Let’s start with what it is not. Antifa is not an organization, it has no headquarters, no leadership, and no formal mission statement. It is not a new group that popped up out of any recent event or chain of events. It is not a terrorism group. It’s not even original to the United States. It originated in Europe in the 1920s as a counter to the rise of fascist movements. It came to the United States in the 1970s to counter skinheads and other white supremacists, including neo-Nazis.
They popped up again in 2017, and in an interview with NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny, she stated,
“The idea is that if more people had brawled in the streets with actual Nazis then Hitler and the Nazi party would have never risen to power, so antifa has popped up again now with the election of Donald Trump, the rise of the alt-right and the rise of far-right extremists and white nationalist groups that have sort of come up all at the same time.”
Basically, their only consistent ideology has been and continues to be a hatred of fascism and those who support fascist beliefs, and their goal is to deny fascists a platform. This has led to the political right labeling them as anti-first amendment, particularly against free speech.l
While Antifa has no leader or clear organization, there exist organized, local groups, the earliest of which appeared at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally that featured prominently Nazis and other white supremacist groups. They also use digital campaigns through social media to bring shame to those who claim fascist beliefs, including those who support white supremacy.
Most people are unaware of the long history of Antifa, and the only information they have is what has been disseminated by right wing media. Many are under the impression that all they do is incite riots. While there have been incidents of public violence, these incidents are far from their main activities. It doesn’t help that several well-known politicians continue to engage in what Zadronsky calls,
“a top-down disinformation campaign from the president and the president’s allies down to local law enforcement and then through social media.”
While anti-fascists get the most attention for their occasional violent behavior, most of their followers advocate nonviolent means like hanging posters, giving speeches and marching.
Zadronsky goes on to report that,
“…in Klamath Falls, Oregon, hundreds of armed counterprotesters showed up ready to fight this ‘invisible monster’ they heard about on social media. They believed antifa ‘was coming to their town to murder people, murder white people and take their guns and destroy their town.’ Of course, antifa never came.”
The only thing that these armed counter protesters managed to achieve was the intimidation of diverse peoples that were peacefully protesting police brutality.
What is Fascism…
Fascism first reared its ugly head in 1920s Italy. Benito Mussolini coined the term “fascism” and also founded Italy’s National Fascist Party. With the help of his personal army, the squadristi (also known as the Blackshirts) his rise to power was quick and ruthless, especially if you were a political rival. He basically dismantled all the Italian institutions of democracy and then happily appointed himself Dictator in 1925. But Italy was not just the birthplace of fascism. It is also the birthplace of anti-fascism.
Stanislao Pugliese, a Modern European History professor as well as a Queensboro UNICO Distinguished Professor of Italian and Italian-American Studies at Hofstra University in New York, stated,
“In the 1920s, even before fascism came to power, there were antifascist groups in Italy who, similar to today, understood that fascism was a completely different phenomenon on the political spectrum”
Soon afterwards, Adolf Hitler introduced fascism to Germany. He used the same type of nationalism as Mussolini did, and predictably, it resulted in the same erosion of personal freedoms, freedom of the press, human rights, and the democracy that Germany had previously enjoyed. Hitler, however, did not overthrow the German government. He was elected.
In 1932, the KDP (Communist Party of Germany) founded the “Antifaschistische Aktion” (Antifascist Action) in opposition to the Nazis. But as fascism continued to rise in Europe, others who were against fascism but beholden to Communist ideologies began to crop up
The Communist and non-Communists anti-fascists held one thing in common, to stop fascism and its antithesis to basic human rights and democracy. This created a broad alliance, that, to some extent, defeated Hitler, Mussolini, and all other fascist powers that were prominent during World War 2.
Antifa activity rapidly increased after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Followers of Antifa began to realize that fascism and white supremacy were being given a sense of legitimacy in US politics. As stated earlier, this all came to a head in Charlottesville, when a neo-Nazi killed a woman by running over her as he plowed his car into a crowd of protesters.
President Trump has repeatedly blamed violence on Antifa, referred to them as a terrorist group, and has instructed his National Security adviser to prosecute those part of the Antifa movement. Antifa continues to be branded by the political right as a hate group, anti-American, communists, socialists, terrorists, anti-law enforcement, and a variety of other claims that are not only patently untrue, but are antithetical to what they actually stand for. It’s ironic that many within the spectrum of the political right have come to believe these claims, while giving legitimacy to actual hate groups, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other groups that espouse bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.
Again, yes, there have been incidents of violence and threats made against law enforcement officers by individuals who identify as being part of Antifa. But these are isolated cases, just as the acts of violence are isolated cases. This Broad brushing of the entire movement has resulted in a flood of misinformation about what Antifa is, and its history. Branding it a terrorist group is, frankly, ridiculous.
ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi stated,
“Terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused.”
Former Trump Justice Department official Mary McCord, stated that,
“…no current legal authority exists for designating domestic organisations as terrorist organisations. Any attempt at such a designation would raise significant First Amendment concerns.”
The U.S. State Department’s definition of terrorism doesn’t apply, because Antifa is not a single organization. Designating it as one is pointless for anything other than political bloviating. There is also no Antifa position regarding violence. Some Antifa activists or even local groups may support violence, but others see violence as counter-productive and even illegitimate.
Members of Antifa have repeatedly stated their only mission is to prevent the organization and propagation of white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and other racist groups. They simply state that anyone who is against Nazis or against fascism is anti-fascist.
Members and supporters are as diverse as the makeup of the countries they reside in. They each as individuals or as groups use a wide variety of protests from the occasional acts of violence to the mundane, like creating websites, distributing flyers, recording videos, authoring articles, and organizing public events.
They may engage in intimidation practices such as exposing the private information of fascists and racists home addresses and contact information. They may attempt to get them fired from their jobs, or at least ruin their reputations. At protests, you will often see them in black clothing and masks. They state that this is for creating intimidation against fascists and racists, and also to prevent being identified, arrested, and prosecuted.
Basically, for more than a decade now, many of those who stand against racism, fascism and other white supremacy have come to use the Antifa banner, and they are doing so because of the sight of people in the street waving Nazi flags and swastikas, anti-semitic signs, or otherwise boasting that they’re white nationalists. Antifa is still here, 100 years later, with the same message it has always had,
“Do everything possible to prevent these people from coming to power.”