How to educate myself about “Antifa”?
June 7, 2020 3:07 PM   Subscribe

People around me are convinced that a well-organized, national terrorist group called antifa is responsible for recent protests devolving into rioting and looting. I don’t believe it, but how can I learn more?

Are there articles/documentaries/legitimate sources that can describe:
- How and why this right wing narrative developed? Who supports it and how widespread is this belief?
- What IS antifa really?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What IS antifa really

antifa is a dumb and unpronounceable abbreviation of antifascist. I am; I hope you are too.

for more on antifascism/"antifa", this is a good rundown from someone who has done intensive research and knows what she's talking about.

Violence and rioting in recent days (weeks?) has been somewhere between 99 and 99.9 percent police-led, police-driven, police-committed. Police show up with guns, bullets both rubber & regular, chemical sprays, hand-to-hand weapons, and body armor; protesters don't. Police use "kettling" to drive protesters into confined spaces in order to trap them and beat them down from several sides. Police have been using the same violent tactics in every state in the nation, at the same time. There is so much first-hand video documentation of police violence against peaceful protesters that belief need not enter into it.

the writer linked above is very good on the development of right-wing narratives generally; searching her twitter timeline for key words will get you a lot of well-sourced information. she has a book on the alt-right coming out that I can't endorse because I haven't read it, but I expect it will cover a lot of what you want to know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:20 PM on June 7, 2020 [58 favorites]

I was going to ask the same question! From my own research including trying to join antifa in effort to see if it is real: the answer is no. It is not like even the ephemeral Anonymous at this point in the spectrum of realness. There’s a lot of historical knowledge about antifa, it was real at several points but is such an open organization I will put QAnon as having more of a stable community.
posted by geoff. at 3:21 PM on June 7, 2020

If you engage in anti-fascist activism, congrats! You're in Antifa.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:25 PM on June 7, 2020 [36 favorites]

There is no group called "antifa". Antifa is not a group, and it never has been. It's not an organization. It's nothing but an idea, the idea being that, yanno, fascism in any and all its forms should be resisted. Read up on things like the Iron Front to get a little more context and background on what a struggle against fascism can look like.

I can't take credit for this, and I can't find the tweet that said it right now, but the gist of the tweet was that this is the best monument to antifa in existence. Think about what that war was fought for. It was fought to end fascism. The US military, thus, is antifa.

The right has done a great job, over the generations, of defining the social condition of the US in terms of an "other" that must be feared and put down in order that "normal" society can function (blacks, gays, poor, drug users, etc.). They've recently decided to will a group called "antifa" into existence to be that other, and frighteningly, it's working. So hopefully this thread will have a lot of links and discussion that you can absorb and pass on, so the actual fight of stopping fascism can advance and the fake fight of "antifa are terrorists!" can fade into obscurity.
posted by pdb at 3:47 PM on June 7, 2020 [16 favorites]

The AP recently published A look at the antifa movement Trump is blaming for violence (Jun. 1, 2020), noting "antifa isn’t an organization." Today, the AP reports As Trump blames antifa, protest records show scant evidence. Reuters recently published this Explainer: Who are Antifa, the 'boogaloo' movement and others blamed in U.S. protest violence? (Jun. 5, 2020)

Amber Phillips at WaPo reports on What is antifa? (Jun. 4, 2020), and WTOL11 (via MSN, Jun. 3, 2020) links to this study: Is Antifa a Terrorist Group? and states, "it's not an organized group. Rather, it's a movement composed of people who oppose fascism or extreme-right ideology."

WaPo also recently published this perspective by Mark Bray, a historian of human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe at Rutgers University, and author of "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook": Antifa isn’t the problem. Trump’s bluster is a distraction from police violence. (Jun. 1, 2020)
posted by katra at 4:40 PM on June 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

Antifa-Background from the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of the Library of Congress (though from 2018).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:04 PM on June 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

If a video discussing it as a philosophy rather than an organisation is more your speed, I highly recommend this old episode of PhilosophyTube. The important thing covered in this video is how a broad variety of activities can take on anti-fascist motivations, including things like helping the poor and educating the public.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:21 PM on June 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing about educating about 'antifa' - your mission is really teaching what fascism is. Socialism, also. And who is Right, and who is Left? Now you've gotta teach the political spectrum, and if you try to get info about that online you'll soon discover how the Libertarians have muddied those waters (you should avoid almost every 'Which political party are you?' quiz for this reason; but here's a good one). This struggle's been going on for a long time. It's what WWII was all about, when the victorious Allies beat the Fascist Axis. Unfortunately the Greatest Generation then came back home and promptly forgot what they were fighting about and who they were fighting. And since public schools rarely get as far as the 20th century in American history nowadays (or so I hear) this education's up to you. Hopefully the great links appearing in this Ask will help us all to achieve these objectives.
posted by Rash at 5:28 PM on June 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

There are groups that occasionally will fly under a banner referencing antifa, such as "The Anti-Fascist League", but by and large the question being asked is more like "Who is this 'democracy' I keep hearing about?"

This is why there are a lot of extremely dry and ironic posts online from people joking about being "The CEO of Antifa" and pretending that they saw "antifa" plotting to do slapstick warner-brothers plots like painting tunnels on the sides of walls so the police will drive into the painting which can then be washed off. The very notion of the term describing an organisation rather than a principle is taken as read to be absurd, and the premise of the joke journeys off from there.

For a time after 45's inauguration, there were people conflating "antifa" with the tradition of the "black bloc", which is a pretty infrequent convention for people to dress in all black (occasionally with red laces, or some other political signifier) with a face mask (outside the context of the pandemic) and start fights with fascists to scare them out of public life. The person who punched Richard Spencer appeared to follow some of these conventions, and was not alone in doing so, but this practice does not in itself constitute even a sizeable minority of anti-fascist organising.

For a more novel form of antifa, check out how a German town turned a Neo-Nazi march into a pledge drive for anti-fascist charities.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:30 PM on June 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Finally, I'm in agreement with queenofbithynia in that "antifa" is a terrible term for anti-fascism, and I think the right wing use it a lot because it sounds like "intifada" which scares their xenophobic base just because it sounds "foreign".
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:35 PM on June 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

Here's a recent Vox Today Explained podcast about Antifa. I found it pretty educational. Basically, Antifa was originally a German acronym for "Anti-Fascist Action" adopted by some people who opposed the Nazis in Weimar Germany. It was later adopted by people involved in the Punk music scene in England in the late 70s and early 80s who were opposed to skinheads and would try to kick them out of Punk shows. Later, the term was adopted by some political protesters in the on the West Coast of the US, apparently by people who'd previously been involved in the US Punk scene.

I live in Charlottesville, VA. The first I heard of Antifa was when people in the national media, and everyone on DailyKos, claimed that everyone who participated in the counter-protest against the "Unite the Right" rally in our town was a member of a violent organization called Antifa. The counter-protesters were almost all local, either from the city of Charlottesville itself or neighboring areas and cities. I'm sure almost none of the people who participated in the counter-protest had ever heard of Antifa before this. I sure as hell hadn't.

I got the hell off DailyKos after this.
posted by nangar at 6:01 PM on June 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

The Right requires a boogeyman in order to scare it’s people into line (The Jews! The New World Order! George Soros!, etc.), and this time it’s Antifa. That’s all you need to know. Just switch it out for “New World Order” every time see it, and whatever you are reading will be just as valid.
posted by sideshow at 6:54 PM on June 7, 2020 [10 favorites]

The very notion of the term describing an organisation rather than a principle is taken as read to be absurd, and the premise of the joke journeys off from there.

Me and my middle-aged anarchist comrades make these jokes a lot. To me antifa is what the anarchist movement looks like now. It's more about tactics for resisting oppression (mutual aid, solidarity, fighting encroaching fascism) than about a specific set of goals or beliefs. It's more of a resistance movement than any sort of organized group. Which is why watching Tr*mp and his goons treat it like an actual thing is both funny and kinda scary (because... it could be anyone, since it's not real, at least not in that way).

As queenofbithynia says, I think it's important for people to be "out" about their objections to fascism just so you can actually talk about what it is, why it's dangerous, and why any sane person would want to do that. That twitter thread she links is a good quick rundown.
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 PM on June 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

Something that might be in the background of the American Right's imaginary about 'antifa' is that the Communist Third International would often position itself as being anti-fascist while seeking to spread communism outside of the Soviet Union between the First and Second World Wars.

This did enhance and broaden their appeal but they weren't particularly effective in fighting fascism because their ideology equated Capitalist Democracy in general with Fascism, and this led them to seek to fight fascism by undermining a democratic order in ways that, in Germany at least, actually helped the Nazi's gain power. For instance, by contributing to growth of lack of confidence in the effectiveness and legitimacy of the democratic Weimar Republic. (I learned about this in reading the French historian François Furet's excellent book about Communism in the 20th century, The Passing of an Illusion.)

So, it's possible that for some on the Right, the cause of anti-fascism may be considered a disguise for communism and communist insurgency.

(It may be relevant to recall for balance, in this connection, that the Soviet Union was the only foreign power to materially support the democratic Spanish Republic in its struggle with the more or less fascist military rebellion known as the Spanish Civil War in the 30's. Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy were extremely active in their support of the Right-wing rebels while the parliamentary democracies France and Great Britain refused and did nothing, which surely helped the more or less fascist rebels win that war.)
posted by bertran at 7:58 PM on June 7, 2020

What IS antifa really?

Ask yourself: on what side of history, in 1936, were the people who turned out for what became known as the Battle of Cable Street in which Oswald Mosley, his British Union of Fascists, and their bodyguards (the Metropolitan Police) were handed their asses?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:07 PM on June 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

See also the 'premature anti fascists'.
posted by clew at 9:27 PM on June 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

(Have to say, @clew, what a moving and informative piece you link to!)
posted by bertran at 12:57 AM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

The very notion of the term describing an organisation rather than a principle is taken as read to be absurd

and yet the War On Terror is a thing.
posted by flabdablet at 4:31 AM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Right requires a boogeyman in order to scare it’s people into line (The Jews! The New World Order! George Soros!, etc.), and this time it’s Antifa. That’s all you need to know. Just switch it out for “New World Order” every time see it, and whatever you are reading will be just as valid.

They now tend to believe that George Soros and Bill Gates are funding Antifa, and that Democrats are pushing for a New World Order.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:46 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

My suspicion is that “Antifa” and the black bloc folks have been mentally lumped into one thing, because I did that before learning more about it.
posted by PussKillian at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

A lot of good comments. I'll echo that some media regularly conflate black bloc and antifa, and that's a big part of the confusion. Black Bloc specifically espouse more of the tactics your average uninformed capitalist would think of as "anarchist" (in the old-school, violent sense) and were certainly involved in the rock-throwing and looting here in DC - it's what they do.

There are antifascists who engage in Black Bloc tactics, but the Venn diagram is much smaller than for instance the number of antifascists who advocate non-violent tactics.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:27 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you are against fascism. Congratulations you're Anitfa. Pretty much every returned soldier in US history fought against fascism in one form or another but in the end it boils down to it is a belief not an organisation. The people around you call it Antifa because if they called it want it is, a belief that Fascism is bad, they'd have to admit they're fascist.

They fact that it is so nebulous & hard to pin down is exactly why it makes the perfect scapegoat, it can be anything they need it to be. They can call anyone a terrorist because how do you prove you don't belong to something that doesn't exist. We're on the brink of a lovely new wave of McCarthyism.
posted by wwax at 10:28 AM on June 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

> If you are against fascism. Congratulations you're Anitfa.
I'd go as far as to say that if you're not “antifa”, you're pro-fascist.
I honestly can see no middle ground.
posted by farlukar at 3:23 PM on June 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

« Older Rage at Being Tickled/Poked. Did I overreact?   |   My teapot lining flaked Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.