Antifa, short for ‘Anti-Fascist,’ is a term used by and for far-left protesters across the globe. If you’ve heard of the Berkeley riots against Milo Yiannopoulos, or the threats made against Ann Coulter, you are familiar with at least some of their work. They support using violence and intimidation against politicians and civilian populations perceived as fascist in order to force acceptance of their demands. While fascism has historically been understood as an authoritarian philosophy that calls for government control over industry and the suppression of dissent, to Antifa it means essentially any right-of-center belief. To this end they have targeted protesters, assaulted conservative journalists, sent death threats to a Latino family after misidentifying them as neo-Nazis, attacked 80-year-old grandmothers and high school students with bats, and even stabbed horses.
Antifa is not one movement with a centralized leadership, but instead a loose association of groups and individuals with the same general philosophy and goals. Antifa is broken into cells, such as “Antifa Midwest” or “Berkeley Antifa” which are the nucleus of organizing and planning protests and events. Antifa groups will frequently promote or retweet each other’s content and events, but generally do not coordinate with one another except for major events, such as Trump’s inauguration or the May Day protests. When they riot, they use black bloc strategies, alternatively covering their heads with hoodies and faces with bandannas or shirts for anonymity while they smash windows and assault onlookers, and slipping into civilian clothing to blend in among the crowd of peaceful protesters and evade capture by the police. While their weapons have thus far been Molotov cocktails, bricks, bats, and crude blades, they have also sold concealed knives and after the Berkeley riots several members suggested using guns in a sign of things to come.
Among violent German “Antifascist” protesters, Heat Street reports that 92% live with their parents, 84% are male, 72% are aged 18-29, 90% are single, and 34% are unemployed. In America they also appear to be largely white college students, though no comprehensive demographic survey of American Antifa has been conducted yet.
While Antifa has existed in some form for decades as an underground association, the election of Donald Trump seems to have brought them front and center and their ideas have become more and more accepted into the political mainstream. The Daily Californian Editorial Board described the Antifa riots in Berkeley, which injured 6 and caused over $100,000 in property damage, as “defending communities.” The Pacific Standard has suggested that in the age of Trump, Antifa are “the most reasonable people in America.” One has to wonder what these “reasonable people” must think of the would-be assassin who left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise in critical condition, or of the climate of hate that produced him. Even as media sources like Vox insist that there is “no evidence” that the far left shooter who was active on anti-Trump social media, had worked for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and had participated in marches against Donald Trump, was incited to violence by the left’s rhetoric, militant “anti-fascists” are celebrating the shooting. It should be no surprise that this happened; after all the underlying message that violence against fascists is justified and that Republicans are fascist is a core part of the wider Antifa message. Many echoed this sentiment on Twitter, expressing support for the shooter and regret that more Republicans were not hit, suggesting that Republicans deserve to be murdered either for supporting gun rights or trying to repeal Obamacare.
Antifa might be aggressive, but it has not been successful. While it has managed to shut down a couple of speakers and beat a few people up, it has not been able to scare people away from their beliefs. Conservatives are standing by their principles. Alabama representative Mo Brooks, who was on the scene of the shooting and who helped Scalise until medical attention could be provided, said in an interview with CNN in response to a question about gun control that “the Second Amendment right to bear arms is to ensure that we always have a republic. And as with any constitutional provision in the Bill of Rights, there are adverse aspects to each of those rights that we enjoy as people… but we’re not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say some really ugly things that hurt other people’s feelings. We’re not going to get rid of Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights because it allows some criminals to go free who should be behind bars.” Americans, it would seem, are not about to give in to terror. Only time will tell if Antifa will realize this.
The vast majority of anti-Trump protesters are not Antifa radicals bent on silencing dissent and using terror. Peaceful protest is protected under the First Amendment, and everybody in America has the right to signal their disagreement with the government. The actions of extremists should not be used to justify an infringement on those rights. But the shooting of Scalise shows that those calling for violence cannot be brushed off simply as fringe radicals, and the ideas that these people hold have the potential to be legitimately dangerous. The “resistance” to Trump should seriously consider whether it wants angry, hooded, extremists and champagne socialists to be the face of its movement.
If the mainstream left truly supports peaceful dialogue, it must stop providing shelter to Antifa activists. When black bloc insurgents try to co-opt non-violent demonstrations, protesters should block them out of the crowd, seize them, or point them out to the police. As long as the moderate left tolerates and praises these insurgents, and affords them cover and immunity for their actions, they will be complicit in the violence that Antifa perpetuates.
As of today, a petition calling on president to declare Antifa a domestic terror organization has received over 86,000 signatures.