Antifa is Not the “Vegan Isis”: A Roundup of Real Information About Antifascism

Point number one: Fuck you, Trevor Noah . The line “vegan ISIS” might have sounded very, very clever in your writers room, but it has fuck-all to do with reality.

There’s a lot of potential, legitimate discussion to be had about the tactics of antifa groups and black blocs. Not a single one starts with the assumption that protesters who oppose fascism and white supremacy are moral equals to the cheap-suit Klanners who marched at Charlottesville and attempted to do the same in San Francisco and Berkeley just last week.

But nevertheless, there’s been a lot of that bullshit spread through the media over the last week. Most of it rests on carefully cherry-picking a few incidents out of huge events. To provide some of the much-needed context and facts to a discussion that is quickly coming unmoored from reality, I’ve decided to collect a few pieces that take a more nuanced (or at least fact-based) approach to the current situation.

josephine baker at march on washington
Josephine Baker at the March on Washington. Baker was a member of the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War II. The medals are her decoration for service.

“Are ‘Antifa’ and the Alt-Right Equally Violent?” (Snopes)

Spoiler: FUCK No. Snopes does a good job of digging into concrete numbers in this piece that was published after Charlottesville.

Marilyn Mayo, senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said that statistics show that radical leftists have been dramatically less likely to kill people than their counterparts on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Over the past decade, extremists of every stripe have killed 372 Americans. 74 percent of those killings were committed by right wing extremists. Only 2 percent of those deaths were at the hands of left wing extremists. Mayo told us:

I don’t want to give moral equivalence to the two sides because one side is fighting against white supremacy. On the Antifa side, they’ve never murdered anyone but there have been many murders done by white supremacists, so we have to be concerned about that movement.

Wonder Woman Antifa

What the Media Got Wrong About Last Weekend’s Protests in Berkeley (Mother Jones)

The reportage of the anti-fascist response in Berkeley recently was dominated by the old cliché: “If it bleeds, it leads.” A few outbreaks of violence were presented without context to make it seem like the counterdemonstrators were hooded, bloodthirsty thugs charging peaceful right-wingers. In fact, there were only a few incidents among over 4,000 anti-fascist demonstrators. Shane Bauer gives an eyewitness account with more nuance:

The narrative that antifa “stormed” the demonstration is false. Antifa didn’t invade; they were one group among many that organized the counterprotest with other left-wing groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America — not to mention black and immigrant churches. Many attendees expressed surprise at the unprecedented level of coordination between groups that don’t always get along. Antifa organizers reached out to local businesses, handing out anti-hate window signs and flyers to educate business owners about the white supremacist groups active in the Bay Area.

Most of the right-wing demonstrators were handled without violence. The morning before the rally, attendee Johnny Benitez posted a picture of himself flashing the “okay” hand signal (an alt-right meme) while holding tiki torches like those used by the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. When he arrived in Berkeley, he spoke to news cameras for over an hour, until counterprotesters surrounded him, chanting “black lives matter” and “Nazi scum off our streets,” at which point he left the park without incident. I witnessed a number of others who were dealt with in a similar manner.

How liberal attacks on Antifa uphold white supremacy (Daily Kos)

As a Black woman and survivor of domestic and sexual violence, I am heartened to know there are people like the Antifa who will recognize that the police isn’t here to save us. The police violence against counter-protestors and leniency on white supremacists in Charlottesville and Boston only further undermines that—and that’s without diving into the police brutality, murder , sexual assault and other abuses that occur across the country. How can you expect me to feel protected by the institution that dehumanizes and abuses the most vulnerable in our society—and complains that they’rethe true victims because now we want them to be held accountable for their actions on duty? They see Trump protestors as a bigger threat than KKK members. Where’s the series of social media posts of liberal outrage over that?

Waiting for a Perfect Protest? (NY Times)

Modern Americans — especially white people — have an extremely romanticized conception of the nonviolent demonstrations during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The truth is that they weren’t always perfectly nonviolent, and as four members of the clergy say in this opinion piece, insisting on such a high standard of behavior is an excuse to silence calls for justice.

Thanks to the sanitized images of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that dominate our nation’s classrooms and our national discourse, many Americans imagine that protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and countless local organizations fighting for justice did not fall victim to violent outbreaks. That’s a myth. In spite of extensive training in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, individuals and factions within the larger movement engaged in violent skirmishes, and many insisted on their right to physically defend themselves even while they proclaimed nonviolence as an ideal (examples include leaders of the SNCC and the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Mississippi).

Sorry conservatives. There’s no equivalence between the extreme right and the extreme left. (Washington Post)

The Post’s Paul Waldman clearly and adeptly states some truths that should be obvious:

The truth is that politics is, and always has been, about identity. Conservatives like to pretend that it’s only when women or racial minorities make arguments related to their particular concerns that sinister “identity politics” is at work, but nobody plays identity politics with more fervor and vigor than some conservatives do. When Republicans in the South run ads featuring Nancy Pelosi and shots of San Francisco, are they talking about issues? When they say their opponents don’t share “[insert our state here] values,” is that a policy argument? Was the Willie Horton ad about crime policy?

A stand selling anti-Nazi cookies and lemonade on August 26, 2017, the day that “Patriot Prayer” tried to rally in San Francisco

“White supremacists are more afraid of us than we are of them.” (Vox)

Sean Illing, a liberal skeptic of Antifa & black bloc tactics, nevertheless has an interesting and enlightening conversation with Daryle Jenkins, an African-American antifa activist who has been providing a public face to the movement. This interview has a lot of the sorely-needed nuance on the topic of antifa. Illing seems to be asking his questions (some of which I share) in good faith, rather than setting Jenkins up for a “GOTCHA!”

Sean Illing

I’m fine with the doxxing and the other nonviolent tactics, but I think antifa’s street tactics undermine their cause. I’m not a pacifist and I accept the utility of violence, but antifa isn’t merely squaring off against self-identified neo-Nazis. They also shut down obnoxious political entrepreneurs like Ann Coulter or professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos. Now these people may be assholes, but they’re not violent fascists. What cause is served by censoring their speech or violently disrupting their events?

Daryle Jenkins

I want folks to keep their heads about themselves whenever things start to go downhill, and I don’t want to see people just lashing out in anger. Now I realize some people won’t like what antifa does or what the Black Bloc does at these protest events, but you have to remember that people like Milo or Ann have serious problems and their speech is very destructive in its own way.

Sean Illing

But the question is, does shutting down the speech of people like Milo or Ann, who aren’t violent fascists, advance the anti-fascist cause? Using violence to stamp out speech is itself a kind of fascism.

Daryle Jenkins

I think this has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Personally, I want to hear from conservative voices. I want to hear what they believe and why they believe it. I think we need dialogue.

But when you have someone like a Pam Geller [who founded the group Stop the Islamization of America ] who shows up on campuses not to engage in dialogue but to insult liberals and Muslims and to incite violence, we’re not merely talking about free speech here. Or when someone like Milo goes on stage and starts outing transgender students, I don’t think we can treat that as simply a free speech issue.

 Daryle Jenkins on Rachel Maddow:

Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner missing poster.
“Missing” poster for Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by white supremacists in 1964.

Why the Media Refuses to Understand Antifa (Pacific Standard)

That visibility means Donald Trump and Fox News now love to cite the menace of antifa, but as ideologically and venally motivated liars, they will always find their bogeymen on the left—whether that’s college professors, the (irrelevant) New Black Panthers, or a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. Worrying about whether we’re giving them material for their lies is a fool’s neuroticism. They’re going to make up fake news anyway—turning a fascist who lost a fight into an innocent bystander or lending credence to the guy who stabbed himself and blamed antifa . The truth is that most pundits (on the right and supposed left) are happy to fall for these “vicious antifa” stories because these pundits are more concerned with order than justice. For them, people fighting in the street over politics will always conjure images of other countries where they don’t want to live. It upsets them.

The chalkboard at Wicked Grounds, a central queer & kinky hangout in San Francisco, a few days after Trump’s election.

Why the Right is Suddenly Terrified of Political Violence (The Daily Banter)

An excellent exploration of the differing motives behind violence on the left and that on the right. The right has been cooking up fantasies completely divorced from reality for decades, and they’re willing to defend those fantasies with guns. The threats that queers, indigineous people, POC, women, and other marginalized communities face, however, are very, very real.

The bottom line is that violence from the left, particularly the Antifa, is a natural response to a very real and very clear threat. I’m not advocating violence but can we really be surprised that people are lashing out at the right? Have you been listening to them, especially for the past 8 years? The American right wing been engaging in nonstop eliminationist rhetoric , promising to wipe out their enemies with “Second Amendment remedies.” They carry guns with them everywhere and pass laws to make it easier for them to legally murder anyone they’re afraid of. They train in the woods for a war they desperately want in order to secure their political power forever. They literally pointed guns at federal agents, occupied a federal building and got a pat on the back from Fox News.

On Berkeley: Community Resistances Show Other Worlds Are Possible (Medium)

An eyewitness account of the confrontation in Berkeley by Zoe Samuzdi .

Shortly after a coalition of counter-protestors, the one including the black bloc, arrived at the park, the Berkeley Police Department promptly hid themselves behind their riot gear and poised to shoot rounds of tear gas into the crowd . The black bloc put their hands into the air in a now rallying gesture and continuously and necessarily confrontationally yelled “put the gun down! ” at the officers. Had the officers shot the tear gas at the crowd, multiple people would likely now be dead or injured: not only would the police have probably killed the frontline anarchists that their canister-loaded weapons were trained upon, but people would have also been killed or injured in the panic of a tightly packed crowd of hundreds of people trying to escape the eye and throat-burning gas. The police lowered their arms and absconded their posts in the park shortly thereafter: both masked and unmasked protestors jumped over police barricades and assembled throughout the park, a people’s park.

17-year-old reporter Marina Ginesta poses with a rifle during the Spanish Civil War.

My “Nonviolent” Stance Was Met With Heavily Armed Men (Radical Discipleship)

A post from the perspective of a progressive Christian activist who faced the Khaki Klan at Charlottesville. Logan Rimel, from University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, takes a look at his own pacifism and what the cost is for other people.

I never felt safer than when I was near antifa. They came to defend people, to put their bodies between these armed white supremacists and those of us who could not or would not fight. They protected a lot of people that day, including groups of clergy. My safety (and safety is relative in these situations) was dependent upon their willingness to commit violence. In effect, I outsourced the sin of my violence to them. I asked them to get their hands dirty so I could keep mine clean. Do you understand? They took that up for me, for the clergy they shielded, for those of us in danger. We cannot claim to be pacifists or nonviolent when our safety requires another to commit violence, and we ask for that safety.

And so I come to this – white liberal Christian friends, I’m talking to you. I’ve seen a lot of condemnation of “violent response,” lots of selective quoting Dr. King, lots of disparagement of antifa and the so-called “alt-left,” a moral equivalency from the depths of Hell if I ever saw one. You want to be nonviolent? That is good and noble. I think…I think I do, too. But I want you to understand what you’re asking of the people who take this necessary stance against white supremacy, the people who go to look evil in the face. You’re asking them to be beaten with brass knuckles, with bats, with fists. To be pounded into the ground, stomped on, and smashed. You’re asking them to bleed on the pavement and the grass. Some of them are going to die. And you’re asking them to do that without defending themselves.

Are you willing to do that? Are you going to to go out when the Nazis come here, to the Bay Area, next week? Are you going to offer your body to them? No? Are you willing to take a bat to the head? To be surrounded by angry young men who want nothing more than to beat you unconscious, like they did Deandre Harris? Are you going to rely upon a different type of violence – that imposed by the state – to protect you – even knowing it is a danger to your neighbors? To outsource the violence your safety requires to someone else? Or are you just not going to show up, at the rally or afterward? To choose passivity over pacifism – because let’s be clear, nonviolence is still about showing up.

Hurricane Harvey: Antifa are on the ground in Texas helping flooding relief efforts (The Independent)

Activists from the anti-fascist movement known as antifa have recently come under fire because some – but not all – employ militant tactics and use violence as a means of getting their message across.

But now some of the group – a loose coalition of left-wing groups who oppose fascism, racism and sexism – are reportedly assisting with search and rescue and first aid.

Uncle Sam facing off the alt-right.

Rebecca Solnit on Facebook:

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Antifa is Not the “Vegan Isis”: A Roundup of Real Information About Antifascism

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