Heres what you need to know about the anti-fascist group Antifa – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on June 6, 2020

On Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted that The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization. In a series of tweets, he has blamed Antifa for much of the property destruction accompanying the protests of George Floyds death at the hands of police. Trump did not present evidence backing up that claim. Below is an explainer from August 2017 on Antifa, a loose network of anti-fascist activists who believe its acceptable to fight back physically against white supremacists. This explainer was written following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Experts say Trumps intention to designate Antifa as a terror group is perplexing: While there is a government list of designated foreign terrorist groups, there is no such list for domestic groups. And Antifa is not a structured organization, like ISIS or al-Qaida.

The U.S. doesnt have a list of domestic terrorist groups, said Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation Leagues Center on Extremism. Antifa is not a coherent group or organization, so how that is being defined Im mostly unsure about what the intent there is, and how thats being used.)

Is it OK to punch a Nazi in the face?

Thats the question animating much of the discussion of Saturdays white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which quickly devolved into a brawl between rally-goers and a contingent of anti-fascist counterprotesters known as antifa. Following the clashes, a white supremacist rammed his car into the counterprotest, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

Some have celebrated the antifa activists for standing up to hate. But others have condemned them alongside neo-Nazis for engaging in violence. And on Tuesday, Trump appeared to equate them with the rabble of white supremacists, branding antifa the alt-left and saying theres blame on both sides.

Heres what you need to know about antifa, the loose network that fights fascists on the streets.

Antifa was born from groups that fought the original fascists.

Todays antifa (an abbreviation of anti-fascist action) sees itself as the ideological descendant of activists like these. Anti-fascist brawlers many of them communists, socialists or anarchists began organizing in the 1920s and 30s to oppose the rising dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Spain through demonstrations and street fights. The groups re-emerged in Europe in the 70s and 80s to combat white supremacists and skinheads, and the idea migrated to America, where groups were originally known as Anti-Racist Action.

While its hard to pin down numbers on antifa in the United States, members and experts say the movement has boomed since Trumps election. Mark Bray, a lecturer on human rights and politics at Dartmouth College, estimates that there are a couple hundred antifa chapters of varying sizes and levels of activity across the country.

The threat posed by the alt-right in the context of empowerment through Trump made a lot of people concerned about fascist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist violence, said Bray, author of the forthcoming book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. They turned to the Antifa model as one option to resist it. The option of physically confronting these groups has spread among the left and been normalized.

It has no formal organization or leadership structure.

Like the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, antifa has no institutional structure or unified plan of action. Much of its activism comes through informal collaboration around certain cities or regions, and individual members taking initiative. Separate Facebook pages exist, for example, for New York antifa, New York City antifa and Western New York antifa.

Long before antifa gets to physical altercations with the far right, members will attempt to prevent white supremacists from assembling or spreading their message. Bray said some antifa members will pressure white supremacists employers to fire them.

Daniel Sieradski, a Jewish antifa member who became involved following the presidential election in November, said he and other activists try to pressure venues to cancel white supremacist events, and only show up to counterprotest once that fails. (Sieradski formerly worked at JTA as the director of digital media.)

Ive always identified with the spirit of the movement, which is to challenge racists when they come into your community and try to incite hatred and violence, Sieradski said. Every effort is made to prevent the Nazis from showing up in the first place. Once they manage to do so, the demonstrations do not get violent until confrontations are provoked.

Antifa tends to align with the left and some members are anti-Zionists.

Because antifa is so loosely constructed, it has no formal ideological agenda beyond opposing fascism. But the movement has roots in left-wing movements like socialism or anarchism. Bray said that members may be part of other left-wing activist groups, like the Occupy movement, and subscribe to ideas popular in progressive circles.

Bray said that while anti-Zionism is not a focus of antifa, many members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.

Sieradski said, however, that Jews play a significant role in the movement because were fighting Nazis and antisemitism is the prime ideological viewpoint of Nazis.

Antifa has no problem with fighting Nazis

Antifa has no qualms about scuffling with white supremacists. The group gained publicity in February when it physically fought alt-righters at the University of California, Berkeley, during a speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Tussles with the far right have followed at other events.

Sieradski said violence is a last resort, but added there is nothing wrong with responding to anti-Semitic or racist rhetoric with a punch. Those who are advocating ethnic cleansing should be punched, he said, and showing white supremacists that their rallies will end with them being hurt will deter them from assembling.

When Nazis are screaming epithets in our faces, should we just smile? Sieradski asked. They come into our towns and yell at us and threaten us and say they want to kill us. Should we take that sitting down because fascists deserve free speech, too? When someone is threatening you with an existential threat, you fight back. You dont stand there and take it.

Antifa members also reject the notion that the movement instigated the violence in Charlottesville or is as guilty as its white supremacist foes. Spencer Sunshine, who counterprotested at the Charlottesville rally and witnessed the deadly car ramming, said there certainly were fights, but there is no comparing antifa with the far right.

Any equivalence between antifa and fascists is a complete lie, he said. We were not armed the way the fascists were, and certainly did not drive a car into crowds. It was a total Nazi rally.

but has been criticized for its violent tactics.

Antifa has garnered its share of liberal critics who say nothing even neo-Nazism justifies violence and the suppression of free speech. Critics also say that antifas violence draws attention to the far right and allows white supremacists to claim they are acting in self-defense.

Following Saturdays rally, Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted Whether by #AltRight or #Antifa, no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke.

Mark Pitcavage, an ADL senior researcher, said his group cannot condemn one sides violence and condone the other. He added that the attention Charlottesville gained is also energizing the alt-right to hold more rallies.

I dont know how you can put together a calculus of violence where some sort of act of violence is unacceptable if one group does it but if another group commits it, thats acceptable, he said. Wed just rather not see violence.

That doesnt mean that the sides are equal, the causes are equal, he said. Its important to realize that their violence does in no way compare in numbers or severity to the far-rightist violence in the United States.

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Heres what you need to know about the anti-fascist group Antifa - The Jerusalem Post

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