Politics |Analysis

The origins and aims of Antifa – the face of anti-fascism in America

  1. Unlike other groups which lean to the far left or the far right – or organisations classified as hate groups – Antifa does not advocate any particular doctrine.

Talk (45)

VD

Vasin Douglas

"This is good feedback. There is a fin..."
VD

Vasin Douglas

"The rise in right wing extremist acti..."
VD

Vasin Douglas

"It is mentioned that Antifa is decent..."
VD

Vasin Douglas

"Great feedback. I am making adjustmen..."

The rise of President Donald J. Trump has emboldened a number of right-wing groups, Anitfa has presented itself as a counter to this rise in right-wing activity.

In August 2017, when President Trump used the term “Antifa” to denounce a group of demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, he brought renewed attention to the roiling racial divisiveness which has characterized this past U.S. presidential election. However, most observers of the news may not have heard of the disparate groups which form Antifa until recent months. Now its motives and membership are under scrutiny after it has physically resisted neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), white nationalist, the alt-right and white supremacists during rallies and protests.

In simple terms, Antifa is a self-styled antifascist group. The ultimate goal of its members is to oppose and fight fascism through protest and direct confrontation. Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a rise in right-wing extremist activity. In response, Antifa has increased its activity. Through use of Twitter, Facebook, websites, word of mouth, fliers and graffiti, Antifa is unifying independent groups to oppose far-right organizations. Antifa even has a step-by-step guide to organizing your own local Antifa group.

 

Protesters demonstrate at the inauguration of President Trump on January 20, 2017.
Protesters at the inauguration of President Trump on January 20, 2017. (Photo: Mobilus In Mobili via Wikimedia Commons)

The history of Antifa is older and more complex than it appears. One theory suggests that the name may have its origins in the Antifaschistische Aktion movement, which started in opposition to fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the early 20th century. According to Mark Bray, author of The Antifascist Handbook, during the 1980s, U.S. anti-fascists took on the name Anti-Racist Action Network. The name fell out of favor during the 2000s. The current wave of antifascists have taken on the name and image of the post World War II European Antifa.

Autonomous local action

Antifa is now shorthand for anti-fascist or anti-fascist action. The movement is known for using physical confrontation in order to achieve their goal of fighting fascism. Without official leadership, Antifa uses a network of autonomous local groups for its structure and strategically uses social media and the internet for communication.

Although critics have tried to find parallels between Antifa and traditional hate-groups like the KKK and neo nazis, there is little common ground.

To apply some context, the KKK is a terrorist organization that originated after the U.S. Civil War. It is one of America’s oldest hate groups, and a vigilante group established to intimidate Southern African-Americans through cross burnings, lynchings and murders. The goal of the KKK is to strip African-Americans of their civil rights, voting rights and economic rights.

Unlike other groups which lean to the far left or the far right, Antifa does not advocate a singular central doctrine. The lack of a central doctrine also means the Antifa movement is driven by a wide range of political motives, including anti-capitalism, environmentalism and gay rights. In recent years in the U.S., Antifa groups have allied themselves with members of the Black Lives Matter movement and other social-justice organizations.

This distinguishes them from other American entities like the KKK, which advocates racial purity.  It also differentiates them from political parties such as the Nazis in Germany, who used genocide as a means of achieving their goals.

In the U.S., Antifa is not classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League – which defines a hate group as an organization whose goals are based on a shared hatred towards different races, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, national origins, genders, and/or sexual identities. To be classified as a hate-group, the organization itself must have a hate-based purpose.

Antifa members usually gravitate towards a commonly shared ideological view which does not look to governments to solve a problem. More radical elements argue only violence can quell the rise of racism and fascism. Antifa groups also express disdain for mainstream liberal politics and the traditional media, which they view as protecting white supremacy and not working to support the oppressed. They specifically call out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as being inadequate and ill-prepared to fight against fascism – stating that their “middle of the road” position is the means by which racists and fascists have become legitimized.

Punching Spencer

One of the most vivid examples of how Antifa members differ from other traditional protest movements occurred last January during the inauguration of President Trump, when a masked Antifa member punched Richard B. Spencer  — a prominent white supremacist — in the face. In September another noteworthy attack occurred in Seattle, Washington, when Antifa members used social media to track down a Nazi for harassing a black bus rider. Once they found him they physically attacked him and knocked him unconscious. These actions are a shock to a country with a long history of peace-abiding left-wing movements. What followed was a national debate over whether it was ever morally justifiable to “punch a Nazi.”

Critics of Antifa say the movement ultimately opposes free speech. They argue white-supremacists like the KKK, neo-Nazis, alt-right groups and other white-nationalist organizations should be permitted to assemble in public without fear of resistance. They have also, according to The Atlantic, criticized the violent attacks by some members as alienating to sections of American society. They argue Antifa-related violence could contribute to the re-election of Trump in 2020.

Unlike members of the KKK, Antifa followers do not wear a uniform, but occasionally adopt clothing which helps avoid identification by the authorities. This may include black clothing, and masks or balaclavas. The face covering is employed to obscure a person’s identity and, in some instances, intimidate opponents. This can be traced back to the anarchist movements of the “black bloc” coalition of the 1980s, who regularly wore similar attire to avoid prosecution.

As the political and social climate continues to polarize, there is one thing that the right and the left can agree on: they are not in favor of Antifa. Liberals such as U.S. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi have condemned violent acts from Antifa demonstrations. Noam Chomsky criticized Antifa as being counterproductive, while right-wing extremists criticize Antifa for interfering with their 1st Amendment rights. What looks to be inevitable is that the U.S. will see a increase in Antifa’s protests as Nazi, KKK, White Nationalist and Alt-Right groups increase their activity.


Sources & References

Mark Bray interview in Vox.com

Fast Company on Antifa

KKK website.

The Atlantic article on Antifa

Southern Poverty Law Center on KKK and groups

The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray

National Review article on Antifa

“What is fascism?” article by Live Science

The Rise of the Violent Left, The Atlantic

 


Started by

United States

History for stories "The origins and aims of Antifa – the face of anti-fascism in America"

Select two items to compare revisions

21 February 2018

• (view) . . Comment: Fact Checking‎; 22:48:23, 21 Feb 2018 . . Mohamed Salih (talk | contribs)‎‎ ( Comment -> Great effort indeed, I hope you are on our Slack? we are discussing how we should move this project forward, there are many questions not answers yet such as the proper methodology we should consider to engage the crowd in fact checking. if you are not there yet I hope to join us, I'm sure will add a lot to the group. )

02 February 2018

12 January 2018

14 December 2017

29 November 2017

02 November 2017

17:07:31, 02 Nov 2017 . .‎ Peter Bale (Updated → Added hyperlinks in sources and references and crossheads to break up gaps.)
15:55:42, 02 Nov 2017 . .‎ Vasin Douglas (Updated → Editing to feeback)
15:24:25, 02 Nov 2017 . .‎ Vasin Douglas (Updated → Editing to feedback)
15:23:33, 02 Nov 2017 . .‎ Vasin Douglas (Updated → Reacting to feedback with additional edits)

01 November 2017

13:43:34, 01 Nov 2017 . .‎ Jack Procter-Blain (Updated → Edited ethnic group, per style guide)
10:52:35, 01 Nov 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → updates summary)

30 October 2017

14:17:25, 30 Oct 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → summary)

Talk for Story "The origins and aims of Antifa – the face of anti-fascism in America"

Talk about this Story

  1. Other

    “Unlike members of the KKK, Antifa followers do not wear a uniform, but occasionally adopt clothing which helps avoid identification by the authorities. ”

    Does the use of “helps” here imply efficacy without sufficient proof? In other words, it seems clear their use of such clothing *aims* at avoiding identification by the authorities, but it’s not clear that the means effectively achieve the ends. This is a minor point in this piece since balaclavas do in fact obscure one’s appearance, making it more difficult to recognize a person’s unique features, but it may be worth keeping in mind for other, more blatant instances where intentions and results are conflated. E.g. “the law, which helps reduce X,” versus “the law, which aims/seeks to reduce X.”

    1. Rewrite

      Seems to me another example of the biased language of this article.

      Information given: Antifa members wear balaclavas in order to commit illegal actions without being identifiable by the police.

      To say this, the article starts by mentioning a random thing they don’t do, contrasting them with a universally despised group. Then, uses this “helps avoid something” construction that gives the action a slightly impersonal or even positive connotation.

      For the first point, I think a different comparison would make the absurdity clearer, as one could have chosen the equally true comparison:

      “Unlike airline pilots, Antifa followers do not wear a uniform…”

      For the second, it’s hard for me to point exactly what makes the “helps avoid” construction feel wrong, but a quick Google search of the terms “helps avoid” maybe gives my suspicion some substance. These are the first results- it seems the construction “helps avoid” is always used to describe positive, desirable effects.

      “Intermittent fasting helps avoid cancer”
      “New Turbidity Probe Helps Avoid Obstructions”
      “Maintaining a steady weight helps you avoid hypertension”
      “Extra flu jab helps avoid stroke”
      “Mayweather win helps Vegas avoid big losses”
      “the process helps avoid the “blame game,””
      “Tesla Model X helps avoid potential accident”
      “Fairness-verification tool helps avoid illegal bias in algorithms”
      “Why rapid prototyping helps avoid product failure”
      “Helps avoid stillbirth”

      etc.

  2. Rewrite

    > Unlike other groups which lean to the far left or the far right – or organisations classified as hate groups – Antifa does not advocate any particular doctrine.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifa_(United_States):

    > They tend to be anti-government and anti-capitalist,[10] and they are predominantly far left,[11][6] including anarchists, communists and socialists.

    The byline directly contradicts Wikipedia.

    > In the U.S., Antifa is not classified as a hate group

    Link is broken.

  3. Flagged as bias

    “What looks to be inevitable is that as the U.S. will see a rise in violent leftist actions as the polarized climate intensifies.” This isn’t about polarization. As been pointed out in many other places, Antifa would gladly stay home and knit and drink tea or play games or whatever. The groups they are fighting would not, as they have agendas of hate and dominance.
    Antifa don’t stay home because hate groups currently have a platform and their ideas have a shocking amount of traction. This threat from Yonatan explains it well: https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/922202212457070592

    1. Rewrite
      1. Flagged as bias

        I agree, and would recommend deleting this final line—if not for its misreading of the movement, then for its speculation.

        1. Rewrite

          I agree with deleting the final sentence.

  4. Rewrite

    I would be careful about characterizing Antifa as a “group”, as the story currently does. Antifa is a decentralized network/implicit alliance of various groups. I’ve yet to see evidence that “group” is an adequate descriptor as there is no code of membership other than clothing style and symbology.

    1. Rewrite

      This is a good point. It will be impossible to avoid using the word “group” in this piece, that said, it should be mentioned that Antifa has no centralized leadership or organizational structure.

      1. Rewrite

        It is mentioned that Antifa is decentralized and is make of up of informal groups: “Antifa is unifying independent groups to oppose far-right organizations. Antifa even has a step-by-step guide to organizing your own local Antifa group.”

  5. Flagged as bias

    Suggested Changes based on information available:

    Original:

    “The election of President Donald J. Trump has emboldened a number of left-wing groups seeking political change across a number of issues. The most radical of these is Antifa.”

    Change to:

    “Left-wing groups like Antifa seek political change across a number of issues. There has been a sharp rise in reporting about Antifa since the election of President Donald J. Trump.”

    There is no evidence in the story of the groups being emboldened, but they have been in the news more often.

    If you look at the archives for the Trusted Wikitribune sources, you can see there is a sharp rise in reporting this year compared to past years.

    BBC has 8 articles from 2007-2016, and 22 articles mentioning Antifa in 2017 https://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=antifa

    Reuters has 5 articles since August 2017, and none before that mention Antifa http://www.reuters.com/search/news?blob=antifa

    AP won’t report on “Antifa” as a unified group. They believe this term should stay in quotations for now given its newfound prevalence in U.S. news. https://www.dailydot.com/layer8/associated-press-alt-right-antifa/

    I feel there is a lot of evidence that Antifa is being reported more in the news, but no evidence that I can find (and I looked through all the trusted Wikitribune sources) about how much their activity has increased or decreased since the election.

  6. Flagged as bias

    This article strikes me as biased against Antifa, while sort of light on actual facts about them.

    For example the summary:

    “The election of President Donald J. Trump has emboldened a number of left-wing groups seeking political change across a number of issues. The most radical of these is Antifa.”

    Where is the evidence that the election of Trump “emboldened” Antifa or any other groups? The single link source simply demonstrates that Trump has mentioned Antifa, but it says nothing about how their actions have changed (“emboldened” would indicate that there has been some sort of measurable change in response to his election).

    It goes on to say: “Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a rise in right-wing extremist activity. In response, Antifa has increased its activity.”

    Yet there is no evidence in the article that Antifa’s activity has increased. The are several examples of activity, but none that demonstrates the activity is more or less than before the election.

    And this: “Antifa is now shorthand for anti-fascist or anti-fascist action. The movement is known for using physical confrontation in order to achieve their goal of fighting fascism.”

    Where is the evidence that demonstrates the movement is known for using physical confrontation? I’m not saying that’s not the case, but there isn’t evidence of that in the article.

    1. Rewrite

      Thanks. I will go back to the author on some of these as I think they are all able to be justified and backed up and if they are not adequately reflected in the story at this point they soon will be. Peter

      1. Rewrite

        That’s great! As long as we keep working together we’ll make it perfectly unbiased and factual 🙂

        1. Rewrite

          Great feedback. I am making adjustments to some of the points to add clarity and accuracy

  7. Flagged as bias

    I’ve compiled a list of the statements in the article that strike me as most biased. Some of them were in my previous comments, some others come from other commenters. I’d really like to see some change to this piece, that I can’t help finding very unbalanced.

    Is there a process going on to define rules to conform to to avoid bias and POVs, similarly to what’s been done for Wikipedia?

    Also, I’ve found a statement in the article the openly contradicts the Antifa entry in Wikipedia. Of course WP is not an authoritative source; however its entries have been already discussed at length and the current consensus is generally supported by citations. I wonder if there should be a rule about such cases, for example “where a statement conflicts with WP, acknowledge it and explain why it’s been decided to support a different position”. This could benefit both WT and WP.

    ——– from the article

    > its motives and membership are under scrutiny after it has physically resisted …. during rallies and protests
    – “resisted” implies they were under immediate physical threat. Which is not the case, as reported even further down in the article.

    > The ultimate goal of its members is to oppose and fight fascism through protest and direct confrontation
    – The group *proclaims* that their goal is to oppose and fight “fascism”. Fascism is in quotes because the definition of who should be called fascist is entirely up to them.

    > Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a rise in right-wing extremist activity
    – Citation missing.

    > In response, Antifa has increased its activity.
    – Citation needed, both for “in response” (which seems to stress again that Antifa is only “reacting”, and therefore more justified) and the increase in activity.

    > The history of Antifa is older and more complex than it appears
    – No justification is given to this statement, there’s only a shoprt digression on the origins of the name.

    > The movement is known for using physical confrontation in order to achieve their goal of fighting fascism
    – Again, to achieve their *stated* goal of fighting “fascism”

    > Although critics have tried to find parallels between Antifa and traditional hate-groups like the KKK and neo nazis, there is little common ground.
    – This would be more fitting in an opinion piece. Why did the critics have suggested parallels? How the fact that KKK (but not, for instance, the alt-right) is classified as a terrorist organization removes possible parallels between hate groups and Antifa? (BTW, according to an article on the Independent [1], “US security officials have classified the left-wing group Antifa as “domestic terrorists””).

    > Unlike other groups which lean to the far left or the far right, Antifa does not advocate any particular doctrine
    – This contradicts the lede of the Antifa entry in Wikipedia: “They tend to be anti-government and anti-capitalist, and they are predominantly far left and militant left, including anarchists, communists and socialists.” The statement in Wikipedia is supported by 7 sources.

    > This distinguishes them from other American entities like the KKK, which advocates racial purity. It also differentiates them from political parties such as the Nazis in Germany, who used genocide as a means of achieving their goals.
    – Frankly, I wouldn’t try to define Antifa by opposition with the KKK or even the German Nazi party- it just doesn’t seem informative. It also gives the impression of trying to discount political violence because at least they don’t advocate genocide.

    > More radical elements argue only violence can quell the rise of racism and fascism
    – Is fascism on the rise, or again, it is just the perception of Antifa?

    > Neoliberals such as Noam Chomsky
    – Chomsky is anything but a neoliberal- he’s at the far left

    [1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/antifa-domestic-terrorists-us-security-agencies-homeland-security-fbi-a7927881.html

    1. Rewrite

      Thanks. I am going to ask the author to address some of these issues you raise. I am not convinced the doctrinal note is very strong since while it may be eclectic it may not have a single overriding ideology. Peter

    2. Rewrite

      The issue with the phrasing of how they “physically resisted” has been brought up a couple of times and I agree that this may be deceiving to the reader. The groups they attacked were pretty widely known as having bad reputations, so I think it can just be stated that they physically attacked members of these groups (if not more explicitly stating that they have initiated violence). If the reader is given the chance to assume the antifa members were just defending themselves then this can change the perception of the group completely. This statement is made early in article too, so it would be easy for a reader to only get to that point and think nothing of it. The violence isn’t discussed until much later in the article. Antifa can potentially do more harm than help, regardless of their motives, so be careful how they are described and how any violence is perceived.

  8. Rewrite

    I’m not doubting this, but I think both of these sentences deserve a citation:
    1) Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a rise in right-wing extremist activity.
    2) In response, Antifa has increased its activity.

    On a more meta note: “Flaged for bias” -> “Flagged for bias”

    1. Rewrite

      Oh God, “flaged”. Thanks very much. On it.

    2. Rewrite

      The rise in right wing extremist activity has been reported. This is not a opinion. I will add links to the reporting on activity.
      Thank you

  9. Flagged as bias

    I have issues with this statement in the last paragraph:

    “Neoliberals such as Noam Chomsky have criticized Antifa as being counterproductive, while right-wing extremists criticize Antifa for interfering with their 1st Amendment rights.”

    Since Noam Chomsky wrote a book titled, “Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order” and has YouTube videos of talks such as “Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy”, it seems rather strange to see the word “Neoliberal” attached to him. And IMHO, it serves to distract the reader.

    1. Rewrite

      Professor Noam Chomsky is indeed critical of neoliberalism, I removed the label. I tweaked the last paragraph to better reflect criticism of Antifa from the liberal POV, the conservative POV, as well as Chomsky’s take.

    1. Rewrite

      How so? Do elaborate if you can. Peter

      1. Rewrite

        Why do you call him a Neoliberal? What is the context for that in the article? My first reaction to reading that was to distract me from the rest of the article, saying to myself, “Noam isn’t a neoliberal!”

  10. Rewrite

    The link for “hate group” seems dead in the bit “In the U.S., Antifa is not classified as a hate group, which is officially defined”. Also, when a phrase like “officially defined” is used, I think that’s really where we need a reference link. “Official” can mean a lot of different things and “officially defined by whom?” is the reasonable question that might appear in the reader’s mind.

    1. Rewrite

      Really good point. Going to see if it’s possible to link to SPLC.

  11. Flagged as bias

    “Now its motives and membership are under scrutiny after it has physically resisted neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), white nationalist, the alt-right and white supremacists during rallies and protests.”

    “physically resisted”? To me the use of the word “resisted” implies that they were (physically) attacked, and opposed a resistance. It also seem to imply that the act is notable, that is, that there is usually no resistance to the physical attacks moved by extreme right groups. The expression is consistent with Antifa’s rhetoric, but seems out of place in a balanced analysis.

    1. Rewrite

      Thanks Carlos. I can’t respond on behalf of the
      author at the moment, but would offer that ‘physically resisted’ differentiates from a resistance that is verbal or printed/internet, or of passive resistance.

      Angela

      1. Rewrite

        Hi Angela, thank you for your reply. Not sure if we understand each other correctly. My doubts are not about the “physically” but about “resisted”.

        You could call it resistance if the group was responding with violence to (possibly State-sanctioned) aggressions – this is actually what happens in a fascist regime. But Antifa is actually using violence against a threat that is not institutionalized, sometimes not even violent. Calling it a “resistance” is already buying in the rhetoric of the group, that wants to pose as a resistance group in a society that has *already* become fascist.

    2. Rewrite

      The philosophy of Antifa is to use physical force to resist. The most controversial aspect of Antifa is this use of physical force…yes in the eyes of some this is just violence, but Antifa believes in used force when confronted with force.

      1. Rewrite

        > Antifa believes in used force when confronted with force

        There are clearly defined rules for what is a legitimate use of violence for self defence- and in general they prescribe you should be under immediate, physical threat. And as far as I know, the US are still a country under the rule of law.
        Antifa is free to say what it wants and to present its own politically motivated violence under whatever light it prefers in order to make it appear as a necessary resistance- this doesn’t mean that we have to buy into their narrative.

        1. Rewrite

          I didn’t really get the impression that their “narrative” was on offer?
          M

        2. Rewrite

          This is good feedback. There is a fine balance that is difficult to span. That balance is upset based on the situation. So, Antifa believes in using force for force, but will also take the offensive. This is described in the articl:
          “One of the most vivid examples of how Antifa members differ from other traditional protest movements occurred last January during the inauguration of President Trump, when a masked Antifa member punched Richard B. Spencer  — a prominent white supremacist — in the face. In September another noteworthy attack occurred in Seattle, Washington, when Antifa members used social media to track down a Nazi for harassing a black bus rider. Once they found him they physically attacked him and knocked him unconscious. These actions are a shock to a country with a long history of peace-abiding left-wing movements. What followed was a national debate over whether it was ever morally justifiable to “punch a Nazi.”

  12. Rewrite

    Pretty sure it should be ‘Anti-Defamation League’, not Anti Deformation. It appears to be a link, so I didn’t just jump in and edit the story to fix this.

    1. Rewrite
  13. Rewrite

    It is interesting, but could certainly do with a quote or three to enliven the narrative. Also … could the headline say ‘Antifa – the face of anti-fascism in America’, so the reader choosing what to go for knows what it is about?

    AL

    1. Thanks Angela, I’ve changed the headline, though the author or an editor may have other ideas. Will make sure people have seen your other suggestion on getting some comments.
      Jack

  14. Rewrite

    This is really interesting! Think it would really benefit from a quote from an expert — just to break it up a bit…

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive news, alerts and updates

Support Us

Why this is important and why you should care about facts, journalism and democracy

WikiTribune Open menu Close Search Like Previous page Next page Back Next Open menu Close menu Play video RSS Feed Share on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Youtube Connect with us on Linkedin Email us Message us on Facebook Messenger Save for Later