You may not have heard much, or anything, about Antifa before now, but you will be hearing quite a bit more about them in the coming months and years. With Donald Trump now occupying the White House, the European anti-fascist organization, which has at times been associated with violence, has its eyes on the United States; and indeed, last Friday Antifa activists and Trump supporters violently clashed in Boston. However, what Antifa’s agenda is, or what they’re even about, largely depends on whom you ask.
Anti-Fascism in Europe
At its most basic definition, Antifa is a loosely-affiliated coalition of anti-fascist activists in Europe, with national chapters in Germany, Sweden, the U.K., and Greece, among other countries. The word comes from combining elements of the words “anti-fascist action” (or their equivalent in the local language).
— th1an1 (@th1an1) May 14, 2017
The movement emerged as a response to spreading fascism in Europe (more on what fascism means, specifically, in a few paragraphs). Fascism, as a viable political philosophy (at least, in the First World), has long since petered out. However, with the emergence of the alt-right, both in Europe and the U.S., and with some European politicians espousing hateful rhetoric that superficially resembles fascism, the anti-fascist movement is once again relevant.
Which brings us to Donald Trump and the United States.
What’s Trump Got To Do With It?
Many things can be said of Donald Trump, and whether those things are good or bad depends largely on your point of view. One thing that Trump has been called is a “fascist,” But what, exactly, does that mean?
— The Independent (@IndependentNL) May 13, 2017
Fascism is marked by fierce nationalism (appealing to the dominant culture at the expense of minorities and immigrants); suppression of political dissent; and almost unlimited power vested in a singular head of government (Mussolini in Italy, for example, or Franco in Spain). And while calling Trump a fascist may be premature and hyperbolic, there’s no doubt that Trump has taken at least a couple of plays from the fascist playbook, Robert Kagan tells The Independent.
“This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party – out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear – falling into line behind him.”
— trumpathon (@trumpathon) May 9, 2017
As far as Antifa or its supporters are concerned, this means that Antifa is necessary in the U.S.
What Does Antifa Hope To Accomplish?
This is where things get murky. Like Anonymous, and unlike, say, the KKK or your union, Antifa doesn’t have an application process or a headquarters. This means that anybody can show up at a protest, hold an attention-getting sign, and claim to be an Antifa agent or generally peaceful in the name of Antifa.
One thing that all Antifa groups seem to have in common, however, is the fact that they believe violence is necessary, as a response to the violent oppression of minority groups and as a response to the sometimes-violent actions of police in shutting down dissent.
“Even though most of our work is done with peaceful methods [at times] we deem it necessary to resort to violence in our struggle against fascism. We have no ambition to score political points, fish for votes or to get positive reviews in the bourgeois media. Our ambition is to combat organized fascism.”
Needless to say, that’s a problem. American political protest has, for the most part these past few decades, been characterized by a generally peaceful exchange of ideas. At worst, a few noses get bloodied (which is exactly what happened last Friday when Antifa showed up to counter-protest a pro-Trump rally in Boston).
When political discourse breaks down and two sides of an ideological divide express themselves through projectiles, fisticuffs, Molotov cocktails, and even bombs, that’s when people start getting seriously hurt and even dying.
Whether or not Antifa has designs on a campaign of violence across the U.S. is unclear, but so far, it seems that all they’ve been able to accomplish is a single instance of fisticuffs in Boston. As of this writing, they appear to be one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of various ideological groups in this country that may or may not be capable of inflicting damage, should they ever have the opportunity.
In other words, Antifa in the U.S. is, for now, little more than a loosely organized collective of individuals who, so far, have managed to bloody a couple of noses in Boston. Whether or not they’ll ever elevate beyond that remains to be seen, but as long as Trump is in the Oval Office, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
[Featured Image by Fabian Bimmer/AP Images]