While conservative critics of the group have dubbed Antifa as no better than a bunch of “alt-left” thugs willing to partake in the same immoral tactics as the extreme right they seek to subvert, Antifa activists’ own description of their mission isn’t far from that image.
Experts on the movement, and activists within it, firmly state that not all of its followers engage in violence. But they note that violence isn’t exactly eschewed.
“The justification [of the use of violence] is that Nazi ideology at its very core is founded on violence and on wielding power by any means,” said Mike Isaacson, who is one of the founders of Smash Racism D.C., an Antifa organization in Washington.
Issacson’s sentiment is, essentially, that if the right is going to be violent, the left needs to be, as well. He, very simply, doesn’t believe Nazis should feel safe organizing.
“There is the question of whether these people should feel safe organizing as Nazis in public, and I don’t think they should,” said Isaacson.
“I don’t think anyone should think that someone who is intent on politically organizing for the sake of creating a state-sponsored genocide … I don’t think is something that we should protect.”
Dartmouth historian and recent author of a book on the group, Mike Bray says Antifa justifies violence as self-defense against “the inherent danger of fascists organizing.”
Thus, as more and more alt-right personalities stepped forward and became more confident in their political views with the election of Trump, a previously latent far-left undercurrent that originates in the political atmosphere of the 1920s and ’30s has grown into the national movement, Antifa.
There is no central leadership governing Antifa, and it gleans its agency from the actions of various affiliate groups.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest law enforcement union, told The Hill that he has “for sure” seen rising interest in the movement since Trump’s election, noting that six months ago, he had never even heard of Antifa.
Transplanted from the anti-Nazi sentiment in Europe in the early 20th century, Antifa in the US has largely been an anti-racist movement. One of its main affiliates, Rose City Antifa, in Portland, Ore., for example, was established in 2007. Rose City defines fascism as “an ultra-nationalist ideology that mobilizes around and glorifies a national identity defined in exclusive racial, cultural, and/or historical terms, valuing this identity above all other interests (i.e. gender or class).”
But with its actions in recent months, the group comes off as nothing more than a glorified mob, no better than the people they seek to tamp down.
They openly reject the state in any form.
“Getting state involved in this is no better than letting the Nazis go free,” he said, pointing to the Virginia State Police response to the violence at the nationalist rally, tagged by white supremacists, in Charlottesville.
And while Isaacson preaches violence, he notes he would never partake himself.
“I’m rather slight of frame,” he quipped.
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