The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About Antifa

Antifa is a radical and often violent protest movement organized around “anti-fascism.”

Fascism is a difficult ideology to define because it has historically contained elements from both extreme ends of the left-right political spectrum. For the purposes of “anti-fascism” the best definition of “fascism” is “a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty, and to create a mobilized national community.”

 

Last Sunday violence broke out among protestors at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Park in Berkeley, California. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Some anti-fascist protesters, wearing black and with their faces covered, chased or beat Trump supporters and organizers who had scheduled and then canceled the ‘anti-Marxist’ rally, citing concerns over safety.”

The “anti-fascist” protesters—known as Antifa—attacked several people, including a Samoan man and a biracial man who is half-Japanese.

Here is what you should know about Antifa:

Who is Antifa?

Antifa is a radical and often violent protest movement organized around “anti-fascism.”

The movement is modeled on militant leftists who, as Peter Beinart explains, brawled with fascists in Germany, Italy, and Spain in the 1920s and 1930s. The groups—and the name—were revived in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, when anti-racists within the punk rock subculture in Britain and Germany mobilized to defeat neo-Nazi skinheads infiltrating the music scene. “Via punk, groups calling themselves anti-racist action—and later, anti-fascist action or antifa—sprung up in the United States,” says Beinart.

What does “antifa” mean?

The term antifa is commonly considered an abbreviation of “anti-fascist” or “anti-fascist action.” But the term originally was an abbreviation for Antifaschistiske Aktiona German communist movement from the 1930s.

What is an “anti-fascist”?

Fascism is a difficult ideology to define because it has historically contained elements from both extreme ends of the left-right political spectrum. For the purposes of “anti-fascism” the best definition of “fascism” is “a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty, and to create a mobilized national community.”

This definition of fascism helps to explain why Antifa—as professed “anti-fascists”—have been particularly focused on clashing with white nationalist groups, such as the alt-right, the KKK, and neo-Nazis.

What does Antifa believe in?

The short-answer: opposing individuals or groups who they define as “fascist.”

This may seem like an overly simplistic answer because, when it comes to mass political movements, Americans assume activists organize around what they want to advance or support. We expect protest groups like the Tea Party or Black Lives Matter to a have an agenda, or at least to be organized around a set of unifying goals. That is why we have a difficult time understanding groups like Antifa that define themselves and their cause almost exclusively by what they oppose.

Almost all of those who align with Antifa are from the extreme political left, usually identifying as communists, socialists, or anarchists. But when they engage as Antifa activists they aren’t attempting to directly advance a positive political agenda. Instead, they are trying to shut down groups they consider fascists.

If there is a unifying theme in their efforts, it is that the mere existence of “fascists” poses a threat of violence, especially toward minority groups. They believe this gives them a right to preemptive self-defense that justifies using violence to prevent “fascist” groups or persons from exercising such rights as free speech or public assembly.

How is Antifa organized?

One of the strengths of Antifa—and what makes it a particularly dangerous movement—is that it is decentralized and has no official or formal organization. The internet and social media have made it possible for activists who align with Antifa’s agenda to share information about locations of protest and to coordinate attacks on individuals or groups without the need for leaders, spokespersons, or outside financing.

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