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Reframing Antifa

The ‘Antifa fact check’ put forward on Sept. 5 by the Editorial Board was extremely disconcerting. Its ultimate claim was that “dragging down and demonizing Antifa is not the pathway to effectively fighting white supremacy.” This is shortsighted. It is critical that those who support liberalism separate from and condemn Antifa. The group’s name might make it appealing to those who wish to support liberal values against a seemingly growing public support for fascism and white supremacy. But the group both employs illiberal tactics that only hurt the cause of liberalism. 

It is critical to start out by saying that Antifa and Nazis are not on a moral seesaw. Condemning one does not elevate the moral standing of the other. It is evident, if we consider Antifa by itself, that it should not be considered as an ally in the fight against fascism and white supremacy because the group disagrees with the fundamental liberal principles of free speech and, even more worryingly, non-violence. 

One must not see the decentralization of Antifa as a forgoing of moral responsibility by the group as a whole. It still congregates around several tenants that can be derived from its supporter’s public notices. The website describes itself as a “digital community center for anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements.” It includes a column titled ‘Forming An Antifa Group: A Manual’ that includes such claims as “It is not uncommon for liberal activists to immediately smear anti-fascists as violent thugs who delegitimize their movement…. And we have run into a number of people who privately have told us they were Antifa in the past and understand the need for this approach.” 

One of the easiest ways to see the thoughts of those who claim to be part of Antifa is to see what groups that fall under its umbrella publicly state. The most famous of these is the ‘Black Bloc.” They are the most recognizable part of Antifa due to their dressing in all black and covering their faces. Black Bloc is also the most contemptible part of Antifa as they light cars on fire, assault peaceful protesters, and vandalize private property. One needs to only see the inauguration day protest and the Aug. 27 UC Berkeley attacks to see the disgusting tactics employed (not to mention the irony of hitting people with make-shift shields that say ‘no hate’). 

But the most extreme part of Antifa is not the only part that is deplorable. The umbrella of Antifa extends to more formally organized groups than Black Bloc such as Redneck Revolt. The group’s website includes the message that “a more militant left gives the less scary left more bargaining power” and explicitly state that they “are not pacifists,” as demonstrated when they shared an article celebrating the recent Berkeley attacks in which members of Antifa “chased attendant members of the far right out of these spaces (even using force as it was deemed necessary).” A recently publicized 2016 DHS and FBI joint intelligence assessment even went so far as to deem the actions of Antifa as “potentially suspicious and indicative of terrorist activity.” Antifa groups are evidently not interested in promoting the liberal value of free speech or free assembly. 

It is curious why, in an article titled ‘Antifa fact check,’ the violent tactics of Antifa were not revealed. ‘Violence’ or ‘violent’ is mentioned seven times in the article and yet never in connection with Antifa. Admitting that the group commits acts of immoral political violence is not a declaration that Antifa and fascists or white supremacists are equally at fault for any particular violence or are morally equivalent. It is merely a statement of a fact that must be faced. 

One may wish to just shirk the responsibility for the actions of violent representatives of Antifa as part of a fringe. But supporting a decentralized group comes with the entirely predictable risk of having to defend the actions of those who are even nominally part of that group. The decentralized nature of the movement means that there is no explicit ethic to defend itself with. Without leadership or explicit demands, the group must be judged based on the actions of its self-declared members. 

Even if one is willing to accept the political violence of Antifa morally, which no liberal should, it is not an effective approach to combatting fascists in the United States. The alt-right and white supremacists group claim victimhood. Attacking those groups on the streets when they are peacefully protesting merely provides them with an excuse to cling to their immoral beliefs. Brian Levin, a member of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, noted this effect when he said, “Both the racists and a segment of violent Antifa counter-protestors are amped for battle in an escalating arms race.” 

White supremacists routinely use Antifa to justify their immoral actions. Just this week, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke tweeted that the “DHS had already declared Antifa a terrorist group LONG BEFORE #Charlottesville.” On the same day, alt-right leader Richard Spencer retweeted Cameron Padgett’s tweet “Violence is the last resort to having no argument to speech that carries depth and weight. That’s what we are seeing with Antifa.” Antifa’s actions provide fascists and white supremacists with a source to claim victimhood, galvanizing those who are already supporters and generating undeserved sympathy for their cause.

The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. Those who support liberal principles must understand that Antifa is not an ally just because they oppose the alt-right, fascists, and white supremacists. In order to form an intellectually rigorous and effective defense of liberal values, it is critical to prune the political allies of our side. Antifa must be condemned. It is liberal movements that are well organized and explicitly characterized that must be loudly supported. Supporting liberal values means defending them with liberal values. 

Chad Munger is a Trinity junior.


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