Antifa is a subject that often comes up in discussions with my right-leaning friends. To me it often seems like a “go-to” when they need something they think is associated with the left and is easy to demonize. Despite our political differences, my friends and I do consider each other decent people; it’s just that we’re sucked up into conflicting narratives and this of course explains the argument. They are appealing to my sense of decency to see the glaring dangers of the left. It’s usually pretty easy for me to brush off the argument because Antifa isn’t a critical component of any of the political movements I support but sometimes I still hear the arguments in my head the next day. Sort of that low-level nag that compels me to write opinions like this.
So my first question is… How “left” is Antifa, really? My considerable assessment, according to how I define the “left” as being socially inclusive, is that they are indeed much further left than the white supremacists that exclude all other races. But that’s a relation between two sides of a demonstration I don’t participate in. As for myself, I’m too inclusive to even stand in defiance of the most insipid expressions of bigotry and hatred, which technically puts Antifa to my right.
My second question is just how dangerous are they? My honest assessment is that I really don’t know. They obviously have an inclination to violence but their ire seems limited to fascism, not every religion, race and nationality that isn’t theirs, so we can safely say that whatever danger Antifa presents it isn’t nearly as wide-spread as the danger posed by white supremacists. So far it seems you would have to commit a wanton act of bigotry to draw any fire from Antifa, in which case you’re kinda getting what you deserve. We can’t say that about white supremacists who have a history of attacking innocent people not for what they do but for who they are. I think that’s a significant difference.
It may also be worth noting that many people who show up to protest fascism have no intention of inciting violence and in the absence of any such directive, those who do incite violence, do so on their own individual will, not the will of an organization. That being said, I hesitate to keep score but when it comes to loose cannons, there’s a bigger pattern that makes it difficult to suggest the left, even with Antifa, is even close to being as violent as the right. According to a 2016 Anti-Defamation League report, domestic extremists of all kinds have killed at least 372 people in the United States. Of those deaths, approximately 74% were at the hands of right-wing extremists, about 24% of the victims were killed by domestic Islamic extremists (also right-wing), and remaining 2% were killed by left-wing extremists, none of which had anything to do with Antifa.
So, I’m not really seeing Antifa as the glaring left-wing danger that my friends would have me believe, but of course that encourages them to break out the conspiracy theories. Recently, in one such discussion it was suggested that Antifa is organized by communists, funded by demon-barrons like George Soros AND is functionally a modern equivalent to the Brownshirts of Nazi Germany. Now, I wouldn’t be so dismissive about Antifa if I thought any of that was true but I can’t seem to find any evidence that Antifa is funded by Soros or guided by communists and when I ask them for any such evidence they never have a response other than to insist it’s out there.
Brownshirts? Really? Brownshirts were regimented and directed by chain of command stemming from Hitler himself – they operated as a functional component of his political movement. Antifa, by contrast, is more of a socio-cultural trend made up of autonomous subcultures like skinheads. They don’t pledge to ANY political movement, probably because they are entirely reactionary… their only agenda is to troll fascists. At one point, one of my friends tried a logical question… “How do they know when and where to meet if they aren’t organized?” So I rhetorically asked him if he’s ever heard of social media.
I wasn’t always this secure in my dismissive opinion about Antifa and I was perhaps more sensitive to what my friends were suggesting when I was having this conversation a year ago. I was worried that Antifa would give the left a bad name. But after the 2018 mid-term elections I’ve noticed how mobilized the more constructive arms of the left have become in response to Trump and the rise of American fascism. I’ve noticed that there is no prevailing association between Antifa and the left-wing political machine outside of sharing an opinion about fascism. Indeed, it’s become quite clear that the ONLY people who associate Antifa with left-wing politics are those firmly planted in the conspiracy delusions of the alt-right and those people were never going to see left-wing politics in any other light anyway, so no loss there.
The world war that fascism started and ultimately lost is still in living memory which may explain why fascism is still considered by Americans across the spectrum as a bad thing, so you really don’t have to be involved in left-wing politics to be anti-fascist. The question is whether or not you think violence and intimidation is an appropriate way to express your opposition to fascism.
Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary… at least not yet. The rise of fascism that we see today has yet to reach the point of shutting down democracy and killing racial minorities like it did in Europe in 80 years ago. And in the U.S. where Donald Trump has become a correlation to fascism, his lack of popularity outside of his dedicated 30% is an indication that fascism, at least under Trump, is inhibited by a much larger body of Americans looking for something more sensible.
Of course, one could point out that the Nazis were also opposed by a majority at first, so we should be vigilant nevertheless and perhaps that’s the one value that Antifa DOES give us… the reminder that if fascism does continue to rise, not all Americans are going to take it sitting down and it won’t always be kids in black hoodies either… the alt-right should understand that. If fascism rises to any significant level, so too will the resistance, even if it means full-scale war as it did in the 40’s, God forbid.