Home > Uncategorized > Putting Antifa into perspective – posted 10/11/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/30/2020

Putting Antifa into perspective – posted 10/11/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/30/2020

During this presidential campaign, President Trump has been very focused on attacking and demonizing Antifa. A few times he has threatened that he would designate Antifa a “terrorist organization”, even though he lacks the power to do that. Trump has conflated the large anti-racist demonstrations of this summer with Antifa and the radical left.

From watching Trump, you might think Antifa is a group or organization with members, a leadership structure and funding. If you think that, you would be wrong.

Antifa is leaderless. It is not an organization. The writer, Mark Bray, who wrote a book about Antifa, defined it this way:

“Antifa can be described as a kind of ideology, an identity, a tendency or milieu, or an activity of self-defense.”

In his effort to create a narrative about the threat to law and order, Trump has utilized Antifa as a bogeyman. He is greatly overblowing its significance. That is not to say that there are not some leftists who identify with Antifa but they are a relatively small number of activists.

Trump is using Antifa to gin up fear. He is trying to create the impression that some shadowy cabal of leftists is the number one threat to public safety. In this effort he is not alone. Among others, Senator Ted Cruz has indulged the same fantasy as has Attorney General William Barr.

Farther out on the Right, anti-semitic conspiracy theorists promote Antifa conspiracy theories with George Soros as its secret funder.

The Right presents Antifa as some sort of aimless agent of chaos led by people who hate America. This is an absurd misrepresentation but it serves a political agenda: it deflects attention away from the genuine threat of extreme right wing domestic terrorism.

As most recently evidenced by the plot against Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, there is a real Far Right threat. Six men, some members of the Wolverine Watchmen, an anti-government militia group, were arrested in connection with an alleged terrorist plot to kidnap, try, and possibly murder Governor Whitmer. In addition to the six who face federal charges, seven others face state weapons charges.

White supremacists, neo-nazis, the Boogaloo Bois, the Proud Boys and assorted haters have been mobilized by Trump. Boogaloo supporter Steven Carrillo was arrested in May for an attack on a federal courthouse in Oakland that left a security officer from the Federal Protective Services dead.

I think of the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter who killed 11, the El Paso mass murderer at a Walmart who killed 23 and Islamophobic attacks by white supremacists burning down mosques. There is only one example that occurred in Portland, Oregon where an individual linked to Antifa committed a murder.

Overwhelmingly, the threat to public safety comes from extreme right domestic terrorists – not Antifa and the Left. Trump is deflecting because white supremacists and neo-nazis are part of his base and he wants to maintain their enthusiastic support.

As a Jewish person and as someone who identifies with anti-fascism, Antifa needs to be put in the proper perspective. Antifa is short for anti-fascism. The tradition of anti-fascism is noble and it goes back 100 years.

After Auschwitz, Treblinka and the Holocaust, anti-fascists are committed to Never Again. I think of the political tradition that opposed Mussolini and Hitler and fought against the Franco fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the Americans who fought against fascism in Spain, comes to mind.

I also think of the British example of the battle of Cable Street in 1936. Jews, trade unionists, and all varieties of leftists prevented a planned fascist march through London’s main Jewish neighborhood. The battle of Cable Street has been held up as a model by many contemporary anti-fascist groups.

It seems that most people who talk about Antifa know nothing about it. Antifa is a decentralized collection of individual activists who believe in aggressive opposition to Far Right movements. Some are non-violent while some believe the Nazis in Germany would never have been able to come to power if people had more aggressively fought them in the streets in the 1920’s and early 1930’s.

In 2020, I think it is a big mistake for progressives, Antifa included, to engage in violence. A progressive movement for social change in America must be built upon non-violent principles. I think Antifa tactics have sometimes been wrong-headed. That said, non-violence does not mean passivity in the face of a new American fascist movement. Fascism must be aggressively opposed at every turn and that includes self-defense.

Historical experience shows how fascists will try and turn civil liberties to their advantage. Their threat must not be minimized. In her new book, Culture Warlords, Talia Lavin graphically exposes this danger.

There is no equivalence between tiny Antifa and the much larger Far Right domestic terrorists who have murdered many.

Trump has created such a hysteria of Antifa fear-mongering that pseudo-events can be manufactured. Back in June, the small town of Forks, Washington had exactly this experience. Twitter and Facebook promoted claims that Antifa was coming to rural towns and suburbs. Supposedly, they would be wearing black and coming in buses. Word went out and in a short time many armed locals congregated to deal with the Antifa threat.

The only thing was, the story was a total fabrication created by an online white supremacist. A brown-skinned man with his family had come into the Forks area to camp. The family had nothing to do with Antifa and they just wanted to camp out. The family was harassed, threatened and followed. After a terrifying night, the family fled the town. When al the facts came out, the town of Forks ended up humiliated. Hysteria resulted in an innocent family being terrorized.

Trump has promoted the Antifa fantasy, going on FOX speaking darkly of a plane full of black-clad “thugs” wanting to do “big damage’. Truth is a casualty that never matters to Trump. What matters is whether the story he concocts can sell.

The law and order narrative Trump is selling is his effort to recreate the Richard Nixon strategy from 1968 where Nixon successfully ran on the law and order theme. His exaggeration of Antifa is a sideshow of embellished imagination. The reality of Antifa is not remotely like the fantasy of mayhem Trump spins.

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