The Anonymous Counter Protesters That Go Head-to-Head with the Alt-right
The title “antifa” and its use has grown significantly in the last few years, and its utterance evokes strong feelings with different connotations depending on who you’re talking to. But who, or what, is Antifa?
Antifa is short for "anti-fascist" and has a long history as an ideology. The broad strokes are that Antifa can be traced back all the way to 1936 when residents of London self-described as unionists, socialists, communists, and others clashed with British fascist groups to stop them from marching. This particular event would come to be known as The Battle for Cable Street, but many other similar Antifa-identifying groups would spring up around Europe and eventually the United States. The biggest examples of early anti-fascist groups sprang up in Italy and Germany following World War II in an attempt to fight early fascist regimes or parties attempting to seize control of the government to varying degrees of success. These strategies and ideologies would eventually be adopted in the U.S. by punk and counterculture activists in the 70s to combat the growing neo-Nazi movement.
While Antifa is generally seen butting against alt-right characters, they are not necessarily in favor of any one political party. Antifa does not gather in support of democrats or other political affiliations. In fact, political figures on both sides, including the past and present presidents, have condemned Antifa and the acts conducted by those claiming to be Antifa. However, republicans and conservatives are more critical of their actions and eagerly accuse Antifa of inciting violence and being generally more dangerous than evidence has historically shown, but the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have stated that according to their research and intelligence, white supremacist groups are a more persistent and lethal threat to American democracy than Antifa as the latter has no centralized hierarchy or leadership to follow.
Antifa is more of an amorphous group that follows certain ideals that involve actively fighting against fascism, bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and any other politics that they deem authoritarian. There is no concrete group, structure, or leader. Rather, pockets of groups that claim to be Antifa have sprung up all around the country, usually during protests or counter-protests against conservatives or the alt-right.
While these counter protests can become violent, it’s important to remember that political activists using violence as a means to send a message is not exclusive to far-left associations. There have been many instances (more so than Antifa) of far-right groups using violence and intimidation in their public protests as well. Their brutal actions make Antifa and other counter-protesters feel the need to respond in kind which leads to a vicious cycle of altercations between sides.
While this violence is abhorrent, we should reflect on why Antifa exists in the first place. It did not spawn from a vacuum but rather as a response to the strong feelings people hold about the treatment of marginalized citizens in America, the growing far-right movements, and the behavior of police that injure and maim people unjustly.
The growing visibility and actions attributed to Antifa make it seem that it’s a new movement, but it has existed for years. The increase in its activity is partially attributed to the growing amount of hate speech and violence from the alt-right and extreme conservative views.
If the alt-right stems from fear of the unknown, unfamiliar, and different, then Antifa stems from fear of what we do know: the violence that comes with hate and bigotry. The people who take to the streets adorned in all black to meet far-right protesters are only the newest in a long history of counter-protesters who are trying to fight against and prevent the stigma and discrimination that historically leads to oppression.
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