurs against minorities, Jews, Muslims, gays and recent immigrants are broadly protected by the First Amendment, unless they rise to the level of threat, intimidation or harassment. How is the white supremacist taunt, “You will not replace us,” not a threat?

Antifa members are nurses, school teachers, young activists, colleagues and neighbors who feel duty-bound to put their bodies on the line to protect anti-fascist protesters, and challenge right-wing violence by any means necessary. Petitioning the government is no longer an option;  the government has clearly taken sides.

In the year of Trump, the stakes have grown bigger. “If Trump tries to register Muslims and engage in mass deportations,” noted NYC Antifa, “a Change.org petition is not going to stop it.”  Well, probably not street fighting either, though the resistance to the Vietnam War taught us that we can all play a part.

The tragic death of Heather Heyer should mean one thing to progressive activists, according to Antifa: We will no longer agree to disagree.


Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of Enter, Stage Left.

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1 Response

  1. Rachel Roggio says:

    I liked this – it clarified some fuzzy lines for me. These are brave people, to be admired I think. I don’t read every article but will try to let you know my response when I do… :))

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