Antifa is the New Right-Wing Boogeyman!
I wanted to take a break from the projects I’m working on to offer a quick commentary on what I’m calling the Antifa/Snowball Effect.1 Of course, I’m talking about the right-wing mouth frothing over the “militant anarchist terrorist” organization Antifa and its out-sized role in conservative discourse.
The reference to Snowball, however, is the key to my claim. I’m not talking about how issues tend to increase in size as they gain downhill momentum, although that metaphor is apt. In this case, I’m referencing the character from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In Orwell’s telling fable of farm animals (the proletariat) overthrowing their oppressive farmers (the capitalists), Snowball was the idealistic protagonist pig based largely on Leon Trotsky.
According to the story, an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the rise of Joseph Stalin, the animal revolution was largely successful at first, but went off the rails when a rival pig, Napoleon, overthrew Snowball and chased him from the farm. But this wasn’t the end of Snowball’s influence on the farm.
Napoleon and his minions kept Snowball very much at the forefront of animal thought. After all, when things went wrong…and they often did because Napoleon was really an incompetent and corrupt leader…the impacts were blamed on Snowball.
The animals were thoroughly frightened. It seemed to them as though Snowball were some kind of invisible influence, pervading the air about them and menacing them with all kinds of dangers.
…”I warn every animal on this farm to keep his eyes very wide open. For we have reason to think that some of Snowball’s secret agents are lurking among us at this moment.”Animal Farm Chapter VII
In the real world, our own Napoleon2 and his acolytes are facing a mass movement against police brutality and in support of perhaps the most revolutionary rethinking of state power in generations. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time for our leadership. Their corruption, ineptitude and imbecility stands in sharp relief against a reality that cannot be managed like a television show. And right before an election to boot.
No. Something must explain this profound shift in political fortune. This explanation cannot include a thoroughly bungling response to a global pandemic that has left the nation reeling from a stalled economy and over 150,000 dead Americans.
It certainly cannot be explained by a righteously angered citizenry mobilized against an institution that is the bedrock of conservative policy and governance–policing. It is clear that the police, having been pumped up and militarized by conservatives and cowed centrists since Nixon, is not only corrupt, but is also wholly inadequate for dealing with average citizens taking to the streets demanding change. Indeed, all indicators suggest that police and the violence they bring only makes matters worse.
…when the police respond by escalating force—wearing riot gear from the start, or using tear gas on protesters—it doesn’t work. In fact, disproportionate police force is one of the things that can make a peaceful protest not so peaceful. But if we know that (and have known that for decades), why are police still doing it?3Why So Many Police Are Handling the Protests Wrong. The Marshal Project 6/01/2020
Citizens must not be allowed to focus on executive corruption and incompetence. Nor must citizens be allowed to question an increasingly militarized police infrastructure constituting an almost $300 billion investment every year.
So the real problem must be something else.
It must be an enemy, a threat that can scare people into voting for the “law and order” candidate.
So, what is Antifa? and how dangerous is it?
To listen to this administration and its FoxNoise propaganda machine, Antifa is this sophisticated column of social saboteurs dedicated to undermining real America and all of its worthwhile institutions. They are violent anarchists intent on ushering in a Stalinist order that will take your guns and outlaw Christ and brainwash your children. Rioters (not protestors) are sewing discord and threatening to burn it all down if they don’t get their way. They must be stopped.
In fact, Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist and is a rather dispersed, cellular group of activists that has been around since the 1920’s. They fear that the United States is in danger of becoming a Fascist state. They also believe in a free, egalitarian, multi-cultural society that embraces individual differences. Antifa believes in directly confronting Fascists by forcefully driving them out of the streets where they appear and also by “canceling” adherents through cyber-activism and publicizing the activities of those in the alt-right movement. Are there militant anarchists in Antifa? Yep. But you don’t have to be an anarchist to be against fascism and tolerant of individual difference.
So, Antifa is a thing, just as there was a Snowball on The Farm. Unlike Snowball, Antifa is often a real presence at protests, especially if there’s a threat of a right-wing counter-protest. In some cases, Antifa has been a source of violence. In others, Antifa has served as a valuable defense of unarmed protestors from being victimized by violent right-wingers.
What Antifa is not is a central player or even a large percentage of those participating in these wide protests. They lack the internal organization to be a real threat to the United States. Attempts to scapegoat Antifa as a terrorist organization simply does not comport with the facts. As pointed out by The Guardian, left-wing extremism may exist, but is not nearly the threat that right-wing extremism poses.
Indeed, when centrist columnist Nicholas Kristof went looking for these anarchists, he had a hard time finding them. “Sure there are anarchists and antifa activists in the Portland protests, just as there are radiologists and electricians, lawyers and mechanics…The protesters aren’t all peaceful, nor are they primarily violent. They’re a complicated weave, differing by time of day.” Kristof points out that “…while there’s violence from both sides, what I’ve seen firsthand is that the most violent behavior overwhelmingly comes from the federal agents, and indeed the most serious injuries have been suffered by protesters.”
Have anarchists committed acts of violence and vandalism during the wave of protests we’ve seen in the last few months? Sure. Can all of the violence and vandalism be ascribed to Antifa? Not hardly. Furthermore, can participation in a Black Lives Matter protest be equated to far left radicalism, let alone Antifa in particular?
Look, you don’t have to be a lefty to protest police brutality and to stand up for protestors against an increasingly aggressive police state. Anyone with any shred of compassion and sense of justice, regardless of where they fall on the political compass is likely to participate. We’ve seen a group of moms forming arm-in-arm chains to protect protestors. Are these all anarchist moms? How about dads with leaf blowers? Or BBQ grillers? Is it likely that a Navy veteran assaulted by federal agents for asking questions about the Constitution was a far left radical Antifa terrorist?
Snowballing is old hat to the conservative movement and this Administration in particular. Remember when MS-13 was the boogeyman Du Jour?
What we are seeing in the streets of American cities all over the country is a concerted movement of “Real America” from all walks of life and from all over the political spectrum. What unites them is a sense of outrage over the direction that their communities and their country has taken in the direction of an oppressive police state and a sense of responsibility to do something about it. That’s not Antifa’s mission in particular. That is the righteous mission of any human being possessed of a sense of freedom and justice.
- Yes, I am working on the second part of the Mad Sociologist in the News De-fund the Police series. I’m also still working on the Twisted DNA of Capitalism. But the news doesn’t slow down for my personal projects.
- Intentional pig reference? Perhaps.
- Maguire, Edward R. (2015) “New Directions in Protest Policing,” Saint Louis University Public Law Review: Vol. 35 : No. 1 , Article 6. Available at: https://scholarship.law.slu.edu/plr/vol35/iss1/6