I’d like to take a minute to talk about a group that’s been on my mind for a while. I mentioned them in a podcast a while back, but they really deserve their own article to be fully explored. The group known as Anti-Fascist Action (Antifa) is an interesting anomaly in political “activism”. When I refer to Antifa in this article, I specifically mean the branch in the United States. Antifa has branches in other countries and this article is not referencing them.
First, a little back-story; Antifa is a group of radicals who either read Marx too much in their freshman year of college, or saw a documentary on Nazi Germany and thought “Hey, I think I can pull off that ‘kristallnacht’ thing.” Either way, this team of brute force philosophers got their name in the media circuit a couple of months back when they attacked the campus of the University of California Berkeley. Antifa has a particular vendetta against conservative “provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos.
When he came to speak at the Berkeley campus, they smashed windows, threw fireworks, pepper-sprayed unarmed people, and set fire to lighting equipment. Some held bats and others held homemade riot-shields. This reaction forced the speaker to be evacuated by security as Antifa broke through police barricades and smashed through the glass doors and windows of the first floor of the building the speech was to occur in.
The group also rioted at then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural ceremony, burning cars and blocking peaceful entry to the proceedings.
This brings me to the issue of their name. How do you call yourself “anti-fascist” with a straight face when you riot, damage property, and attack college students attending a speech to prevent the free exchange of ideas and information? Antifa seems fine with “free” speech as long as your speech is something they approve of. Now, some of you may be saying “But that’s not what fascist meeeeans!”, and in a manner, you’re right. If we take a step back in time, Hitler and Mussolini were fascist. This gives us a basic baseline for what fascism is; socialist nationalism with authoritarian characteristics. Authoritarian nationalism is a defining characteristic of fascism in contemporary examples. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism) So, while Antifa doesn’t care for nationalism, they have the authoritarian aspect down to an art-form.
Now, my biggest issue with Antifa is their approach. It seems to come down to a three step plan;
1. Find anyone conservative or further right.
2. Declare them a Nazi/fascist/bigot.
3. Attack people who attend their talks, smash everything near where they hold talks, and declare yourselves champions of freedom for shutting down “dangerous ideas”.
The first issue here is that you can’t claim to both respect free speech and declare ideas you disagree with to be “hate speech”. Guess what? Here in the United States, hate speech IS free speech. Some guy could be the biggest, loudest, most misogynistic, Hitler-loving jack-wagon in the whole country, but if he’s on his own lawn or a public space while he blathers his hate, he’s legally in the clear.
Is this without limits? Of course not. If this guy starts calling for people to rise up and do harm to anyone, his speech will have the consequence of some well earned prison time for trying to get people hurt. If he tries to harass someone or intimidate them, again, he will be off to jail and rightly so.
On the flip-side though, if someone tried to “bash the fash” while he’s just carrying on about how the reptilian Jews killed Kennedy, THEY would get hauled off for instigating violence, and rightly so. Why is this? Because no matter how much you don’t like an idea, the idea itself is not violent, and therefore, does not merit violent retaliation.
Let me give you an example to help clarify this. There was a guy a few years back who came under investigation for supposedly planning his to murder his wife. However, prosecution stalled because he had taken no actual physical steps to that end and claimed it was all fantasy and make-believe for fun. Now, obviously this is disturbing. Does it warrant leaving him, if you’re the wife? I’d say so. Does it warrant some extreme care taken by those who are around him? Yeah, that’s a good plan. Is it a crime? No. Can you attack him for it? No.
However, this kind of situation comes with a caveat. If significant steps are taken towards violence, the situation is very different from someone simply holding a belief. When steps are taken, the entire discussion is different.
So, bringing this analogy back to our point, if Antifa attacks someone who they say is a fascist, but has committed no violence and called for no harm to be done, they are dangerous and wrong. Speech, when not directly calling for violence, is not violence no matter how much you dislike it. Responding to it as such makes you a dangerous and trigger-happy vigilante group.
In just the past few days we’ve seen Antifa clash with white nationalists, pro-free speech activists, the alt-right, and regular Trump supporters in California at a rally planned by white nationalists. Flag and sign poles, shields, and fists were used on both sides, and Antifa also used fireworks and pepper spray. With such a high profile skirmish on their record, which both sides claim as a victory, it will be interesting to see if their tactics change going forward.