[Marxism] ‘Antifa’ Grows as Left-Wing Faction Set to, Literally, Fight the Far Right

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 18 07:02:36 MDT 2017

NY Times, August 18 2017
‘Antifa’ Grows as Left-Wing Faction Set to, Literally, Fight the Far Right

OAKLAND, Calif. — Last weekend, when a 27-year-old bike messenger showed 
up at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., he came ready 
for battle. He joined a human chain that stretched in front of 
Emancipation Park and linked his arms with others, blocking waves of 
white supremacists — some of them in full Nazi regalia — from entering.

“As soon as they got close,” said the young man, who declined to give 
his real name and goes by Frank Sabaté after the famous Spanish 
anarchist, “they started swinging clubs, fists, shields. I’m not 
embarrassed to say that we were not shy in defending ourselves.”

Sabaté is an adherent of a controversial force on the left known as 
antifa. The term, a contraction of the word “anti-fascist,” describes 
the loose affiliation of radical activists who have surfaced in recent 
months at events around the country and have openly scuffled with white 
supremacists, right-wing extremists and, in some cases, ordinary 
supporters of President Trump. Energized in part by Mr. Trump’s 
election, they have sparred with their conservative opponents at 
political rallies and college campus speaking engagements, arguing that 
one crucial way to combat the far right is to confront its supporters on 
the streets.

Unlike most of the counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville and 
elsewhere, members of antifa have shown no qualms about using their 
fists, sticks or canisters of pepper spray to meet an array of 
right-wing antagonists whom they call a fascist threat to American 
democracy. As explained this week by a dozen adherents of the movement, 
the ascendant new right in the country requires a physical response.

“People are starting to understand that neo-Nazis don’t care if you’re 
quiet, you’re peaceful,” said Emily Rose Nauert, a 20-year-old antifa 
member who became a symbol of the movement in April when a white 
nationalist leader punched her in the face during a melee near the 
University of California, Berkeley.

“You need violence in order to protect nonviolence,” Ms. Nauert added. 
“That’s what’s very obviously necessary right now. It’s full-on war, 

Others on the left disagree, saying antifa’s methods harm the fight 
against right-wing extremism and have allowed Mr. Trump to argue that 
the two sides are equivalent. These critics point to the power of 
peaceful disobedience during the civil rights era, when mass marches and 
lunch-counter protests in the South slowly eroded the legal enshrinement 
of discrimination.

“We’re against violence, just straight up,” said Heidi Beirich, director 
of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks 
hate groups. “If you want to protest racists and anti-Semites, it needs 
to be peacefully and hopefully somewhere away from where those guys are 

Antifa adherents — some armed with sticks and masked in bandannas — 
played a visible role in the running street battles in Charlottesville, 
but it is impossible to know how many people count themselves as members 
of the movement. Its followers acknowledge it is secretive, without 
official leaders and organized into autonomous local cells. It is also 
only one in a constellation of activist movements that have come 
together in the past several months to the fight the far right.

Driven by a range of political passions — including anticapitalism, 
environmentalism, and gay and indigenous rights — the diverse collection 
of anarchists, communists and socialists has found common cause in 
opposing right-wing extremists and white supremacists. In the fight 
against the far right, antifa has allied itself at times with local 
clergy, members of the Black Lives Matter movement and grass-roots 
social-justice activists. It has also supported niche groups like Black 
Bloc fighters, who scrapped with right-wing forces in Berkeley this 
year, and By Any Means Necessary, a coalition formed more than two 
decades ago to protest California’s ban on affirmative action for 

George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel University in 
Philadelphia who counts himself as both an antifa follower and a scholar 
of the movement, said it did not have a single origin story. The group 
has antecedents in Europe, especially Germany and Italy, where its early 
followers traded shots with Nazis in the 1930s and fought against Benito 
Mussolini’s Blackshirts. Its more recent history has roots in the 
straight-edge punk rock music scene, the anti-globalization protests of 
the 1990s and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The closest thing antifa may have to a guiding principle is that 
ideologies it identifies as fascistic or based on a belief in genetic 
inferiority cannot be reasoned with and must be physically resisted. Its 
adherents express disdain for mainstream liberal politics, seeing it as 
inadequately muscular, and tend to fight the right though what they call 
“direct actions” rather than relying on government authorities.

“When you look at this grave and dangerous threat — and the violence it 
has already caused — is it more dangerous to do nothing and tolerate it, 
or should we confront it?” Frank Sabaté said. “Their existence itself is 
violent and dangerous, so I don’t think using force or violence to 
oppose them is unethical.”

Another antifa activist, Asha, 28, from Philadelphia, who also declined 
to give her full name, said that “when people advocate for genocide and 
white supremacy, that is violence.” She added, “If we just stand back, 
we are allowing them to build a movement whose end goal is genocide.”

In the days after the violent events in Charlottesville, some antifa 
members responded with an angry call to arms, saying they could not back 
down from what they described as the “aggressors” on the right, even if 
it meant an escalation into gunfights.

“I hope we never get there,” said a 29-year-old antifa anarchist from 
California who goes by the pseudonym Tony Hooligan. “But we are willing 
to get there.”

Not all antifa followers are as belligerent, nor are their tactics 
exclusively violent. When not attending what he called “big 
mobilizations” like the one in Charlottesville, Frank Sabaté has done 
ordinary community organizing, advocating prison reform and distributing 
anarchist literature at punk rock shows. Others say they do the same in 
antifa strongholds like Philadelphia, the Bay Area of California and the 
Pacific Northwest.

The Berkeley campus has been a particular hotbed of antifa activity, and 
university officials have criticized the group. In February, black-clad 
protesters, some of whom identified themselves as antifa, smashed 
windows, threw gasoline bombs and broke into a campus building, causing 
$100,000 in damage.

“The very notion of contesting ideas and perspectives with violence is 
antithetical to everything a university stands for,” said Dan Mogulof, a 

One of antifa’s chief functions, members said, is to monitor right-wing 
and white supremacist websites like The Daily Stormer and to expose the 
extremist groups in dispatches on their own websites like 
ItsGoingDown.org. According to James Anderson, who helps run 
ItsGoingDown, interest in the site has spiked since the events in 
Charlottesville, with more than 4,000 followers added for a total of 
over 23,000.

But antifa is “not some new sexy thing,” Mr. Anderson added. He noted 
that some of those who had scuffled with those on the right at Mr. 
Trump’s inauguration or at more recent events in New Orleans and 
Portland, Ore., were veterans of actions at the Republican National 
Convention in Minneapolis in 2008, where hundreds of people were 
arrested, and at Occupy encampments in cities across the country.

Nonetheless, Mr. Anderson said, the far right’s resurgence under Mr. 
Trump has created a fresh sense of urgency. “Suddenly,” he said, “people 
are coming into your town with hate. It has to be confronted.”

One of the most vivid examples of antifa violence occurred in January at 
Mr. Trump’s inauguration, where a masked member of the movement punched 
the prominent white supremacist Richard B. Spencer (who was 
pepper-sprayed by an antifa activist in Charlottesville). That single 
blow started a national debate over whether it was morally justifiable 
to “punch a Nazi.”

Mr. Spencer, an avid opponent of the left, still drew distinctions among 
factions within the left-wing community.

“It’s important to differentiate antifa from liberals,” he said. “I 
don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that antifa believes in 
whatever means necessary. They have a sadistic streak.”

Other right-wing figures, like Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud 
Boys, a so-called conservative fraternity of Western chauvinists, have 
said antifa has done itself no favors by assuming that its enemies all 
share the same views. Mr. McInnes was invited to Charlottesville but 
declined to go, he said, because of the presence of explicit white 
supremacists like Mr. Spencer.

In the past, antifa activists have engaged with people who were clearly 
something less than outright neo-Nazis, raising questions about who, if 
anyone, deserves to be punched and whether there is such a thing as 
legitimate political violence.

Like many of their opponents, some antifa members insist that they are 
merely reacting to pre-existing aggression.

“The essence of their message is violence,” Jed, an antifa organizer in 
New York who asked that his name not be used, said of his right-wing 
foes. “The other side” — his side — “is just responding.”

But Ms. Nauert said she believed that, now more than ever, “physical 
confrontation” would be needed.

“In the end,” she said, “that’s what it’s going to take — because Nazis 
and white supremacists are not around to talk.”

Thomas Fuller reported from Oakland, and Alan Feuer and Serge F. 
Kovaleski from New York. Caitlin Dickerson contributed reporting from 
New York, and Sonner Kehrt from Berkeley, Calif. Alain Delaquérière 
contributed research.

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