Antifa (United States)

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Preceded byAnti-Racist Action[1]
Headquartersnone (autonomous groups and websites throughout the United States)
MembershipUnknown; approximately 200 groups of varying degrees of engagement.
Political positionFar left

Antifa is a radical political movement of autonomous, self-styled anti-fascist groups, including in the United States.[2][3][4] They have been described as being left wing to far-left.[5][6] The salient feature of self-described antifa groups is to oppose fascism by direct action, including violence if need be.[6] Antifa groups tend to be anti-government and anti-capitalist;[7] its adherents are mostly socialists, anarchists, and communists who, according to Mark Bray, a historian at Dartmouth College and author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, “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.”[8]

According to The Economist, the "word Antifa has its roots in Anti-Fascist Action, a name taken up by European political movements in the 1930s" which was revived in the 1990s, particularly in Germany.[9][10] 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, on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than fascism."[5] Antifa groups are known for militant protest tactics, including property damage and physical violence.[11][12][13][2] Antifa focuses more on fighting far-right ideology directly than on encouraging pro-left policy.[6]

History[edit | edit source]

Further information: Antifa movements
The American Antifa traces its ideological lineage to both Germany[14] and the British Battle of Cable Street[15]

The first group described as Antifa was the Antifaschistische Aktion which formed on July 10, 1932[16] by the Communist Party of Germany.[17] Anti-fascists were involved in battles against Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts, Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts, Francisco Franco's nationalist army, and Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Outside of Europe, anti-fascist tactics were used as a model for anti-Japanese resistance in occupied-China during World War II.[18][2]

Anti-Racist Action (ARA), which came from the punk and skinhead scene of the late '80s,[19][5] is the main precursor of many if not most contemporary US antifa groups. Other antifa groups in the US have other genealogies. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group called the Baldies formed in 1987 with the intent to fight neo-Nazi groups directly.[7]

Activity[edit | edit source]

Antifa is composed of autonomous groups, and thus has no formal organization.[5][20] Antifa groups either form loose support networks, such as NYC Antifa, or operate independently.[21] Activists typically organize protests via social media and through websites and list-serves.[5][20] According to it is an organizing strategy, not a group of people.[22] While its membership numbers are hard to pin down, since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency members and experts have both stated that the movement has boomed; approximately 200 chapters are currently extant in the U.S., of varying sizes and levels of engagement.[14] Although Antifa within its ambit of activism engages in community organizing, fund raising, and even peaceful protests, it is commonly associated with a willingness to engage in a show of force. (A manual posted on It's Going Down, a notable Anarchist website, warns in this regard against accepting "people who just want to fight," however, and 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.") [23] Antifa groups, along with black bloc activists, were among those who protested the 2016 election of Donald Trump.[5][24][25] During the inauguration celebrations mask-wearing "black bloc" protestors "rage[d] across the area just outside" of the security perimeter, "smashing windows and burning cars."[26]

According to Peter Beinart, Antifa activists "combat white supremacism not by trying to change government policy but through direct action. They try to publicly identify white supremacists and get them fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments," in addition to "disrupt(ing) white-supremacist rallies, including by force."[27]

In June 2017 Antifa was linked to anarchist extremism by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.[28]

Notable street protests and violence[edit | edit source]

An elaborate Anitfa sticker on a No Parking sign which reads "Anti-Fascist Action * Smash Fascism * Abolish Capitalism"

Antifa protesters participated in the 2017 Berkeley protests on February 1, where they gained mainstream media attention, "throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows;" causing $100,000 worth of damage.[29][2][20] Later, two Antifa groups threatened to disrupt the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade after hearing the Multnomah County Republican Party would participate. The parade organizers received an anonymous email, saying, "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 email also said that 200 people would "rush into the parade" and "drag and push" those marching with the Republican Party. The two groups denied having anything to do with the email. The parade ended up being canceled by the organizers due to safety concerns.[30][31]

Antifa counter protestors at the far-right 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August "certainly used clubs and dyed liquids against the white supremacists."[32] Journalist Adele Stan interviewed an Antifa protester at the rally who said that the sticks carried by Antifa protesters are a justifiable countermeasure to the fact that "the right has a goon squad."[33] Some Antifa participants at the Charlottesville rally chanted that counter-protesters should "punch a Nazi in the mouth."[34] Antifa participants also protected Cornel West and various clergy from attack by the white supremacist. West said that he felt that Antifa had "saved his life";[35] clergy expressed similar sentiments.[36] Another religious leader stated that Antifa defended the First United Methodist Church, where the Charlottesville Clergy Collective provided refreshments, music and training to the counter-protesters, and "chased (the white supremacists) off with sticks".[35][37]

Antifa also participated in the protests in Phoenix, Arizona on August 22, on the occasion of a Trump rally. They were the only protest group singled out by President Trump: "“They’ve got clubs and they’ve got everything,” he said of the far-left anti-fascist group accused of instigating violence against white supremacists and other members of the “alt-right.” “ANTEEFAH.”" His peculiar pronunciation inspired a meme inspired by the 1958 song "Tequila".[38]

At the Berkeley protests on August 27, an estimated hundred Antifa protestors among a crowd of 2,000 - 4,000 counter-protestors attacked the "handful" of alt-right demonstrators who showed up for a "Say No to Marxism" rally that had been cancelled by organizers due to security concerns. Antifa activists, beat and kicked the unarmed handful of right-wing demonstrators, and threatened to smash the cameras of journalists.[29][39][29]

Approaches[edit | edit source]

The nature and activities of Antifa have caused some debate among anarchists; the prominent Anarchist website It’s Going Down published a critique of Antifa in November 2016 originally from Lucha No Feik, entitled "On Antifa: Some Critical Notes".[40] The article criticised Antifa for essentially being a reactive, rather than a proactive force. The article argues that Antifa are too hyper-focused on micro Neo-Nazi groups or single figures such as President Donald Trump, instead of "analyzing the structural nature of our racist society."[40] The article stated that the Antifa's ideological position was "but a few steps removed from the Liberal position that we should just all get along."[40] It also pointed out that Antifa did not protest against the administration of President Barack Obama.[40] This elicited a response from three active participants in the movement with "What do US Antifascists Actually Believe?", where they stated, "Mobilizing large radical movements against neoliberal (or populist) capitalism is not the focus of anti-fascism; this is the work of the anarchist and anti-capitalist movements as a whole."[41] The movement has also been criticised by mainstream media.[42]

According to National Public Radio, "People who speak for the Antifa movement acknowledge they sometimes carry clubs and sticks," and their "approach is confrontational."[34] CNN describes Antifa as "known for causing damage to property during protests."[2] Scott Crow, described by CNN as "a longtime Antifa organizer," argues that destroying property is not a form of violence.[2]

According to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University, San Bernardino, Antifa activists 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."[2] According to Antifa organizer Crow, Antifa is based on the idea of direct action, "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."[2]

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Antifa has been subjected to smear campaigns by elements of the far right and alt-right. In August 2017 the image of British actress Anna Friel portraying a battered woman in a 2007 Women's Aid anti-domestic violence campaign was re-purposed using fake Antifa Twitter accounts organized by way of 4chan, an investigation by Bellingcat found. The image is captioned "53% of white women voted for Trump, 53% of white women should look like this" and includes the Antifa flag; another image featuring an injured woman is captioned "She chose to be a Nazi. Choices have consequences," and includes the hashtag #PunchANazi. Although the smear campaign was not regarded as particularly sophisticated, investigator Elliot Higgins remarked to the BBC that "This 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."[43]

In August 2017 The White House petitioning system We the People gathered more than 100,000 signatures requesting Antifa be classified as a terrorist organization in three days, and perforce shall receive an official review and response from the White House; at over 300,000 signatures, it is currently the third most-signed submission posted.[44] The originator, who goes by the nom de plume Microchip, said to Politico that getting conservatives to share and discuss the petition was the entire point, rather than prompting any concrete action by the government.[45]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "US anti-fascists: 'We can make racists afraid again'". Al-Jazeera. Retrieved 3 August 2017. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Seurth, Jessica (14 August 2014). "What is Antifa?". CNN. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  3. Savage, Charlie (16 August 2017). "Justice Dept. Demands Data on Visitors to Anti-Trump Website, Sparking Fight". New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2017. 
  4. "Neo-Nazis Face a New Foe Online and IRL: the Far-Left Antifa". Wired. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Beinhart, Peter. "The Rise of the Violent Left". The Atlantic. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Cammeron, Brenna. "Antifa: Left-wing militants on the rise". BBC News. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "What is Antifa?". The Economist. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  8. Illing, Sean (2017-08-25). "“They have no allegiance to liberal democracy”: an expert on antifa explains the group Why a loose network of militant activists is confronting fascists.". The Vox. Retrieved 2017-08-27. 
  9. Cammeron, Brenna (14 August 2017). "Antifa: Left-wing militants on the rise" – via 
  10. Cummings, William (15 August 2017). "Trump spoke of the 'alt-left.' Is that a thing?". Retrieved 16 August 2017. 
  11. Steakin, William (4 May 2017). "What is Antifa? Controversial far-left group defends use of violence" (in en). Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  12. Cammeron, Brenna (14 August 2017). "Antifa: Left-wing militants on the rise" (in en-GB). BBC News. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  13. "FACT CHECK: Is Left-Wing Violence Rising?". 16 June 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sales, Ben (2017-08-16). "What you need to know about antifa, the group that fought white supremacists in Charlottesville". Jewish Telegraph Agency. Retrieved 2017-08-25. 
  15. Penny, Daniel (2017-08-22). "An Intimate History of Antifa". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-08-26. 
  16. Philipp, Joshua (2017-08-18). "The Communist Origins of the Antifa Extremist Group Group promoted communist dictatorship in Germany on Soviet Union's behalf and labeled all ideologies other than communism as 'fascism'". The Epoch Times. Retrieved 2017-08-27. 
  17. Dorpalen, Andreas (1986). German History in Marxist Perspective: The East German Approach. I.B.Tauris. p. 384. ISBN 978-1850430247. 
  18. Bray, Mark (16 August 2017). "Who are the antifa?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2017. 
  19. Matt Snyders (20 February 2008). "Skinheads at Forty". City Pages. City Pages, LLC. Archived from the original on 3 August 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 "Behind Berkeley’s Semester of Hate". New York Times. 4 August 2017. 
  21. Lennard, Natasha (19 January 2017). "Anti-Fascists Will Fight Trump’s Fascism in the Streets". The Nation. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  22. "There’s a legacy of people resisting white supremacy in the US. Antifa is not new". Salon. 
  23. "Trump and the right's post-Charlottesville bogeyman is antifa, a movement with a complicated history". Business Insider Deutschland. Retrieved 2017-08-28. 
  24. Lennard, Natasha (19 January 2017). "Anti-Fascists Will Fight Trump's Fascism in the Streets". The Nation. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
  25. Tuttle, Ian (5 June 2017). "The Roots of Left-Wing Violence". National Review. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
  26. Weigel, Dave (13 August 2017). "Fear of ‘violent left’ preceded events in Charlottesville". Washington Post. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  27. Beinart, Peter (16 August 2017). "What Trump calls “the alt left” (I’ll explain why that’s a bad term later) is actually antifa". The Atlantic. Retrieved 16 August 2017. 
  28. "Anarchist Extremists: Antifa". New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Retrieved 27 August 2017. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Swenson, Kyle (28 August 2017). "Black-clad antifa attack peaceful right wing demonstrators in Berkeley". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 August 2017. 
  30. Brown, Doug (25 April 2017). "82nd Avenue of the Roses Parade Cancelled after Threats of Political Protests, Violence" (in en). Portland Mercury. 
  31. Mettler, Katie (27 April 2017). "Portland rose parade canceled after ‘antifascists’ threaten GOP marchers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  32. Qiu, Linda (15 August 2017). "Trump Asks, ‘What About the Alt-Left?’ Here’s an Answer". New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2017. 
  33. Stan, Adele (14 August 2017). "White Supremacist Chaos in Charlottesville Is Just the Beginning". Moyers & Company. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 Mann, Brian (14 August 2017). "Trump Supporter: 'He Called For Unity, I Never Saw Obama Call For Unity'". National Public Radio. Morning Edition. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 Lithwick, Dahlia (16 August 2017). "Yes, What About the “Alt-Left”?" – via Slate. 
  36. Flood, Alison (2017-08-22). "Antifa: the Anti-fascist Handbook – 'What Trump said made the book seem even more urgent' Rushed into print after the US president said there were ‘fine people on both sides’ of the Charlottesville clashes, Mark Bray’s guide provides tactics for those hoping to ‘defeat the resurgent far right’". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-08-27. 
  37. [1]
  38. Covucci, David (2017-08-23). "Trump’s weird pronunciation of ‘antifa’ is already the best meme". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 2017-08-23. 
  39. Bowman, Emma (28 August 2017). "Scattered Violence Erupts At Large, Left-Wing Berkeley Rally". NPR. Retrieved 28 August 2017. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 "On Antifa: Some Critical Notes". It's Going Down. Retrieved 3 August 2017. 
  41. "What do US Antifascists Actually Believe? A Reply to "On Antifa: Some Critical Notes"". Anarchist News. Retrieved 3 August 2017. 
  42. "Calmer voices on the left must disavow antifa’s tactics — or else they will give rhetorical ammunition to Trump". New York Daily News. 2017-08-20. Retrieved 2017-08-25. 
  43. "Far-right smear campaign against Antifa exposed by Bellingcat". BBC. 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2017-08-25. 
  44. Fox News (2017-08-21). "Petition urging terror label for Antifa gets enough signatures for White House response". Retrieved 2017-08-26.  External link in |website= (help)
  45. MUSGRAVE, SHAWN (2017-08-24). "White House 'antifa' petition written by pro-Trump troll: Online organizer tied to Trump Twitter 'rooms' says he started petition to unify the right after Charlottesville.". Politico. Retrieved 2017-08-25. 

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Bray, Mark (2017). Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. Melville House. ISBN 978-1612197036.