Antifa is a militant, loosely organized movement of far-left vandals, rioters, and other criminals who advocate for Marxism. The name Antifa, which is short for “anti-fascist,” uses criminal violence to advance its cause, inflicting damage on innocent civilians’ property–a sign that the group is the exact opposite of its name.
In May 2020, following several nights of Antifa-fueled riots across the US, President Trump announced that the federal government would be treating Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.
Antia members seek to silence groups that they deem as fascist, racist, or right-leaning from having a platform to promote their views. They believe allowing these groups to organize and demonstrate will lead to targeting of “marginalized people” including racial minorities and those of the LGBT community.
Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, explains, “militant anti-fascism is inherently self-defence because of the historically documented violence that fascists pose, especially to marginalised people.” Simply put, Antifa believes that the rhetoric of their adversaries will ultimately lead to violence against vulnerable communities, justifying their violence in return.
Antifa also has a strong anti-capitalist streak. In Philadelphia, 50 masked Antifa activists broke windows while carrying a banner that read: “Gentrification is death and revolt is life.” The last part–revolt, mayhem, looting, rioting, anarchy–is the calling card of Antifa.
If Antifa stuck to protesting neo-Nazis, perhaps no one would mind. But Antifa has a broad definition of what it considers “fascists.” Antifia also considers mainstream Republican voters to be targets. The left-wing Antidefamation League notes, “Antifa have expanded their definition of fascist/fascism to include not just white supremacists and other extremists, but also many conservatives and supporters of President Trump.”
In advance of the annual Rose Festival parade in 2017, where the local Republican party had a float, Antifa activists threatened to assault anyone who dared to show support for President Trump. If anyone supporting Trump took part, the group warned, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade … and drag and push those people out.” The parade was canceled after police said they couldn’t provide adequate protection.
In other words, simply voting for one of the two major political parties in America is enough to get on the bad side of this violent terrorist group.
Antifa is the latest extension of a supposedly antifacist movement that began in the 1930s with Antifaschiste groups that opposed the rise of Nazis. Similar movements grew in the 1960s in Europe and 1970s in the United States, morphing into Anti-Racist Action in the 1980s before a new generation of activists founded Antifa. The oldest organized cell of Antifa is Rose City Antifa in Portland, Oregon, which was founded in 2007, though leftwing anarchists also showed up in force to anti-World Trade Organization protests in 2000.
The movement is based on the belief that the Nazis could never have taken power if anti-fascists had challenged them in the streets. But as Nietzsche famously warned, those who fight monsters must be careful not to become monsters themselves. Through its use of violence to attack those with whom it disagrees, Antifa shows that blackshirts are the new brownshirts.
The new Antifa movement in the came to burning fruition in violent protests in January 2017, as thugs in black masks committed property damage to object to the inauguration of President Donald Trump. More than 200 were arrested, and police were injured.
Antifa’s prominence rose as followers violently protested against a speech by Milo Yiannopolous, a right-wing provocateur who was visiting the University of California-Berkeley campus. Described one witness: “Rockets and incendiary devices were fired at police, the Student Union campus building where Milo was scheduled to appear was besieged and severely damaged, Trump supporters were assaulted, fires were ignited, and the riot then spilled out onto city streets where windows were smashed and businesses vandalized.” Ironically, much of the violence took place on the university’s Sproul Plaza, where the Free Speech Movement was born in 1964.
Antifa often uses criminal violence, sometimes taking advantage of peaceful protests to start trouble. Antifa uses “black bloc” tactics in the US, meaning its followers wear black head-to-toe, including face coverings to obscure their identities.
The Antidefamation League notes that Antifa activists have used bricks, crowbars, homemade slingshots, metal chains, water bottles, and balloons filled with urine and feces. Antifa activists may also carry knives and other weapons.
Doxxing is another Antifa tactic for targeting people they don’t like. Doxxing involves publishing private details, such as someone’s home address. The result is typically harassment (with the potential for much worse).
Antifa thugs have also engaged in physical violence on numerous occasions. The Washington Post described how Antifa attacked “peaceful right-wing demonstrators” in California: “A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself.” Antifa activists also physically beat conservative journalist Andy Ngo in Portland, Oregon, causing brain bleeding. Antifa miscreants have even screamed at elderly bystanders.
One Antifa activist named James Mattox incredibly won a $23,000 settlement from Portland after he claimed his civil rights were violated by police after he was shot with a rubber bullet during a 2018 protest. Social media posts show Mattox listing as heroes people who murdered police officers.
Antifa’s anarchist streak has also created headaches for left-leaning governments. In Antifa’s home of Portland, Oregon, the group disrupted the city council so many times that the council had to meet behind locked doors. They hounded the mayor at his home so many times that he fled to a hotel.
Similar to other domestic terrorist movements, such as the Animal Liberation Front, Antifa is loosely organized and operates with local “cells.” There is no official national leader of Antifa, but there are leaders of local cells that follow the general Antifa ideology. There is no official membership.
A study in Germany of left-wing protesters who had been arrested found that one-third were unemployed and the vast majority were male and between the ages of 18-29–and 92 percent lived with their parents. Anecdotal evidence finds similar trends in the US.
That’s not to take away from their capacity for organizing mayhem. New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller described how anarchists looking to take advantage of the May 2020 protests over the killing of George Lloyd were tactical: “[O]rganizers of certain anarchist groups set out to raise bail money and people who would be responsible to be raising bail money, they set out to recruit medics and medical teams with gear to deploy in anticipation of violent interactions with police. … [they] developed a complex network of bicycle scouts to move ahead of demonstrators in different directions of where police were and where police were not for purposes of being able to direct groups from the larger group to places where they could commit acts of vandalism including the torching of police vehicles and molotov cocktails where they thought officers would not be.”
Opponents and Supporters
Naturally, right-leaning commentators are widely opposed to Antifa’s tactics and political ideology. But many on the left have also condemned Antifa’s actions.
Antifa has been condemned across the political spectrum. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi criticized “the violent actions of people calling themselves antifa” following violence in Berkeley, California, and called for arrests. The Mayor of Berkeley noted, “Fighting hate with hate does not work and only makes each side more entrenched in their ideological camps.”
One commentator wrote in left-leaning The Atlantic that Antifa was becoming that which it opposed: “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.”
President Obama also spoke out against Antifa rioters who were believed to have hijacked peaceful protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. “[T]he small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause,” he wrote.
Antifa has drawn support from others.
Rutgers professor Mark Bray has been a leading excuse-maker for Antifa. “The argument is that militant anti-fascism is inherently self-defense because of the historically documented violence that fascists pose, especially to marginalized people,” he told the New York Times. On Meet the Press, Bray similarly posited, “A lot of people are under attack, and sometimes they need to be able to defend themselves.”
Since when is rioting and looting an act of self-defense?
“If antifa groups are composed of a wide range of socialists, anarchists, communists and other radicals, then declaring antifa to be a “terrorist” organization would pave the way to criminalizing and delegitimizing all politics to the left of Joe Biden,” Bray whined in a Washington Post op-ed opposing President Trump labeling Antifa a terrorist organization. The obvious rebuttal is that we can stand against all political violence, left-wing or right-wing. Bray doesn’t seem to understand the old saying that violence begets violence.
Keith Ellison, the Attorney General of Minnesota, tweeted a picture of himself with Bray’s book, saying it should “strike fear in the heart of” President Trump. Ellison has since deleted the tweet, though Ellison’s son has come out as an Antifa supporter following the May 2020 riots.
The ACLU, meanwhile, has criticized President Trump’s call to label Antifa a domestic terrorist group. “There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns,” said an ACLU representative.
As one critic of Antifa’s far-left violence points out, “[I]n 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. Unlike the politicians they revile, the men and women of antifa cannot be voted out of office. Generally, they don’t even disclose their names.”
Antifa isn’t democratic. It isn’t antifascist. It’s facism itself.