5 things to know about antifa

Antifa has become one of the most prominent militant groups at political protests

By PoliceOne Staff

Political protests are becoming increasingly violent. Here are five things cops should know about one of the most prominent militant groups at these gatherings, antifa. For information about white supremacist groups, which have also become a violent presence at rallies across the United States, click here.

1. What is antifa?

A bonfire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, Feb. 1, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
A bonfire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, Feb. 1, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Antifa, short for anti-fascist or Anti-Fascism Action, is a radical far-left-leaning political movement, made up of mostly autonomous groups spread throughout the United States. The movement has ties to anarchism, other radical left groups like By Any Means Necessary, and is known for its militant presence at protests. Some of the better known, loosely organized antifa groups include Torch Antifa, Antifa Sacramento and NYC Antifa.

NYC Antifa described the movement’s motives in an interview with The Nation:

“Antifa combines radical left-wing and anarchist politics, revulsion at racists, sexists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes, with the international anti-fascist culture of taking the streets and physically confronting the brownshirts of white supremacy, whoever they may be.”

2. Antifa returned to the spotlight in the Trump era.

Antifa’s origins can be traced to similar movements in Europe as far back as the 1920s and ‘30s. Its resurgence has been directly tied to the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump, the emergence of the alt-right, and the rise of white nationalism and white supremacist groups in the U.S. Antifa’s primary targets are groups it considers racist or fascist, and the movement spends much of its energy on targeting individuals it identifies as members of these groups (by pressuring their employer to fire them, doxxing them, etc.) or trying to prevent public gatherings of said groups.

When things spill into the streets, antifa is known for its willingness to use force to shut down or otherwise disrupt rallies – whether through property damage or physical violence. Sticks, bats, knives, and pepper spray are among the weapons police have confiscated during clashes between antifa and rival groups.

In defense of antifa’s tactics, one member told AOL.com:

"Resistance is not always safe and pretty, but it is immaculate compared to our monstrous government."

Another member said the group wouldn’t rule out the use of firearms or other powerful weaponry at future protests.

"We believe in a diversity of tactics," a member told the site. "The level of violence is already incredibly high, but not from the left."

3. Antifa is linked to multiple incidents of violence.

Perhaps the most infamous early example of violence was last year’s melee between antifa members and white nationalist groups in Sacramento, California, during a rally at the state Capitol building. That incident left 14 people with stab wounds, cuts and bruises.

Since then, Portland and Berkeley have seen some of the worst and most frequent violence. In February, a protest of a planned UC Berkeley speech by alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos ended with anti-fascists setting fires, breaking windows, throwing rocks at police and attacking people in the crowd – a grim kickoff to a series of bloody clashes in the city throughout 2017.

In Portland, police arrested 25 protesters after a May Day march erupted in violence – one of many examples of the chaotic scenes that have plagued the city this year.

Charlottesville, D.C. (most infamously during Trump’s inauguration – where police arrested 217 protesters), Philly, and NYC are just a few examples of other cities that have seen their share of violence between antifa and rival groups.

4. A popular antifa tactic is the ‘black bloc.’

A common misconception is that the “black bloc” is a group, but it’s actually a tactic. Those that employ it don black clothing from head to toe in order to conceal their identities. In the Sacramento Capitol melee, law enforcement originally sought to charge 101 protesters for their roles in the violence, but ran into difficulties because so many of the participants were masked. It’s also used by protesters to help protect themselves from less lethal tools like pepper spray and tear gas.

The tactic is common among antifa and was also widespread during the G-20 protests earlier this year. One of the most well-known cases of its use prior to the Trump era was during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle

5. Is Antifa considered a domestic terror group?

No. But there are already calls for the government to label antifa a domestic terrorist organization. Some have argued that the mainstream news media portrays antifa members in a more positive light because they are fighting racism, sexism, homophobes and anti-Semites.

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