By Benjamin Solomon, Staff Writer
It’s August 12, 2017. You’re watching news reports of violent clashes during protests due to the removal of a statue of a Confederate general in Charlottesville, Virginia.
One side, the alt-right, proudly brandishes Confederate battle flags and Nazi flags among other symbols. But who are the people opposing them? A number of these counter-protestors identify themselves as being anti-fascists or as “Antifa.” After this incident, there were some calls to label Antifa as a terrorist group. This is not the first nor the last demonstration which involved Antifa and violence. So, who is Antifa?
The term Antifa comes from Anti-Fascist Action, used in 1930s Germany to denote a specific group which opposed fascism and the Nazi Party. The term was also used in post-Cold War Germany with similar motivation.
The anti-fascist movement made its way to the US in the 1970s under a different name, Anti-Racist Action, and eventually evolved into the movement of today.
Antifa activists often identify as political leftists, such as socialists or anarchists, and are very loosely organized. Antifa tends to have small, regional groups, if any at all.
Now, how can one be opposed to anti-fascism? Well, Antifa’s signature use of black bloc tactics probably contributes to their controversial image.
Dressing in all black, activists tend to wear face coverings as to make themselves harder to identify, to separate themselves from the crowd, and to form a black mass of people. It’s unsurprising to see that when this black bloc comes up against an already rowdy group of white supremacists, violence is almost inevitable.
Also, where Antifa protests take place, there tends to be destruction of private property, including storefronts and cars. Keeping this information in mind, is Antifa a terrorist group?
It is best to use the criteria for “terrorist group” used by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which in a recent article proclaimed the Black Lives Matter movement not to be a terrorist group.
So what exactly makes a group a terrorist group? Well, its leaders must condone the use of terror tactics in order to be considered as such. For example, BLM leaders do not advocate the use of violence or racism in their activism. This makes for a difficult comparison to Antifa because while individuals may commit terrorist acts, Antifa doesn’t really have leaders at all.
Some individuals may be leaders for a small group, but there is no national organization or central leadership.
Any goon who brings their friends to protest with them may be considered a “leader.” To this end, it is difficult to even refer to Antifa as a “group.” If anything, Antifa is more of an ideology.
This is important because it is an entirely different kind of deal to outlaw an ideology compared to a specific group. For example, it is not illegal to be a Neo-Nazi, however some Neo-Nazi groups are banned. If you could just outlaw an ideology, then freedom of speech would be as good as dead. It is a dangerous path to go down, to start banning worldviews seen as unfavorable.
So, if Antifa can’t be banned as a terrorist group, what can be done to them? For those opposed, the best option is rigorous application of the law against individuals who commit crimes. This is the only option, because Antifa activists have as much a right to protest as their far-right rivals.
Only when people start to engage in violence and destruction can they be removed. Not yet can you get rid of people who disagree with you. And no, Antifa is not a terrorist group.