After the tragic death of an anti-fascist protester in Charlottesville early last month, President Trump came under intense criticism for his flawed official response to the tragedy. Specifically, the assertion he made regarding both white nationalists and the crowd protesting the white nationalists as being both equally at fault for the violence that transpired was condemned throughout the media as obtuse and factually distorted. The gaffe-prone president was inundated with criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle while the White House prepared for the possibility of a legislative backlash as a result of this most recent explosion of public outrage.
However, in recent days, the same liberal pundits who have positioned themselves as the antithesis of Trump now seem to be taking his side. Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, well-known for being a liberal favorite, even went as far to compare the anti-fascist protesters to ISIS. Not even a month after the horror that transpired in Virginia and the public outcry against Trump’s misinformed and reactionary comments, outlets like The Washington Post are now churning out opinion pieces demonizing similar activists and echoing the president’s same talking points. This sudden switch has kicked up a dust storm of questions and concerns regarding these free-form collective organizations known as Antifa, which require answering and a nuanced analysis rather than knee-jerk reactions in this political climate.
While the image of anti-fascist protesters has only recently reentered the public imagination and American television screens, Antifa’s origins actually trace back farther than one might imagine. Even if it has taken different forms across different generations, the core values of Antifa have existed as long as fascism has threatened civil society. Throughout history, anti-fascists have assembled in countless regions of the world to push back against far-right governments and white supremacy–the current political moment being no exception. As inheritors to this historical anti-fascist struggle, Antifa merely represents a modern-day movement aimed to fight against the newly emergent neo-fascist threat. Labeling collectives like Antifa terrorist organizations or blaming “both sides” for violence are examples of accusations that liken a struggle for survival against the KKK to the demands made by neo-Nazis for mass purges and white homogeneity.
It is important to note that Antifa has been consistently mobilizing to protect communities where Nazi rallies have been planned. Moreover, anti-fascists across the country have been risking their safety to confront the violent people demanding the deaths and the eradication of so many vulnerable groups in the U.S. While Democrats and Republicans can chide the actions of white nationalists for hours, it has been shown that anti-fascists are consistently risking their lives to safeguard people and places being threatened by racism and violent xenophobia. Dr. Cornel West even went as far as to thank Antifa for saving his life as well as the lives of many other clergy in Charlottesville.
However, this does not mean that Antifa remains completely immune from critique. Every organization needs criticism to grow and improve, but the key is making the criticism productive instead of dismissive. Labeling these groups of activists and organizers as being dangerous terrorists and on par with neo-Nazis does not prevent violence nor does it safeguard communities; it only hurts the larger struggle against fascism in the U.S. The non-hierarchical structure and diversity of political ideology within Antifa can be worrisome to those who are used to dealing with a more standard form of organization, but this new form of organizing that is emerging, similar to the internal arrangement of Black Lives Matter, does not invalidate the goals and tenants of those groups. Ultimately, dragging down and demonizing Antifa is not the pathway to effectively fighting white supremacy. Instead, nuanced criticisms and productive conversations on how to best serve the needs of those who need it the most, while working towards mobilizing one’s community, represent the keys to a future free of fascism or fear.