The day after his “inspection” of the White House bunker during protests outside his window, President Trump gathered a small army around him and strutted to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he clownishly brandished somebody’s Bible.
Shortly after this, he assigned blame for the looting and property damage. Never one to be encumbered by proof, he declared the guilty parties were “left-wing radicals,” particularly Antifa, which he labeled a “domestic terrorist group.”
Extremist groups typically degrade our political discourse and sow chaos, violence and fear in our communities. Some are more violent than others. American newspapers and history books catalog untold instances of lynchings, bombings of homes, churches, abortion clinics, synagogues and mosques, murders of civil rights leaders, abortion providers and civil rights protesters. And unarmed black men.
Many people (like me) knew nothing about Antifa until they challenged the torch-carrying neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” — shortly before one of their number murdered a female protester.
Since then, Antifa has become the latest hobgoblin of the right wing media and the politicians they mentor. Trump acolyte Laura Ingraham stated that they are “criminals” who are trying to “murder America.”
So what is Antifa? The Anti-Defamation League describes Antifa as a leaderless, non-hierarchical organization of “groups, networks, and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements.” It took shape in direct opposition to current, active “Fascist” groups, believing that the Nazi party and the Fascist party in Italy would never have come to power if people 90 years ago had fought the Brownshirts in Germany and the Blackshirts in Italy. Their intention is “to intimidate and dissuade racists.”
Mark Bray’s “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” states that Antifa’s tactics include “shouting and chanting and forming human shields to block off right-wing demonstrators.” They organize protest marches and rallies, often shouting down speakers whose views they oppose. Some Antifa factions denounce violence; others admit a willingness to use violence in self defense and “carry weapons like pepper spray, knives, bricks, and chains.”
Let’s be clear: While Antifa’s goal is to “dissuade racists,” its means are often intolerant and illiberal. Suppressing the rights of others to speak freely and assemble peacefully violates their constitutional rights. Still, it is instructive to compare their tactics to the groups they oppose:
“The KKK,” of course, is the white-hooded granddaddy of all Fascist groups, notorious for its blood-soaked history of racial discrimination, and its penchant for lynchings, bombings, and shootings primarily against African-Americans but also against Jews.
“The Proud Boys” is a well-armed, male-only organization. It embraces the usual white nationalist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and misogynistic themes. The “Boys” carried the torches in Charlottesville.
“The Boogaloo Bois” is a well-armed militia preparing for “a second American Civil War.” One of them is charged with killing an Oakland-area police officer and a security guard while hidden among peaceful BLM protesters in order to create chaos and conflict.
“QAnon” militates against an anti-Trump deep state threat and a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles — in politics, the media and Hollywood. (One inspired NC zealot fired his AR-15 into a pizza shop in Washington, D.C., convinced it was the headquarters for a child trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton.)
“Atomwaffen Division (AWD)” promotes “an autonomous Fascist lifestyle” and believes that democracy and capitalism have “given way to Jewish oligarchies and globalist bankers resulting in the cultural and racial displacement of the white race.”
The Groypers are “America Firsters,” intent on suppressing demographic and cultural changes they see as destroying white, Christian America. They believe that the U.S. should close its borders, promote “traditional” Christian values and oppose globalism and “liberal” values such as feminism and LGBTQ rights.
All these groups believe America is being destroyed not only by non-white and non-Christian Americans but also by immigrants — all threatening their white Christian hegemony. Most of them arm themselves with assault weapons, shotguns and pistols, assuring all who will listen that they are willing and eager to use them.
These Fascist groups differ from Antifa in that most have a hierarchical structure and powerful supporters in the right-wing media, in the Republican Party, and in the White House. And though white supremacists in America have left thousands of bodies in their wake, not one of these Fascist groups has ever been cited as a “domestic terrorist organization.” Not even the KKK.
Antifa, on the other hand, has not been associated with a single murder.
None of this is good. To paraphrase Yeats, things are falling apart; the center is not holding. And Trump’s branding Antifa as domestic terrorists, while deliberately ignoring the violent history of multiple Fascist groups, signals his willingness to use the current chaos to divide and conquer, and cynically clear a path to his re-election and a Trumpian dictatorship.
William Shaw, of Pinehurst, is the author of “Fellowship of Dust: Retracing the WWII Journey of Sergeant Frank Shaw.”