When self-described anti-fascists showed up in force Saturday to oppose a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, some of them turned violent, according to media reports and eyewitness accounts.
President Donald Trump did not specify radicals who operate under the banner of Antifa, an abbreviation for anti-fascist or anti-fascist action when he said Tuesday that “both sides” bore responsibility for the violence and bloodshed that left three dead and dozens injured.
It is hard to know at this juncture how many of the hundreds of counter-protesters considered themselves affiliated with Antifa. Nor is it clear how many of them were among those who squared off against the white supremacists marching in downtown Charlottesville, trading punches, and blows, some with lengths of wood.
The full facts await the findings of a Justice Department investigation of the Charlottesville violence announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Antifa is a coalition of hyper-violent activists who are far-left anarchists or communists,” said Matthew Vadum, senior vice president at the Washington-based Capital Research Center. “They could be considered domestic terrorists. They are not legitimate actors in the democratic process.”
Fox News Channel’s Doug McKelway, on the scene in Charlottesville, was among reporters who described individuals in clashing groups wearing helmets and padded clothes, carrying shields, and brandishing lengths of wood.
Initially, the network of radical activists did not attract as much media attention as the white nationalists and neo-Nazis they were confronting, but this has begun to change.
This short video from the pro-Trump outlet Very Fake News, which contains strong language, documents some Antifa members’ behavior toward media organizations reporting on events in Charlottesville:
The liberal media outlet Slate, however, reported that clergy and other peaceful protesters of the white supremacists credited Antifa activists with trying to protect them from violence.
There is no cohesive, centralized structure to Antifa. Instead, it appears to be setup as a network of anarchists, communists, and socialists who say they are opposed to “racism, sexism, homophobia, and capitalism” and take inspiration from a European movement in the 1930s called Anti-Fascist Action, as The Economist explains in a brief profile:
Antifa groups are not as widespread as they might seem. Their lack of coordination and endorsement of violence hinders their appeal as a mass movement. In America, their ongoing guerrilla war with the alt-right has helped bring more publicity to white supremacists and nationalists while doing little to advance their (somewhat unclear) cause.
Prior to its clashes with white supremacists in Virginia, Antifa—often rendered in lowercase as antifa–gained some notoriety June 4 after confronting Trump supporters in Portland, Oregon, which resulted in violent clashes.
Antifa allegedly had a hand in threatening violence against Portland’s 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association if the business group allowed the Multnomah County Republican Party to participate in its annual Rose Festival. The business group canceled the event.
Hate Crime or Domestic Terrorism? How Federal Charlottesville Case Could Proceed
Arthur Milikh, associate director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an interview that Antifa has avoided spelling out its positions and goals in an effort to evade scrutiny.
“They have been very careful to avoid laying out what precisely they desire to obtain, or what fascism means,” Milikh said. “Whatever one may think of President Trump, his rhetoric, or his policies, it’s absurd to suggest that he intends to or could dissolve Congress, cancel elections, shred the Constitution, and name himself dictator, as a fascist would.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart—who has written before about Antifa in an essay titled “The Rise of the Violent Left”—suggests that adherents are hard to pin down, noting:
Antifa activists are sincere. They genuinely believe that their actions protect vulnerable people from harm. Cornel West claims they did so in Charlottesville. But for all of Antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists—who no one elected—can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts.
Beinart points to Portland’s Rose Festival confrontation as an example.
Assailants dressed in black appear to wrest a Confederate flag from an older man after knocking him down while police officers watch Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo: Michael Nigro/Sipa USA/Newscom)
Muzzling Milo at UC Berkeley
Antifa has been connected with other far-left organizations such as one with the unwieldy name of Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN.
Antifa activists sometimes stand out from the pack by dressing “head to toe” in black, a style and tactic known as “Black Bloc.”
Antifa has operated with a heightened profile since Trump’s election. During official festivities surrounding Inauguration Day in Washington, Antifa was part of anti-Trump protests and engaged in the destruction of property.
In February, Antifa activists took part in fiery protests at and around the University of California, Berkeley.
Read more at Daily Signal