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Antifa (United States)

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Symbol commonly used by antifa depicting an anarchist flag overlaying a socialist flag, based on the logo of the German antifa movement

Antifa (/ænˈtfə, ˈænti(ˌ)fə/) is a left-wing, anti-fascist and anti-racist political movement in the United States. It is highly decentralized and comprises an array of autonomous groups that aim to achieve their objectives through the use of both nonviolent and violent direct action rather than through policy reform.[1][2][3] Much of antifa political activism is nonviolent, involving poster and flyer campaigns, mutual aid, delivering speeches, marching in protest, and community organizing.[4][5][6] They also engage in protest tactics, seeking to combat fascists and racists such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists, and differing from other leftist opposition movements by their willingness to directly confront far-right activists, and in some cases, law enforcement.[2] This sometimes involves digital activism, doxing, harassment, violence, and property damage against those they identify as belonging to the far right.[7]

Individuals involved in the movement tend to hold anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, and anti-state views, subscribing to a range of left-wing ideologies. A majority of individuals involved are anarchists, communists, and socialists who describe themselves as revolutionaries[8] and criticize liberal democracy,[9] although some social democrats and others on the American Left,[10] among them environmentalists, LGBT and indigenous rights advocates,[6] also adhere to the antifa movement.[9] The name antifa and the logo with two flags representing anarchism and communism are derived from the German antifa movement.[11]

Antifa activists' actions have received support and criticism from various organizations and pundits, with some on the left criticizing antifa for its willingness to adopt violent direct actions and for being counterproductive or backfiring by emboldening the right and their allies.[12] Part of the right characterizes it as a domestic terrorist organization or uses antifa as a catch-all term[13] for any left-leaning or liberal protest actions.[14] Some scholars argue that antifa is a legitimate response to the rise of the far right[15] and that antifa's violence such as milkshaking is not equivalent to right-wing violence.[3] Scholars tend to reject the equivalence between antifa and white supremacy.[2][16][17]

There have been numerous efforts to discredit antifa by various individuals and groups on the right.[18][19] Some have been done via hoaxes on social media, many of them false flag attacks originating from alt-right and 4chan users posing as antifa backers on Twitter;[20][21][22] some hoaxes have been picked up and portrayed as fact by right-leaning media and politicians.[20][23][24][25] During the George Floyd protests in May and June 2020, the Trump administration blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests; analysis of federal arrests did not find links to antifa.[26] There were repeated calls by Donald Trump and William Barr to designate antifa as a terrorist organization[27] despite the fact that it is not an organization, a move that academics, legal experts, and others have argued would exceed the authority of the presidency and violate the First Amendment.[28][29][30] Several analyses, reports, and studies have concluded that antifa is not a major domestic terrorism risk.[17][31][32]

Overview

Etymology and pronunciation

An antifa sticker

The English word antifa is a loanword from the German Antifa, where it is a shortened form of the word antifaschistisch ("anti-fascist") and a nickname of Antifaschistische Aktion (1932–1933), a short-lived group which inspired the wider antifa movement in Germany.[33][34][35] The German word Antifa itself first appeared in 1930 and the long form antifaschistisch was borrowed from the original Italian anti-Fascisti ("anti-fascists").[33] 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."[34]

The pronunciation of the word in English is not settled as it may be stressed on either the first or the second syllable.[36][33]

Scope and usage

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recommends 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.[37] Journalist Conor Friedersdorf makes a distinction between "self-described members of the group" and "anyone who shows up in the streets to protest against fascists", arguing that "Antifa and antifascism are no more synonymous than being a member of Black Lives Matter and believing that black lives matter."[38]

During the Trump administration, the term antifa became "a conservative catch-all" term as Donald Trump, administration officials, Trump base supporters, and right-wing commentators applied the label to all sorts of left-leaning or liberal protest actions.[13] Conservative writers such as L. Brent Bozell III labeled Black Lives Matter as "antifa".[13] 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."[13] Alexander Reid Ross, who teaches at Portland State University, argues that the popularization of the term antifa was a reaction to the popularization of the term alt-right, "to the point where [antifa] simply describes people who are anti-fascist or people who are against racism and are willing to protest against it."[13]

Ideology

Anti-fascists with banner reading "good night white pride"

Individuals involved in the antifa movement tend to hold anti-authoritarian,[39] anti-capitalist,[40][41] anti-fascist,[42] and anti-state views,[10] subscribing to a varied range of left-wing ideologies.[43] A majority of adherents are anarchists, communists, and other socialists who describe themselves as revolutionaries,[9] although some social democrats and others on the American Left,[10] among them environmentalists, LGBT and indigenous rights advocates,[6] also adhere to the antifa movement.[9] According to professor of journalism and political science at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, Peter Beinart, "antifa is heavily composed of anarchists" and "its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism."[10] Antifa activists' ideologies, as well as their involvement in violent actions against far-right opponents and the police has led some scholars and news media to characterize the movement as far-left[2][44] and militant.[42][45][46] In his article "The Rise of the Violent Left" for The Atlantic, Beinart writes that antifa activists "prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa's partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force."[10]

According to historian Mark Bray, an expert on the movement,[47][9][48] the "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."[49][50] Described as a pan-leftist and non-hierarchical movement,[9] antifa is united by opposition to right-wing extremism and white supremacy.[42][51] Antifa activists reject both conservative and liberal anti-fascism.[51][52][53] The antifa movement generally eschews mainstream liberal democracy,[9] having "an illiberal disdain for the confines of mainstream politics",[54] and favoring direct action over electoral politics.[42][51] Bray states that "[t]he vast majority of antifa militants are radical anti-capitalists who oppose the Democratic Party" and that Democratic Party leaders, including Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, have condemned antifa and political violence more broadly.[54][55] Despite antifa's opposition to the Democratic Party and liberalism, some right-wing commentators have accused their adherents of being aided by "liberal sympathizers"[56] and "affiliated with the Democratic Party"[54][55] as well as being "a single organization", "funded by liberal financiers like George Soros", "mastermind[ing] violence at Black Lives Matter protests", and that "Antifascists are the 'real fascists'", with Bray citing these as examples of five myths about antifa.[54][55]

The ADL 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."[37] Similarly, Bray argues that "[i]t's also important to remember that these are self-described revolutionaries. They're anarchists and communists who are way outside the traditional conservative-liberal spectrum."[9] ABC News notes that "[w]hile antifa's political leanings are often described as 'far-left,' experts say members' radical views vary and can intersect with communism, socialism and anarchism."[57] According to CNN, "Antifa is short for anti-fascists. The term is used to define a broad group of people whose political beliefs lean toward the left -- often the far left -- but do not conform with the Democratic Party platform."[58] The BBC notes that, "as their name indicates, Antifa focuses more on fighting far-right ideology than encouraging pro-left policy."[42] Beinart argues that the election of Donald Trump vitalized the antifa movement and some on the mainstream left were more willing to support them as a tactical opposition.[10]

Movement structure

Antifa is not a unified organization but rather a movement without a hierarchical leadership structure, comprising multiple autonomous groups and individuals.[37][9][49][59] The movement is loosely affiliated[42] and 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."[60][30] According to Mark Bray, "members hide their political activities from law enforcement and the far right" and "concerns about infiltration and high expectations of commitment keep the sizes of groups rather small."[30][60] Bray adds that "[i]t's important to understand that antifa politics, and antifa's methods, are designed to stop white supremacists, fascists, and neo-Nazis as easily as possible."[61] For Bray, "[t]he vast majority of their activities are nonviolent. They function in some ways like private investigators; they track neo-Nazi organizing across multiple social-media platforms."[61] In regard to doxing, Bray says that it is about "telling people that they have a Nazi living down the street, or telling employers that they're employing white supremacists", adding that "after Charlottesville, a lot of the repercussions that these khaki-wearing, tiki-torch white supremacists faced were their employers firing them and their families repudiating what they do."[61]

Activists typically organize protests via social media and through websites.[62] Some activists have built peer-to-peer networks, or use encrypted-texting services like Signal.[63] Chauncey Devega of Salon described antifa as an organizing strategy, not a group of people.[64] According to one group member, antifa's identification research on whether an individual or group is "fascist, Alt Right, White Nationalist, etc." is "based on which groups they are a part of and endorse." While noting that "Nazis, fascists, white nationalists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes" are specific overlapping categories, the main focus is "on groups and individuals which endorse, or work directly in alliance with, white supremacists and white separatists. We try to be very clear and precise with how we use these terms."[65] According to Colin Clarke and Michael Kenney, direct actions such as anti-Trump protests, demonstrations against the alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and the clash with neo-Nazis and white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally "reflects many Antifa supporters' belief that Trump is a fascist demagogue who threatens the existence of America's pluralistic, multi-racial democracy. This factor helps explain why such Antifa supporters are so quick to label the president's 'Make America Great Again' supporters as fascists — and why Trump is so quick to label Antifa as a terrorist organization."[66]

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.[67] It is particularly present in the Pacific Northwest,[68] such as in Portland, Oregon.[69]

History

Background

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 a protester at the March 4 Trump in Washington, D.C.

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.[70] 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.[67]

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.[10] In Germany, young leftists, including anarchists and punk fans, renewed the practice of street-level anti-fascism.[10] Peter Beinart writes that "[i]n 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 they would be with fighting fascism."[10]

Dartmouth College historian Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, credits Anti-Racist Action (ARA) as the precursor of modern antifa groups in the United States.[39][71] 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.[10][72][73] 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.[74][49] In 2002, 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 25 arrests.[10]

In 2007, Rose City Antifa, likely the first group to utilize the name antifa, was formed in Portland, Oregon by former ARA members.[75][6][76] 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.[41] In 2013, the "most radical" chapters of ARA formed the Torch Antifa Network[77] which has chapters throughout the United States.[78] Other antifa groups are a part of different associations such as NYC Antifa or operate independently.[79]

Activities

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."[58] Historian 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."[9] The idea of direct action is central to the antifa movement.[80] 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.[58]

A manual posted on It's Going Down, an anarchist website, warns against accepting "people who just want to fight". Furthermore, the website 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."[81]

Antifascist activists with a modified anarchist red and black flag and transgender pride flag in a 2017 protest

According to Beinart, antifa activists "try to publicly identify white supremacists and get them fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments" and also "disrupt white-supremacist rallies, including by force."[80] A book review in The Washington Post reported that "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."[53] 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."[82] CNN describes antifa as "known for causing damage to property during protests."[58] Scott Crow says that antifa adherents believe that property destruction does not "equate to violence".[58] According to the Los Angeles Times, antifa protesters 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."[83] Antifa activists also used clubs and dyed liquids against white supremacists in Charlottesville.[84] According to The Kansas City Star, police asked persons carrying firearms (including both antifa members and members of the far-right militia movement group Three Percenters) at a September 2017 rally in Kansas City to remove ammunition from their weapons.[85]

Apart from the other activities, antifa activists engage in mutual aid such as disaster response in the case of Hurricane Harvey.[86][87][88] 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."[89] 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 as well as advocating ways of "fostering sustainable, peaceful communities" such as working in community gardens.[90]

Antifa activists often use the black bloc tactic in which people dress in black and cover their faces in order to thwart surveillance and create a sense of equality and solidarity among participants.[91] 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."[92] Joseph Bernstein from BuzzFeed News says that 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."[93]

When antifa became prominent in the news during the George Floyd protests and was under attack for being responsible for much, if not most of the violence, a report in Vox stated that "[m]embers of antifa groups do more conventional activism, flyer campaigns, and community organizing, on behalf of anti-racist and anti-white nationalist causes", quoting Mark Bray as saying that this was the "vast majority" of what they did.[5] In July 2020, The Guardian reported that "a California-based organizer and anti-fascist activist" stated she saw "Trump's claims about antifa violence, particularly during the George Floyd protests, as a message to his 'hardcore' supporters that it was appropriate to attack people who came out to protest."[17] In August 2020, many small business owners interviewed by The New York Times in what was the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle blamed people they identified as antifa for much of the violence and intimidation of their patrons while distinguishing antifa from Black Lives Matter.[68] In September 2020, Scott Crow criticized a report for "equating the murder of human beings by the Boogaloo and neo-Nazis with property destruction because people are sick of having boots on their neck."[94]

Notable actions

Along with black bloc activists, antifa groups were among those who protested the 2016 election of Donald Trump.[10][45][89] Antifa activists also participated in the February 2017 Berkeley protests against alt-right provocateur[95][96][97] speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, where antifa gained mainstream attention,[62] with media reporting antifa protesters "throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows"[58] and causing $100,000 worth of damage.[98]

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.[99][100]

In August 2017, antifa counter-protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reported The New York Times, "used clubs and dyed liquids against the white supremacists."[84] Journalist Adele Stan interviewed an antifa protester at the rally who said the sticks carried by the protesters were a justifiable countermeasure to the fact that "the right has a goon squad".[101] Some antifa participants at the Charlottesville rally chanted that counter-protesters should "punch a Nazi in the mouth".[82] 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".[102][103] Antifa activists also defended the First United Methodist Church, where the Charlottesville Clergy Collective provided refreshments, music and training to the counter-protesters.[104] According to a local rabbi, antifa counter-protesters "chased [the white supremacists] off with sticks."[102]

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-protesters. 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."[105] President Trump described the protesters outside his August 2017 rally in Phoenix, Arizona as "antifa".[106]

Antifa rally at Berkley protests

During the Berkeley protests 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.[98][107] Protestors threatened to smash the cameras of anyone who filmed them.[108] Jesse Arreguin, the mayor of Berkeley, suggested classifying the city's antifa as a gang.[109] 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 BAMN, for breaking up the event.[110]

Protesters hold an antifa banner in Minneapolis, 2017

In June 2018, a Nebraska antifa group published a list of names and photographs of 1,595 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, drawn from LinkedIn profiles.[111]

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,[112] who has been described by the Associated Press as "a major supporter of President Donald Trump and his policies".[113] Activists of the group said through a bullhorn that Carlson was promoting hate[114] 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 on it.[115] 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.[116][117][118][119][120][121]

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 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.[122][123][124]

Public reactions

Academics and scholars

Historian Mark Bray, who has studied the antifa movement, stated that "[g]iven 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."[15] 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."[125]

Historian and Dissent magazine editor Michael Kazin wrote that "[n]on-leftists often see the left as a disruptive, lawless force. Violence tends to confirm that view."[126] Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat was "worried that antifa's methods could feed into what she said were false equivalencies that seek to lump violence on the left with attacks by the right." 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.[3]

Peter Beinart, a professor of journalism and political science, wrote that "[a]ntifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation. [...] The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies."[10]

Black studies professor Shirley Jackson stated that antifa had made things more difficult for Black Lives Matter by causing a loss of focus.[4] Historian Marc Rodriguez said that "the ideas about anti-fascism for them are (currently) concerns in the United States about racism" and that antifa was similar to the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, but that what antifa was "not so great at is coming to the realization that eventually social protests seek to bargain."[4]

Other activists

Anti-racist public intellectual 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".[127][128][129]

Veteran radical activist Noam Chomsky described antifa as "a major gift to the right", arguing that "the movement was self-destructive and constituted a tiny faction on the periphery of the left."[130] Eleanor Penny, an author on fascism and the far-right, argued 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".[130] A. M. Gittlitz and Natasha Lennard[5][61] have argued against Chomsky and others, citing the 2017 events at Charlottesville and Richard B. Spencer's suspension of his college tour in March 2018,[131][132] respectively, as "a victory"[133] and as "a sharp rebuttal to the glut of claims that antifa practices serve as a gift to the far right."[134][135]

Some "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.[133]

Civil rights organizations

According to the ADL, "most established civil rights organizations criticize antifa tactics as dangerous and counterproductive."[37] In 2017, 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.[37] 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."[37] In 2020, the ADL noted that while there have been hundreds of murders by far-right groups in the last few decades, there has only been one suspected antifa-related murder.[136]

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designating antifa as a domestic terrorist organization is dangerous and a threat to civil liberties.[137] The SPLC also reported that antifa members "have been involved in skirmishes and property crimes, 'but the threat of lethal violence pales in comparison to that posed by far-right extremists.'"[31]

Law enforcement and officials

In June 2017, the antifa movement was linked to "anarchist extremism" by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.[138] 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."[139] In September 2017, Politico obtained confidential documents and interviews indicating that 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 in April 2016.[140]

In July 2020, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who stated in an earlier press release[141] on June 4 that "anarchists like Antifa" are "exploiting this situation to pursue violent, extremist agendas",[142] testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency "considers antifa more of an ideology than an organization"[26] which was later reiterated the same year in a September 17 remark to lawmakers.[59] This contradicted President Trump's remarks about antifa and put Wray at odds with the Trump administration.[59] According to the Associated Press, Wray "did not dispute that antifa activists were a serious concern", stating that antifa was a "real thing" and that the FBI had undertaken "any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists", including into individuals who identify with antifa, whom the FBI identified as "a movement or an ideology" rather than as "a group or an organization".[59] Wray stated that "racially motivated violent extremists, such as white supremacists, have been responsible for the most lethal attacks in the U.S. in recent years", although "this year the most lethal violence has come from anti-government activists, such as anarchists and militia-types."[59]

Three August 2020 DHS draft reports did not mention antifa as a domestic terrorism risk and ranked white supremacy as the top risk, higher than that of foreign terrorist groups.[32]

Members of Congress

On August 29, 2017, Nancy Pelosi, then House Minority Leader for the Democratic Party, condemned the violence of antifa activists in Berkeley.[143]

In July 2019, Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Ted Cruz introduced a nonbinding resolution that would designate antifa a domestic terrorist organization.[144]

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".[145] Cruz accused "Antifa protesters" of "organizing these acts of terror"[146] and called for "systematic law enforcement targeting Antifa and other terrorist groups".[147]

In September 2020, 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden also condemned antifa violent actions, having previously already condemned violence across the political spectrum and expressed his support for the peaceful protests.[148][54][149]

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.[150][151][152] 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".[153]

In 2017, 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.[140]

During the nationwide protests against the killing of George Floyd in May and June 2020, Attorney General William Barr blamed the violence on "anarchic and far left extremist groups using Antifa-like tactics"[154] and described the actions of "Antifa and other similar groups" as "domestic terrorism",[155] echoing similar statements by National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.[156] In Twitter posts and other statements, Trump blamed "ANTIFA and the Radical Left" for violence[154][157] and repeatedly pledged that the federal government would designate antifa as a "Terrorist Organization".[158][159][160][161] However, Trump lacks the authority to do so because under existing law the federal government may designate only foreign organizations as terrorist and antifa is a loosely associated movement rather than a specific organization.[162][163][164] Legal experts, among others, believe that designating antifa as a terrorist group would be unconstitutional, raising First Amendment and due process issues.[28][29] According to historian Mark Bray, antifa cannot be designated as a terrorist organization because "[t]he groups are loosely organized, and they aren't large enough to cause everything Trump blames them for." In addition, Bray argued that the political right has attempted to "blame everything on antifa" during the George Floyd protests and that in assuming antifa to be "predominantly white", it "evince[s] a kind of racism that assumes that black people couldn't organize on this deep and wide of a scale."[30]

On June 2, 2020, The Nation reported on a copy of an FBI Washington Field Office internal situation report it had obtained which stated that the FBI had "no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence" in the violent May 31 D.C.-area protests.[165] Two days later, Barr claimed that "[w]e 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."[166] However, the Trump administration has provided no evidence for its claims[167] and there is no evidence that antifa-aligned individuals played a role in instigating the protests or violence, or that antifa played a significant role in the protests.[26][168][167] According to Bray, while "confident that some members of antifa groups have participated in a variety of forms of resistance" during the protests, it is "impossible to ascertain the exact number of people who belong to antifa groups."[30][169] As of June 9, 2020, none of the 51 people facing federal charges were alleged to have links to antifa.[170] As of September 16, 2020, no antifa or left-wing group has been charged in connection with the civil unrest.[94]

In an August 2020 interview, Trump asserted "people that are in the dark shadows" control his Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden and then claimed that "we had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that", adding that "they're people that are on the streets. They're people that are controlling the streets." Antifa activists commonly dress in black.[171] Trump's remarks were similar to false social media rumors during preceding months that planes and buses full of antifa gangs were preparing to invade communities, allegedly funded by George Soros.[172][173][174] Two days after Trump's remarks, Barr asserted he knew antifa activists "are flying around the country" and "we are following them".[175] However, there is no evidence of any such flight.[171] According to Reuters, "[l]aw enforcement, intelligence and Congressional officials familiar with official reporting on weeks of protests and related arrests said on Tuesday they were aware of no incidents or reports that would confirm Trump's anecdote."[175]

In a September 2020 whistleblower complaint,[176] Brian Murphy, who was the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis until August 2020, asserted that DHS secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli instructed him "to modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and 'anarchist' groups."[177] On September 18, 2020, Trump publicly criticized FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and hinted that he could fire him over Wray's testimony about antifa and Russian interference in the 2020 United States elections.[178][179][180]

On September 25, 2020, the Trump campaign released details on a "Platinum Plan for Black America", under which "Antifa" and the Ku Klux Klan would be prosecuted as terrorist organizations.[181][182] The plan does not include any mention of other white nationalist organizations or of prosecuting far-right terrorism.[183]

Hoaxes and conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories about antifa that tend to incorrectly portray antifa as a single organization with leaders and secret sources of funding have been spread by right-wing activists, media organizations and politicians,[184][185] including Trump administration officials[31][54][186][187] and the 2020 Trump campaign.[188]

#PunchWhiteWomen (2017)

In August 2017, a #PunchWhiteWomen photo hoax campaign was spread by fake antifa Twitter accounts.[189][190] 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".[21] 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.[191] 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.[192][193] Another high-profile fake antifa account was banned from Twitter after it posted with a geotag originating in Russia.[22] Those fake antifa accounts have been repeatedly reported on as real by right-leaning media outlets.[20][25]

"Antifa civil war" (2017)

In October 2017, a conspiracy theory claiming that antifa groups were planning a violent insurrection or civil war the following month spread on YouTube and was advanced by far-right figures including Alex Jones, Lucian Wintrich, Paul Joseph Watson, and Steven Crowder.[194][195][196][197][198] The basis for the conspiracy theory was a series of protests against Donald Trump organized by the group Refuse Fascism.[194][195][196][199] The protests passed off as planned without causing significant disruption.[200]

"Antifa Manual" (2017)

A fake "Antifa Manual" has circulated online, debunked by Snopes in 2017.[50] According to the ADL, the language used in the document appears designed to sow division and features many statements that do not align with the sentiments of anti-fascist organizers, often clumsily mimicking “left wing” rhetoric.[201] The same images continued to be shared on social media in posts about the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, including a Twitter post by alt-lite conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec.[201][202]

8chan list (2018)

In September 2018, the Louisiana State Police were scrutinized for using a hoax list of personal information about supposed antifa activists originally posted on 8chan's politics board. The document, dubbed "full list of antifa.docx" by police officers, actually contained the names of several thousand people who signed online petitions against then-President Donald Trump. The State Police has refused to disclose the list, claiming it would "compromise" ongoing criminal investigations in which it expects arrests. A lawsuit against Louisiana State Police was filed on behalf of the record requester by Harvard lecturer and former public defender Thomas Frampton, alleging that the Police's refusal to release the list indicates that it actually believed the credibility of the hoax list and used it in investigations and litigations.[203][204][205]

George Floyd protests (2020)

During the nationwide George Floyd protests against police brutality and racism in May and June 2020, false claims of impending antifa activity circulated through social media platforms, causing alarm in at least 41 towns and cities.[206] On May 31, 2020, @ANTIFA_US, a newly created Twitter account, attempted to incite violence relating to the protests. The next day, after determining that it was linked to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, Twitter suspended the fake account.[207] 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 killing on May 31, 2020.[165] Conservative news organizations, pro-Trump individuals using social media, and impostor social media accounts propagated false rumors that antifa groups were traveling to small cities, suburbs, and rural communities to instigate unrest during the protests.[208] In May and June 2020, Lara Logan repeatedly promoted hoaxes as part of Fox News' coverage of antifa, including publishing a false document she described as an antifa battle plan and claiming that a joke about juggalos was evidence of a clandestine antifa hierarchy.[209] In an appearance on Fox News's The Ingraham Angle in June 2020, Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed that "Antifa" as well as "Black Lives Matter" and unspecified communists were working together to "do away with our system of courts" and "take your property away and give it to other people", asserting without evidence that they receive significant funding from an outside source. Giuliani had previously criticized George Soros, who has been a frequent target of conspiracy theories, claiming he funded such groups and demonstrations.[210]

In June 2020, a multiracial family on a camping trip in Forks, Washington, were accused of being antifa activists, harassed and trapped in their campsite when trees were felled to block the road.[211][212][213] In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, groups of armed right-wing vigilantes occupied streets in response to false rumors that antifa activists were planning to travel to the city while similar rumors led to threats being made against activists planning peaceful protests in Sonora, California.[214] In Klamath Falls, Oregon, hundreds of people, most of whom were armed, assembled in response to false rumors that antifa activists would target the city, spread by a commander in the Oregon Air National Guard.[174] In an August 2020 interview, Trump spread a similar conspiracy theory, claiming that "thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that" had boarded a plane to Washington, D.C. to disrupt the 2020 Republican National Convention.[171] Also in August 2020, a fake antifa website began to redirect users to the Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign website.[215][216] Although this has been described as "clearly a ploy to associate the Democratic Party with antifa", those on the right seized upon it.[54][217] 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.[185] Some of the opposition to antifa activism has also been artificial in nature. Nafeesa Syeed of Bloomberg News 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".[218]

Wildfires (2020)

As wildfires raged on the West Coast in September 2020, rumors spread on social media that antifa was deliberately setting fires and preparing to loot property that was being evacuated, which local police departments debunked. Some residents refused to evacuate based on the rumors, choosing to defend their homes from the alleged invasions. Authorities pleaded with residents to ignore the false rumors.[219][220][221][222] A firefighters union in Washington state, also debunking these rumors, described Facebook as "an absolute cesspool of misinformation" on the topic.[223] Prominent promoters of the unfounded rumors included adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory.[223] One false claim that six antifa activists had been arrested for setting fires was specifically amplified by "Q", i.e. "the anonymous person or people behind QAnon".[224] QAnon had for months been organizing "digital soldiers" on social media and internet message boards to wage information warfare to influence the 2020 United States elections.[225]

Capitol attack (2021)

Immediately after the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, a false claim that it was a false flag operation staged by antifa to implicate Trump supporters was spread by a number of Trump loyalists including Representative Mo Brooks, Mark Burns, Lou Dobbs, California State Senate minority leader Shannon Grove, Laura Ingraham, Mike Lindell, former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, actor Kevin Sorbo, Eric Trump and L. Lin Wood.[226][227] The conspiracy theory began on 4chan and similar websites before spreading to more mainstream conservative news sites.[228] Representative Paul Gosar was the first member of Congress to claim that people associated with antifa were responsible for the attack.[227] During Trump's second impeachment trial, his attorney Michael van der Veen falsely asserted on the Senate floor that after the storming of the Capitol, "One of the first people arrested was the leader of antifa."[229]

In posts on Parler, a social networking service used primarily by the far right, leaders of the Proud Boys had disclosed plans to attend the rally wearing "all black" clothing associated with antifa activists and arrive "incognito" in an apparent effort to shift blame for any violence on antifa.[230][231] Photojournalist and left-wing activist John Sullivan, was wrongly accused of 'inciting' the riots.[232]

A false claim that the products of a Facial recognition company XRVision had identified participants in the incursion as antifa activists originated in a report by Rowan Scarborough published in The Washington Times, and was promoted by Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Representative Matt Gaetz, going viral among Trump supporters. The company described Gaetz's claims as "completely false."[227] The Washington Times retracted the story hours after it was published. Similar baseless accusations of antifa false flag operations had circulated among Trump supporters since 2017.[233] Steve Benen of MSNBC described the claims of Gosar, Gaetz and others as "stark raving mad" and indicative of cognitive dissonance, noting that the far-right rioters did not attempt to conceal their identities or allegiances and were subsequently praised by Trump.[234]

Some far-right people, hailed the attack as a great achievement and said that others on the far-right should proudly "own it".[235] Some of the participants in the riot, including some who were later arrested and charged, were reportedly upset that the events were not being attributed to them.[236][237] Users of the right-wing social media site TheDonald.win were angered by the claims that antifa were responsible for storming the Capitol, with one post stating: "It's sickening seeing people give Antifa the glory of fed-up Americans."[238] The FBI said there was no evidence of antifa involvement in the mob incursion.[239][240][241][242] Five months after the attack, television commentator Tucker Carlson suggested that the FBI itself could have secretly perpetrated it.[243] The claim originated in a June 14 article published by right-wing website Revolver News.[244]

Although it was repeatedly debunked, the disinformation campaign effectively spread the falsehood, which was promoted by, among others, Republican Senator Ron Johnson.[245] A poll released in February 2021 by the American Enterprise Institute found that 30% of Americans (including 50% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats) believe antifa was mostly responsible for the violence that happened in the riots at the U.S. Capitol.[246][247] A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released in late February 2021 showed 58 percent of Trump voters believe the event was "mostly an antifa-inspired attack".[248] An Ipsos/Reuters poll released in May 2021 showed that 54% of Republicans believed that the attack "was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad."[249]

Analyses and studies

Questions on how effective antifa is and whether it is a reasonable response have been raised and discussed by news media.[5][38][61][132][250]

In relation to the events of the Unite the Right rally, a 2018 study conducted by professor of criminology Gary LaFree on the link between antifa and terrorism concluded that "while the events share many characteristics of terrorist attacks", the actions by antifa supporters during this event "do not include all of the elements of terrorism required by the GTD". Whereas it fulfilled the requirements of an action led by "sub-national actors" with "violence or threat of violence", it lacked in particular the "intentionality of the incident", that is the "result of a conscious calculation on the part of the perpetrators." LaFree also questioned "whether antifa can be considered to constitute a 'group' at this point in time" and stressed "how complicated it is to distinguish terrorism from other forms of illegal violence" such as those by antifa supporters.[251]

In June 2020, the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) assembled a database of 893 terrorism incidents in the United States beginning in 1994.[17][252][253] An analysis of the database conducted by The Guardian in July 2020 found no murders linked to antifa or anti-fascism since 1994. According to The Guardian, the only death resulting from an anti-fascist attack recorded in the database was that of Willem van Spronsen, who was shot dead by police while allegedly firebombing a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Tacoma, Washington. In contrast, the study highlighted the fact that 329 people were killed by American white supremacists or other right-wing extremists during the same period. The Guardian quoted Heidi Beirich, a co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, as saying that "Antifa is not going around murdering people like rightwing extremists are. It's a false equivalence. I've at times been critical of antifa for getting into fights with Nazis at rallies and that kind of violence, but I can't think of one case in which an antifa person was accused of murder." Seth Jones, a counter-terrorism expert who led the creation of the CSIS's database, told The Guardian that "[l]eftwing violence has not been a major terrorism threat" and that "the most significant domestic terrorism threat comes from white supremacists, anti-government militias and a handful of individuals associated with the 'boogaloo' movement that are attempting to create a civil war in the United States."[17]

The CSIS database was updated in October 2020 to include the suspected killing of Aaron Danielson by Michael Reinoehl.[254] In September 2020, when the investigation was still ongoing, Brian Levin said that if Reinoehl was implicated, it would mark the first case in recent history of an antifa supporter being charged with homicide.[255] Reinoehl was charged by Portland police with second-degree murder.[256]

A September 2020 report by the Network Contagion Research Institute and researchers at Rutgers University found that some left-wing movements, including antifa, associated in "fringe online forums", posted dehumanizing memes about police, used violent rhetoric and coordinated riot activity.[257] Voice of America summarized the report as stating that "far-left movements such as antifa, while decentralized and seen as less lethal than their counterparts on the far right, are just as capable of turning peaceful protests into violent confrontations with law enforcement". According to Voice of America, "the Justice Department has not charged any left-wing groups in connection with the civil unrest, and extremism experts say while the threat of violence from antifa is real, organized groups on the far right pose a greater threat of violence." Josh Lipowsky, a senior research analyst with the Counter Extremism Project, stated that "the decentralized antifa movement poses a lesser threat than the better organized groups on the far right."[94]

See also

References

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  2. ^ a b c d Klein, Adam (2019). "From Twitter to Charlottesville: Analyzing the Fighting Words Between the Alt-Right and Antifa". International Journal of Communication. 13: 22. ISSN 1932-8036. Archived from the original on June 12, 2020. Retrieved June 12, 2020. This present climate of partisan tribalism has given rise to new actors and factions representing the far ends of the political spectrum. [...] On the far left, Antifa represents a fast-growing crusade designed to confront all forms of fascism, principally the aforementioned groups but also, at times, law enforcement. Antifa has no single spokesperson but rather presents its movement as a collective of nameless vigilantes, typically outfitted in concealing masks and black combat gear, ready for battle.
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  8. ^ Ideology (academic sources):
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    Ideology (news sources):
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    • Illing, Sean (August 25, 2017). "'They have no allegiance to liberal democracy': an expert on antifa explains the group". Vox. Archived from the original on August 28, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2017. For the most part, these are pan-leftist groups composed of leftists of different stripes. They all seem to have different views of what they think the ideal social order looks like. Some of them are Marxists, some are Leninists, some are social democrats or anarchists.
    • Lozada, Carlos (September 1, 2017). "The history, theory and contradictions of antifa". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017. And its politics are not just negatory — they also aim to adapt "preexisting socialist, anarchist, and communist currents to a sudden need to react to the fascist menace.
    • Beinart, Peter (September 6, 2017). "The Rise of the Violent Left". The Atalntic. Archived from the original on August 13, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2017. Trump's rise has also bred a new sympathy for antifa among some on the mainstream left. 'Suddenly,' noted the antifa-aligned journal It's Going Down, 'anarchists and antifa, who have been demonized and sidelined by the wider Left have been hearing from liberals and Leftists, 'you've been right all along.' An article in The Nation argued that 'to call Trumpism fascist' is to realize that it is 'not well combated or contained by standard liberal appeals to reason.' The radical left, it said, offers 'practical and serious responses in this political moment.
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  12. ^ Criticism:
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  40. ^ Cammeron, Brenna (August 14, 2017). "Antifa: Left-wing militants on the rise". BBC News. Archived from the original on May 21, 2020. Retrieved November 7, 2017. Antifa is anti-government and anti-capitalist, and their methodologies are often perceived as more closely aligned with anarchists than the mainstream left.
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Further reading