Who Are the ‘Antifa’?
The false equivalency between an anti-fascist protest group and white supremacists is the centerpiece of Trump’s reelection campaign.
We Go Where They Go
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-oriented groups and individuals has brought Antifa front and center into the American psyche.
Trump’s Lies and Mischief
Just over a week ago, President Trump announced that he may soon try to classify Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization. This came on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) petitioning Attorney General William Barr to probe Antifa under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.
These are evidence-free, bad faith gestures. Donald Trump’s racially-charged reelection campaign is in need of a convenient villain. Trump hardly cares that his actions (which would be tied up in court well beyond election day 2020) run the risk of labeling all counter-protesters as domestic terrorists.
The equivalency argument linking groups like Antifa and white supremacists is indeed false. According to the Anti-Defamation League, right wing extremists committed 73.3% of the politically-motivated murders in the US between 2009 and 2018, compared to 3.2% for left-wing agitators.
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.
Antifa 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 in the traditional sense: A cursory look at its website, “It’s Going Down,” reveals an important distinction when it comes to relying on government to enforce civility and fair play. Unlike socialists, Antifa has no use for government.
The Aug. 12, 2017, “Unite the Right” clash in Charlottesville, VA, remains the perfect 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”?)
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.
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.
If Donald Trump really wants to be rid of the dreaded Antifa, his path is an easy one: sincerely denounce bigotry and white supremacy, and stop enabling his racist friends’ combative agenda.
For Antifa, Donald Trump is but one of many villains in this world.