Society and Culture

What is the Antifa Movement?

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Following Saturday’s riots in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence, and on Tuesday the president doubled down on that claim. Such statements set up a dangerous false equivalency between the people who were present at the protests: one group was combating racism, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of hate that threaten the lives of people of color, Jewish people, and other marginalized communities; the other group was comprised of actual Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.

The people who stood against the white supremacists in Charlottesville spanned a wide spectrum of political ideologies and protest tactics. One specific portion of the counter-protesters, however, identified with the “antifa,” or anti-fascism movement. While certainly not all of the counter-protesters would identify as “antifa,” antifa groups did play a significant role in fighting back against white supremacists on Saturday.

Antifa groups have gained recognition recently as they’ve responded to the overt racism and hate demonstrated by white supremacists and other fascist groups. However, anti-fascists have been around since long before Trump entered the political arena. Anti-fascism has roots going back to Germany, Italy, and Spain before World War II as people stood up to fascism in Europe. Anti-fascism made its presence known again in punk culture in the 1980s through the 2000s as punks pushed back against neo-Nazi skinheads who had tried to infiltrate the punk realm.

The recent resurgence of the antifa movement comes as a response to the neo-Nazism that some say was ushered into the nation’s spotlight by Trump’s rhetoric and actions. In a March 2016 Huffington Post/YouGov survey, while Trump was still in the middle of his presidential campaign, almost 50 percent of respondents believed that Trump’s rhetoric had “fascist undertones.” During a press conference on Tuesday, Trump blamed “both sides” for the Charlottesville riots and criticized what he called the “alt-left” for their role in the violence.

While many elected officials stopped short of supporting the antifa, figures from both sides of the political aisle did speak out against Trump’s equating of “both sides” of the events in Charlottesville.

Some people echoed Trump’s blaming of the “alt-left” for the violence. But many spoke in favor of the antifa, saying that the anti-fascists were defending counter-protesters against attacks from white supremacists. Speaking with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, activist Cornel West said that he and about 20 other counter-protesters in Charlottesville saw that “the neofascists had their own ammunition.” West said that a group of 300-350 anti-fascists came to his group’s aid and “saved our lives.” “We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached,” he said.

After Charlottesville, a clip from a 1943 U.S. War Department anti-Nazi short propaganda film called “Don’t Be A Sucker” went viral for its comparisons to today’s citizens who are complicit in hate and violence against marginalized people by failing to condemn and combat Nazism and white supremacy.

It shouldn’t be that difficult to get behind the idea that fascism and Nazism shouldn’t be tolerated. But with a president equating hate groups with the protesters who are fighting against their hate, people have not necessarily been quick to recognize their own complicity in perpetuating racism and systems of oppression. Some even gone so far as to side with Trump in defending “some very fine people” who were part of the white supremacist groups. But as white supremacists continue to feel comfortable enough to chant hateful epithets as they march through the streets, antifa groups continue to confront that hate head-on.

Marcus Dieterle
Marcus is an editorial intern at Law Street. He is a rising senior at Towson University where he is double majoring in mass communication (with a concentration in journalism and new media) and political science. When he isn’t in the newsroom, you can probably find him reading on the train, practicing his Portuguese, or eating too much pasta. Contact Marcus at Staff@LawStreetMedia.com.

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