Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is a far-left movement in the United States that often uses radical measures to push back against alt-right and white nationalist groups.
Antifa groups believe in using direct action and have engaged in violence. They trace their origins to the anti-Nazi Antifaschistische Aktion group founded in Germany in the 1930s and the Anti-Fascist Action, a militant group founded in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. The Antifa ideology is rooted in the assumption that “the Nazi party would never have been able to come to power in Germany if people had more aggressively fought them in the streets in the 1920s and 30s,”
In the United States, Antifa is not a united group. It is made up of a loose collection of local and regional groups and individuals. There is no central leadership. Activism comes through informal local or regional collaboration. As Salon politics writer Chauncey DeVega puts it, Antifa is an organizing strategy, not a group of people. Federal Bureau of Investigations Director Chris Wray said in a Congressional hearing that Antifa is “more of an ideology than an organization.”
Antifa activists feel the need to participate in violent actions because “they believe that elites are controlling the government and the media. So they need to make a statement head-on against the people who they regard as racist,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
The movement has grown since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to historian and political organizer Mark Bray, it’s been estimated that a couple of hundred Antifa chapters — of varying sizes — exist in the U.S. currently.
Antifa groups protested the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump. They were also involved in the Berkeley protests against alt-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulus. And the movement gained national media attention when it counter-protested against the 2017 alt-right rally in Charlottesville, where they famously chanted that counter-protesters should “punch a Nazi in the mouth.”
Last month, Antifa protestors clashed with a far-right group in Portland which resulted in an attack on alt-right provocateur Andy Ngo, sending him to the hospital. Conservative media outlets, including Fox News, have used the attack on Ngo as evidence that the U.S. has a left-wing violence problem. More recently, the Dayton shooter was also uncovered to be a radical left-winger who encouraged violence against capitalists and tweeted “kill every fascist.”
However, it is not just the conservatives who have criticized Antifa. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the violence of Antifa activists in Berkeley. And the intellectual Noam Chomsky has described them as “a major gift to the right.”
Most recently, Trump said he is considering designating Antifa as a terrorist organization.
Some, however, believe the rise of white nationalism may justify Antifa activism. Bray has
Last week, Antifa protestors faced off against a far-right rally in Portland, which prompted the tweet by Trump. A huge police operation in the city kept both protestors separate though small clashes were reported. Portland is considered to be an Antifa stronghold. Other areas in the country where the movement is active include Philadelphia and the Bay Area.
To equate Antifa activists to the those on the alt-right would be a mistake, however, as writer Peter Beinart notes. White supremacists in the U.S. have killed far more people. Antifa also does not yield the same political power that white supremacists do. While the tactics employed by Antifa activists are troubling, they mobilize against the far right. To address Antifa violence would also require action against the rise of white supremacists in the United States.
Viral Facebook posts this summer claimed that the www.antifa.com website forwards to the Joe Biden campaign website, suggesting a formal association between the former vice president and the radical leftist movement. While the claims about the antifa.com redirect are true, this does not need to occur with the consent of the Biden campaign or the operators of its website.
The Biden campaign denies any connection to the Antifa website and claims that the redirect is the work of trolls. This is likely the case, but a WHOIS search shows that the Antifa.com domain registration is private, and so the identity and intent of the owner cannot be definitively determined. Notably, the Trump reelection campaign has focused on the Antifa threat and continues to suggest that Biden has been soft on the group. Biden has condemned Antifa.