Antifa: Inside the controversial politics of a supremely violent alt-left

Antifa: Inside the controversial politics of a supremely violent alt-left

CultureJune 23, 2017 By Sean Sullivan

At some point, every generation looks around and thinks they’re living the dream of a paranoid schizophrenic. Nothing makes sense. Flames lick the corners of society, while rationality, love and tolerance sink closer to the black hole at the center of a dying earth’s heart. Welcome to 2017. A time where flying cars, replicators and Star Trek’s Data studying for the Turing Test were supposed to exist; instead, we have a polarized political climate that routinely escalates into YouTube videos of violence — because having the loudest voice in the arena isn’t enough to feel like you're right anymore.

Which brings us to Antifa (or “anti-fascist), a loosely knit affiliation of left-wing activists who protest — what they categorize as — fascist demonstrations. While Antifa has been prominent in one form or another in European countries like Germany for over 60 years, the group has gained traction in the United States since the election of Donald Trump.

You know when Antifa is around. They dress using black bloc tactics, wear black hoodies and dark sunglasses, scarves and masks, turning the choreographed group into a nebulous, ominous blob. One news story after another has marked them with an indelible strain of violence, at Berkeley, Portland, and most recently, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

What the hell is going on? 

“I think we’re in a time when we can’t ignore the extremism from the left,” said Oren Segal, director of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in a talk with Vice.  He went on to say, “When we have anti-fascist counterprotests — not that they are the same as white supremacists — that can ratchet up the violence at these events, and it means we can see people who are violent on their own be attracted to that. I hate to say it, but it feels inevitable.”

[Antifa: "We Beat Them Before" propaganda poster]

Arguably the most notorious incident occurred recently in Berkeley, California, when an Antifa protestor pushed his way through a crowd and smashed an apparent Trump supporter's cranium with a bike lock. You can hear the crunch. Most terrifying isn’t the senseless violent act, but the identity of the attacker: a philosophy professor who once taught ethics at Diablo Valley College in California. He’s now in custody, being held on a $200,000 bail.

This isn’t to say that right-leaning groups are devoid of violence. The ADL’s senior research fellow at the Center on Extremism, Mark Pitcavage, told NPR, “In the past 10 years, when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders.” But now it appears that the left is dusting off its 1971 copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook” and taking to the streets.  

But why?

We tried contacting members of a local Antifa branch to understand their motivations, their end goal. Unfortunately, Antifa doesn't engage with the media, we were told, however they do often reveal themselves on various forums and through social media channels.

A glance is enough to confirm that Antifa’s shorthand name is appropriate. They’re worried that Nazis and White Nationalists — lumped together under the banners of fascism or the alt-right — have become empowered thanks to the Trump presidency, and are parading through communities to espouse and propagate hate.

“Antifa isn't there because some libertarians or republicans are gathering together to talk about how awesome capitalism is,” writes choppinlefty on Reddit’s Anarchism board. “Antifa is there because there are actual Nazis and white nationalists in your midst who pose a real threat to everyone, yourself included.” They’re convinced that a monster has rooted its tentacles in our soil.

That oddball word, “fascism,” roughly refers to an extreme-right authoritarian government that favors group conformity over individuality, and utilizes violence to suppress opposing points of view. Not a nice system to live in.

Antifa can be described as a reactionary movement that is fearful a country is spiraling out of control. But that’s a surface level reading. It doesn’t explain a professor’s logic to use unprovoked violence against a man wearing a sriracha hot sauce T-shirt. We have to go deeper. What is Antifa’s political philosophy? 

“My purpose in life is to help abolish the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy,” writes Donblon12 — quite the direful sounding 21 syllable concept.

Donblon12 is espousing the real heart of Antifa. They’re not just anti-fascist, but anti-status quo. They feel that they’re suffering under the weight of an increasingly totalitarian state government that has brainwashed its citizens à la John Carpenter’s “They Live.” It seems “The greatest trick the [imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy] ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”       

[Banksy: "Anarchist and Mother"]

Another commentator named theroyaltymustdie offers a further succinct explanation in a post titled “Listening to my conservative dad give career advice to my young professional sister…” in which he writes: “Fuck careers. Fuck the rat race. Fuck your internship and networking. Fuck your commodification of yourself. Fuck your celebration of working 75 hour weeks to please a gigantic corporation that doesn't give a single shit about you:”

No wonder then that Antifa is sympathetic towards socialism, Marxism, but especially some flavor of anarchism (particularly anarcho-communism). The fruition of such ideas is rarely elucidated or criticized within discussions, except as a link to an extensive FAQ, The Anarchist Library or the latest book by Peter Gelderloos.

Maybe these alternative viewpoints hold merit. Capitalism is not a perfect system — even the beaming free market economist Milton Friedman agreed (he happened to say something like “It’s the best we’ve got for now.”) — and perhaps continued socioeconomic change, and the birth of a genius or two, will gestate new ways of organizing that improve people’s quality of life. Time marches on and reveals all.

But any value within Antifa’s criticisms and propositions is perpetually eclipsed by conversations about violence, about the entrenched necessity of violence, about the spirit and efficacy of former violent revolutions.

Not everyone can string the syntax necessary to convey why violence is justified. But Antifa has media outlets like It’s Going Down to serve as one of its intellectual spines. There, readers can find news, editorials and journals espousing the anti-fascist world view. While some articles are ambiguous about their stance on violence, others are outright explicit.

One of the webzines titled Dangerous Spaces opens with, “There is a violence that liberates. It is the murdered homophobe. It is the knee-capped rapist. It is the arson and the mink liberation. It is the smashed window and the expropriated food. It is the cop on fire and the riot behind bars. It is work avoidance, squatting, criminal friendship, and the total refusal of compromise. It is the chaos that can never be stopped.”

The introduction concludes with, “We hope this publication can contribute in some way to a gender strike that will burn this world to the ground. Until the last rapist is hung with the guts of the last frat boy.”

While there are likely Antifa members who have a highlighted copy of Leo Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” on their bookshelf, those with pacifistic leanings seem to be an increasing minority. Peace is dead: “A timely reminder. There should be no tolerance and no quarter extended for those who seek to destroy us.” Insulated Antifa media channels propagate a zero-sum game that reads like the denouement of the end of the world.

Even Vice has given voice to violence in an article titled “All I’m Saying Is, Give Violence a Chance,” which says, “Could violence, in some way, improve our vain (in both senses of the word) attempts to fix our country?”

While the contents of the article don’t form a rallying cry to pick up a sledgehammer, there is enough support to reinforce people’s biases — because people don’t read articles. They often only read clickbait headlines and then reinforce their secluded perspectives. The author, Josh Androsky, is a disgusting dilettante: perverting John Lennon’s legacy with spittle from the excretion of a lobotomized ameba.

“It is refreshing to see a non-pacifist article. I feel like too many anarchists fall into this feel-good non-violent philosophy that is not at all commonsensical,” praises blinkyblonky in response to Vice’s article. He adds. “It may be a form of protest and change, but real change takes action, violent if necessary. If you want to stage sit-downs, marches within the permitted areas, all causing no disruption whatsoever, and expect to come out the victor, I'm sorry but I just don't see how any of that will change anything in the type of dramatic way the world society needs.”

It’s an Us vs. The World attitude that’s propagating like the death-bleaching of coral reefs. Or we can better reframe it as an internalized good versus evil mythology: that Antifa believes they’re on the right side of history — a phrase which ought to terrify as any action can be justified to achieve an end when one assumes the historical moral high ground.  

Antifa considers themselves freedom fighters. “What we do know is that we need a dynamic, fighting, and combative movement,” reads an It’s Going Down article from December “We need networks of defense, support, and offensive capacity that can not only fight in the struggles that lay all around us but can begin to build new worlds.”

After each violent incident — and there will be more — there’s an outright, adamant refusal to condemn one's own actions in favor of justifying lex talionis (the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi which is known as an “eye for an eye”). Instead violence against others is laughed at, applauded, cherished. With Antifa it culminates most clearly in comics and memes like the Punch a Nazi meme. “If they’re Nazis, it’s morally acceptable to punch them.”

Nobody, as far as I can tell, asks anymore, “Does violence work?”

Violence has become axiomatic because the society at large is perceived as violent. Here, we have further evidence for the epiphany that many adolescents never transition to adulthood. They become oversized children with legal rights who are better equipped to make excuses for their actions by playing with abstract semantics.

Here’s an example. In response to the Alexandria shooting It’s Going Down published an article that reads, “In perpetuating an unbearable status quo, the authorities are ensuring that men like Hodgkinson have nothing to lose.” So, Hodgkinson is but one gear propelled by a system equally at fault. The article goes on to say:

“Bernie Sanders is missing the point when he decries the violence of Hodgkinson’s attack and argues that only nonviolent activity can bring about social change. There are no hierarchies without violence; accepting a hierarchical social order means accepting and legitimizing violence as a fundamental aspect of our society. The question is not whether to be violent or not, but how to bring about the end of this social order.”

That’s why there are threads advising Antifa members to learn how to handle themselves in violent situations; and others that sprout up after incidents like the Berkeley protests in which Antifa members called for action to learn how to wield firearms and to head to protests bearing weapons. Drep_Reaper writes, “A shocking number of our comrades went in there with absolute no combat training. We need to set up seminars or something of the sort.” (Yes, they refer to each other as “comrades.”)

“We need to take notes from the John Brown Gun Club and get firearms and training.” says The_Great_Cornlord. “I know getting firearms in states and cities we have a presence in is usually a hassle, but even handguns would help. It would certainly put a psychological element in while holding fash back [sic]. Who do you think a fascist is more afraid of? People with only flags and bats, or people with flags, bats, and guns?” When the first gun is brandished, be assured, chaos will reign.

Clearly, Antifa is scared and angry, like a bonobo backed into a corner while snakes slither from every angle. Cortisol kicks in and irrationality in the name of half-baked ideology takes charge. Unchecked emotion combined with naivety is what gives rise to appalling consequences, as it has in every civilization.

History serves a valuable lesson here in the vein of Robespierre, who reigned terror on France in the wake of the Revolution. Anyone who was even suspected of holding counter-views was murdered. If Antifa ushered in the revolution tomorrow would they wheel out the guillotine along with it? After all, the guillotine provides an irrefutable argument.

But when it comes to Antifa, horror won’t be perpetrated by the group. Atrocities will be perpetrated by impressionable individuals.

If a person is inundated with the grandiloquent gestures of an oppressive world, day-after-day from behind their LCD monitor, chewing until propaganda is stuck to their mandibles, how long until they snap? It’s the lone wolf — the person sunk into a nihilistic despair who has given up on a meaningful existence within the current socioeconomic order that wants to inflict as much harm as possible before turning the gun on himself — who we should fear.

[Define irony]

How long until someone dies at one of these protests?

As an outside observer, it’s impossible not to feel like Jane Goodall, who experienced an inner tragedy when she witnessed the once peaceful chimps she loved fracture into tribes and rip each other apart limb by limb for four years. We’re regressing.

People used to have patient and erudite debates. What happened? It’s apt to remember that we’re almost genetically identical to our primate cousins.

Are there injustices in the world? Are their abuses of power and cheaters and racists and White Supremacists and people who celebrate Hitler, whose voices ought never be allowed to speak alone? Of course, there are. There always will be, too. 

But to confront those oppositional views with violence only gives more power to them, only discredits personal views. Nobody cares to understand a Utopian flavor of anti-fascist anarchism when actions speak louder than words, as they always have. When a woman stabs a police horse with a flag embedded with a silver nail, an entire movement is condemned to hell. They inspire fear, and nobody looking through the window feels sorry for them.

It’s not propaganda by the right that’s ostracized Antifa. It’s their own actions. It’s the webzines that call for slitting the throats of fascists that make Antifa a synonym for “violence.”

Why not encapsulate the virtues of the future it proposes — the autonomous sisterhood and brotherhood humanitarian Golden Age —  instead of orbiting a dead planet? If the rebuttal is that the media will not give Antifa the time of day, then so be it. But of course there is always an intellect willing to defend an outrageous viewpoint, so why question the strategy? 

Why? Because right now Antifa looks as abhorrent and dictatorial as the very fascists they claim to oppose. 

It’s impossible to project where these extreme political cadres on both the left and right are headed, though the Sixties offers some parallels. The groups fade into irrelevancy with time, as political and social circumstances naturally morph, and breed new conflicts. Almost always. Then again, sometimes something persists, like a virus hanging on to an asteroid hurtling through the endless void of space. Eventually, it hits Earth and leaves a mysterious crater in Tunguska.

Yet as far as anyone can tell, the Antifa of today would celebrate the apocalypse and build a gulag in its heart.