The Antifa, Reinvented (Updated x2)

While it doesn’t exactly say so, the New York Times op-ed by Columbia journalism and sociology prof Todd Gitlin gives the clear impression that the Antifa arose to deal with the Naxos in Charlottesville. There is no mention of them existing before, and every reference relates to their fight against the fascism of white supremacy.

Were they not the same Antifa that trashed Berkeley last February to prevent Milo from speaking, pepper-sprayed a female Trump supporter, hit a guy on the head with a bike lock? Not if one reads Gitlin’s description.

In Mr. Trump’s telling, the presence of antifa activists during the violence in Charlottesville, Va., this month was evidence that the far left is just as violent as the far right: “You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks, and they’ve got clubs and they’ve got everything.”

Surrogates have aped Mr. Trump’s “blame both sides” rhetoric; overnight, antifa — and its assumed synonym, “alt-left” — have become right-wing shibboleths, right there with “social justice warrior” and “liberal snowflake.” In truth, there is no symmetry between either “alt-right” and either “antifa” or “alt-left.” Antifa is the backlash to the backlash, a defensive response to the growing presence of right-wing extremism.

While it may well be true that the effort to create an equivalency between the Antifa and the Naxos is false, it is similarly false to “explain” their existence as “a defensive response” to right-wing extremism. Charles Murray threatened no harm to anyone. Milo, Shapiro and Coulter may be despicable people, but they were only there to speak. And what about Christina Hoff Sommers? Yet, the Antifa were out to silence them. Defensive? Hardly.

Who are the antifa, then? They do not advocate a positive doctrine, racial or otherwise. Some supporters consider themselves (as Mr. Trump accurately said) anarchists, some Marxists of different stripes; others don’t care much what you call them. There is no national antifa organization; most organized groups are local, concentrated in Texas and the Northwest. There’s not even a consensus among adherents as to whether to pronounce the term AN-tee-fah or an-TEE-fah. They aim to confront, expose, shame — and sometimes convert — white supremacists.


Few antifa groups wear masks or carry firearms, though in a street confrontation, especially in an open-carry state like Virginia, where the Charlottesville police did not separate rival groups, a few firearms go a long way. One group calling itself Redneck Revolt (“Putting the Red Back in Redneck”) displayed rifles in Charlottesville and took credit — witnesses agree — for protecting the larger crowd of antifa demonstrators.

Cite? No matter. If it’s in the newspaper, it must be true, as is the rationale comparing the Antifa with the forces opposing the rise of the Third Reich. So what if stories in the old Grey Lady about the Antifa appeared long before anyone talked about Charlottesville or the Naxos. One might think an editor there would read this op-ed and respond, “well, the stories in this very paper disprove the tacit assertion that this group arose to fight white supremacy, but in fact was busily silencing wrongthinking academics through violence,” so this shouldn’t be published to create this obviously false impression.

Yet, published it is. It’s not that he tries to create a kinder, gentler Antifa, so much as he sanitizes its purpose to pretend that it wasn’t out there cracking heads to silence speech, but just saving us from the Naxos, who are more hateful and violent. It’s not that it makes the Antifa wonderful, but it makes them far less awful. Using violence to silence speech isn’t the sort of thing that warms people to the group, few of whom wear masks (cite?).

Having cleansed their souls, Gitlin goes on to separate them from the progressive seekers of truth and justice. The Antifa may exist, but are not the armed voices of the righteous tolerant.

But many antifa activists do not think strategically about whom they alienate. They are convinced that the hour for normal politics has passed, and let the chips fall where they may.

What happens now? Antifa, riding a vastly larger anti-Trump wave, will probably grow. So does the potential for armed clashes, especially in open-carry states. If the police do not act astutely, armed showdowns could develop.

Wild and crazy kids with arms, a tiny corps of well-intended if strategically foolish kids. This may be true, though no evidence is offered in support, but on a college campus, they can do a lot of harm. This is particularly true if your kid happens to be anywhere near a stray bullet. But you wouldn’t mind sacrificing your child for the cause, right?

Many liberals and leftists think they taint the overwhelmingly nonviolent anti-Trump resistance movement and play into Mr. Trump’s hands. No less a left-wing eminence than Noam Chomsky calls the antifa “a minuscule fringe of the left” and “a major gift to the right.” Mr. Chomsky considers them unprincipled, outnumbered and outgunned, as well as a distraction from practical tasks.

This is the Bill Murray theory of an all-girl army so that if you win, the other side was beaten by girls. If you lose, so what, all you did was beat a bunch of girls. The Antifa are disavowed by the peace-loving, “overwhelmingly nonviolent anti-Trump resistance movement,” and so whatever they do can’t come back to spank progressives. At the same time, they extol their good intentions to fight the Naxos, ignoring that what they’ve been up to all along is silencing wrongthinkers with force and violence.

Will one op-ed be sufficient to cleanse the Antifa of its pre-Naxos violence? Will it be enough to distance progressives from the false equivalence? By providing the real estate to create this new myth, the New York Times is giving it a shot, even if it means ignoring its own stories. But then, the cause is so important that it’s worthy of being accomplished by any means necessary. Even reinventing the Antifa.

Update: Nick Gillespie at Reason offers a great deal more about the antifa (he doesn’t capitalize it):

That’s the most-charitable explanation for antifa’s readiness to commit violence in public, that its members want to deny racists a public forum (in fact, it’s not exactly clear what the original organizers of yesterday’s march in Berkeley were all about; in any case, it’s clear from press reports that the vast majority of people assembled were against any sort of neo-Nazi or alt-right beliefs). Any group that claims “hate speech is not free speech” is going to become not just censorious but violent pretty quickly.

Not everyone is ready to fall for the new improved Antifa.

Update 2: A view from the mean streets of Berkeley on getting beaten with the best of intentions. For those who want to pretend this is just a couple of random kids who are into cosplay, this might be very enlightening.

50 comments on “The Antifa, Reinvented (Updated x2)

  1. PseudonymousKid


    You can be a member of antifa, too. Just consider yourself antifa and then hit the streets. Wear some black if you want to fit in. Not that it should care if you conform, but for “tactical” reasons.

    Really, is it fair to make any general statement about an amorphous group of anti-activists who avoid definitions by not being cohesive or having leadership? It makes it hard to generalize if all you’re talking about is certain individuals who agree that it’s worthwhile to [insert activity attributed to antifa here], but that does seem like everyone is up to. And so Berkeley students protesting Milo become Charlottesville counter-activists at a white supremacist rally. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to rehabilitate or denigrate antifa, it isn’t helpful.

    Let’s do pitchforks and torches for a throwback next “antifa” meeting. I’ll put it in the newsletter.


    1. SHG Post author

      What if there is an actual group, that makes actual plans (not just to coordinate outfits so they don’t clash) to engage in actual violence? I realize the Times didn’t say this, but perhaps the description isn’t entirely accurate, and it’s not just random people in black bloc outfits who fortuitously happen to show up en masse.

      Have you considered that you don’t know about this because they didn’t invite you to the party?

      1. PseudonymousKid

        I’m too bougie to carry a card anyway. It’s good that I’m not unused to not getting picked or getting picked last. You’re probably right.

        I bet the FBI and NSA know. Actually, how do I know you’re SHG and not them? Conspiracies are everywhere! Better sic the next J Edgar on antifa to be safe.

        1. SHG Post author

          That’s why your mother and I made sure you got a trophy for waking up in the morning. We couldn’t risk waiting for your actual participation, as it was too unlikely.

        1. PseudonymousKid

          Aw, shucks. Pa, why doesn’t anyone think I’m cool enough to hang out with? It’s me, isn’t it?

    2. Patrick Maupin

      If a group is deliberately being amorphous and actively avoiding definitions, it’s more than fair to try to pin them down by ascribing actions and even motivations to them, that they can confirm or deny.

      1. PseudonymousKid

        Finally, somewhere where a sociologist could actually contribute. Too bad no one listens to them even if they were studying antifa membership and motivations. Without that, we’re left with guesses and shrugs and “journalism.”

        There might not be a “they” at all, though. Is there any support for that assumption besides “they do similar things for what we think are similar reasons?”

        1. Patrick Maupin

          This doesn’t require a sociologist. In fact, a sociologist might be counterproductive, because this merely requires someone who can think logically.

          Outside observers, not paying too much attention, but simply noticing what comes in front of them, might easily come to these conclusions: (1) There are some who have engaged in actual violence who claim to be part of antifa. (2) There are others who claim to be part of antifa. (3) Nobody claiming to be part of antifa has appeared to denounce the violence.

          1. PseudonymousKid

            Logically? Where’s the proof, yo?

            That’s where the sociologists could be helpful. You know, science and all that. I know I know, “not a real science.” Sure. They can produce evidence even though they’d talk a ton about boring stuff like statistical significance to get there. The boring parts are the most important, it turns out, without which the whole thing crumbles.

            Until then, we’re just following the lead of the so-called “journalists” or our own guts, for whatever those are worth.

            1. Patrick Maupin

              “produce evidence”

              Perhaps you don’t realize that in many cases outside your chosen field of endeavor, and certainly within the field of sociology, “produce” and “fabricate” are synonymous.

            2. SHG Post author

              I have conducted a longitudinal study of all female respondents between the ages of 3 and 90 within my household, and the results prove this is true. Disclaimer: I had to feed them to get them to respond.

  2. Jake

    “Were they not the same Antifa that trashed Berkeley last February to prevent Milo from speaking, pepper-sprayed a female Trump supporter, hit a guy on the head with a bike lock?”

    Are they not the same as the French Maquis? Or the Dutch Resistance who fought alongside the 101st Airborne in 1944?

    I guess your answer will depend on how willing you are to fall into the trap of emotionally conflating the behavior of a few individual actors dressed in black in the midst of a highly fluid street skirmish and the ideological banner they march under. I prefer to discuss the merits of the latter.

    1. SHG Post author

      As you already know, I am not persuaded that this is 1944. But then, the quote was about the antifa’s pre-Naxos days, so did the Nazis secretly invade Berkeley?

      What’s unfortunate is that you can’t bring yourself to reject violence, particularly pre-emptive violence. Violence is bad, Jake. All I am saying is give peace a chance.

      1. Jake

        “Violence is bad, Jake”

        And here we come to the real question. All violence is bad? There is no good violence? Even as a measure of last resort?

          1. Jake

            Fair enough. Tell me then, how many people need to be lynched, chained to fences and beaten, or otherwise violated by people under the symbols of fascist Neo-völkisch movements before today’s (Post Hitler. Naxos is an island in Greece) Nazis, marching arm and arm with the KKK, are considered an aggressor we must defend ourselves against? Will it only be acceptable to defend ourselves against them when they get around to marching people off to the extermination camps again?

            1. SHG Post author

              Neither ideas nor speech, nor anything else that makes your sweet heart break and lovely eyes cry, is violence unless it is the imminent threat of force against you or someone else in your presence. None of this fantasy lunacy is going to move anyone who isn’t nuts, Jake. It’s not persuasive and just make you look like an idiot. Stop it.

            2. Patrick Maupin

              Why, oh, why do people like you insist on making the alt-right’s fantasy that they are being persecuted come true?

              What is the strange fascination with taking a small group that everybody would denounce and love to see in jail if they were to commit actual violence, and ensuring that they become relevant and gain sympathy and followers, and that any violence that they commit could be considered to be in self-defense?

            3. RemnantPsyche

              I know that was rhetorical, but here’s the answer: the supply of oppression doesn’t meet Antifa’s demand.

              Being a victim is woke and gives you the moral high ground, but America isn’t buying Antifa’s delusional cries of “oppression” as they beat people who have unpopular ideas. So they want to provoke violence that looks and sounds like oppression in edited video clips and sound bites. Woke!

              If everything goes the way they want, they think they might spark popular support for their silly movement. And if it all REALLY goes the way they want, they get to become the biggest and most woke victims of all: martyrs. Then their enemies really will be the monsters these LARPing, directionless kids have claimed they are. And so supply meets demand.

            4. Stan W

              In the past year how many people in the US have been “lynched, chained to fences and beaten, or otherwise violated ” by white supremacist groups?
              Past ten years?

              Strawman Thy name is Jake.

            5. el purrp

              “How many people need to be ________ before we must ________,”

              The difference between reasonable people and warmongers is that reasonable people don’t think this argument is a truism.

            6. SHG Post author

              Peep, the argument is fallacious on any level, the million missing dots between the starting and ending points. But if belief is passionate enough, it can overcome anything, provided you close your eyes and wish hard enough.

        1. B. McLeod

          “A measure of last resort.” That would be when you’ve tried absolutely everything else, right, Jake? So, if you tried ignoring the white supremacists and letting them rant, and the white supremacists never gained a following, you wouldn’t need the violence, right, Jake?

          Or, if you just opposed the views espoused by the white supremacists in public venues, and the people saw that the white supremacists were wrong, and virtually nobody supported them, you wouldn’t need the violence, right Jake?

          Or, if you kept watch on the white supremacists and filed police complaints as to any unlawful act, and the police arrested the white supremacists who committed the unlawful acts, and those white supremacists were convicted and went to prison, you wouldn’t need the violence, right, Jake?

          Have you tried all that stuff, Jake? By what unfathomable leap of whatever do you conclude that you have reached a point where you can justify violence as “a measure of last resort?” Do you understand English, Jake?

          1. Jake

            “Have you tried all that stuff, Jake? By what unfathomable leap of whatever do you conclude that you have reached a point where you can justify violence as “a measure of last resort?” Do you understand English, Jake?”

            Have I personally? Of course not. I’m too fat, old, and disabled to go out there and battle with armed hillbillies.

            My question was in the context of my original comment which specifically references “highly fluid street skirmish”. It seems you misunderstood my follow up question but that’s OK, I take responsibility for miscommunications I am party to.

            Please allow me to try and reframe the question:

            Is a member of Antifa, or anyone else for that matter, in the heat of a highly fluid street skirmish with armed, white-wing extremists, within their right to defend themselves when attacked? Are there limits to the scope of their defense? After all, people have been killed by right-wing extremists. Lots of people.

            I ask because Scott, and some of his commenters, seem highly focused on and critical of the actions of the lefties on the ground at these events while eschewing criticism of the known, violent extremists also present. I’m genuinely trying to understand why.

            1. SHG Post author

              You sound like the guy defending the cops, complaining that we’re harder on the cops than the criminals. We expect the criminals to be criminals. We expect the cops to be better than the criminals.

            2. DaveL

              Of course members of Antifa have the right to defend themselves against actual attack, by right-wing extremists or anybody else. They do not have the right to aggress against others who do not attack them, not even right-wing extremists. No matter what tortured arguments they advance to the effect that their speech is violence, or their mere presence, or their mere existence.

              Why is our current criticism directed towards Antifa? Speaking for myself only, it’s because the morals of the white supremacists* are not up for debate. They do not support equal protection under the law. Their support for freedom of speech is shallow and situational. They already have their lists of books to burn. Their contempt for American values is plain to see as they march under the flags of enemies of the United States, actual literal enemies we fought literal wars against. Nobody’s arguing about it because there’s just no argument there.

              *Actual white supremacists, not merely anybody who didn’t vote the way you wanted, or anybody who stood up for the constitutional rights of white supremacists on principle.

    2. el purrp

      “how willing you are to fall into the trap of emotionally conflating the behavior of a few individual actors”

      You mean a rhetorical tactic that’s as ubiquitous as advertising is now considered a trap? This must be context-dependent, right?

  3. B. McLeod

    Well, the reality is that there is nothing remotely admirable about the lumpen thugs billing themselves as “antifa.” Hence, they and their supporters resort to lies. But, they are obvious lies and probably will not fool many people.

    1. SHG Post author

      They may very well fool people, who first become aware of them post-Charlottesville and think they were born to fight Naxos. Even if they doubt there’s any serious concern, it certainly provides better optics for them to fight white supremacists than beat up students on campus for wanting to hear a lecture by Milo.

      1. B. McLeod

        I suppose their media allies will now persist in calling whomever they attack “right wing extremists.” That apparently makes the violence OK, whether it is against students or a free speech rally. However, as it goes on, I expect it will wear thin and people will see through the ruse.

  4. Jake

    (Forced non-reply)

    “Neither ideas nor speech nor anything else that makes your sweet heart break and lovely eyes cry, is violence unless it is the imminent threat of force against you or someone else in your presence.”

    So, to be clear…There’s no way the Antifa protesters in Charlotte could have interpreted armed and armored Nazis marching down the street as an imminent threat of force? What about when the Nazis began throwing punches and deployed mace? What about after the Dodge Charger, driven by a Nazi, ran over dozens, killing one? Self-defense yet?

    1. SHG Post author

      Forget that you’re a hater and you hate people. Defense is no different with people you hate than anyone else. Just because you’re a hater doesn’t mean you get a special right to be violent against people you hate. Nor them you. Now stop. You’ve made yourself look foolish enough for one day.

  5. Jake

    @Stan W

    I normally don’t reply to other commenters, but yours is either so absurdly uninformed or intentionally misleading I had to say hello. Respecting our host’s wishes on links, you can google the facts on your own. The truth is right-wing extremists are deadly, domestic terrorists in this country. The Anti-Defamation League published a study counting 150 right wing terror incidents in this country since 1993.

    I only have to go back two years to the Charleston shooting—one of the most disgusting mass shootings in the history of our nation, under the banner of white supremacy.

    Hide your head in the sand all you want. Fascism is real. It’s here…And it’s not just kids on the streets. It’s in our law enforcement community, it’s in local, state, and federal government. You want to pretend it doesn’t exist, be my guest. But don’t try to tell me that the flags Dylan Roof and his ilk fetishize are different than the flags the Alt-Right are marching under.

    1. SHG Post author

      If your assertion was that our society has yet to eradicate racism or occasional racist violence (150 incidents in 24 years is bad, but minuscule in a nation of over 300 million over 24 years), I doubt anyone would disagree with you. But shrieking the sky is falling, using such hyperbole as terrorism and fascism, reduced you to an hysteric.

      You, I’m sure, see it as conservative libertarians who either refuse to “get it,” or are apologists for the obvious. Others don’t accept that your chaos theory of horribles is remotely real. It’s not that violence doesn’t happen, but there is no support anywhere in America for white supremacists, except perhaps among the passionate nutjobs of antifa in desperate search of someone to attack.

      1. Jake

        “…but there is no support anywhere in America for white supremacists, except perhaps among the passionate nutjobs of antifa in desperate search of someone to attack.”

        …And maybe a Sherrif or two. Plus a few state and federal legislators. And the President handing them pardons.

        1. SHG Post author

          Yes, we’re all white supremacists and have shrines to Trump and Arpaio in the basement. You got us this time.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            Minor correction: Very few basements in Texas. This may be why nobody bats an eye at my Trump shrine in the middle of the living room. I had to put a fence around it to keep the dog from peeing on it though.

          2. Miles

            Enough about Jake. We get it. He believes and can’t understand why the rest of us aren’t going crazy. But here’s the question it raises: if some white supremacist was to try to promote his beliefs in the comments here, you would trash him without blinking. Yet, you let Jake go nuts spewing his flavor of insanity.

            So, why allow the insane alt-left to do what you would never allow from the insane alt-right?

            1. SHG Post author

              Jake’s tenacious and, well, extreme passion notwithstanding, he’s a great programmer and has helped me out on numerous occasions. I like him, I appreciate him, and he gets special dispensation. I never said life was fair.

    2. Stan W

      I am well aware of the few cases of white supremacists acting criminally, and the individual actors should be (and have been) hammered in court both criminal and civil.
      The Naxos response is sliding down the slope to the same criminal behavior.
      Dylan Roof has justifiably spent his last day on earth as a free person. Which is how actual criminal conduct should be handled.
      The Naxos want to preemptively “defend” by face smashing anyone they consider bad thinkers.
      They want to do violence for unpure thoughts, not actions.
      But they mean well, ya know we just cant have diverse ideas running around think of the chaos .

      Doing violence in the name of your groups good intentions is a fools game, a game all rational Americans should be condemning, just not enough people thinking rationally.

  6. Pingback: Jake DiMare

Comments are closed.