Trump’s attacks on Antifa are an attack on Black agency and a way to criminalise dissent – Labour Article
Donald Trump is now well known for his ambivalence or even endorsement of fascistic violence. This is clearly demonstrated by him blaming the violence caused by the white supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in 2017 on both sides. More recently, Trump has targeted anti-fascists, in particular Antifa. In the eyes of Trump and indeed many centrists, anti-fascism is more offensive than white supremacy. For example, a month after the violence in Charlottesville, America’s top newspapers ran more opinion pieces condemning anti-fascism than white supremacy.
The far-right are responsible for more murders than any other extremist group, including the death of protester Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville rally. However, they are somehow seen as morally equivalent to those who take action against them.
This context is relevant for understanding Trump’s recent decision to target Antifa. Trump has labelled them a terror group and promotes baseless conspiracy theories about their protesters being provocateurs.
The focus on outside agitators in Black-led protest movements has a long, racist and antisemitic history. This anti-Black prejudice relies on claims that African Americans are incapable of organising their own liberation movements. The anti-Semitism in this framework comes from the falsehood that if Black people are incapable of organising demonstrations then they must be controlled by Jewish people. This stretches all the way back to the abolitionist movement. It is crystallised today in claims that the Jewish billionaire George Soros is funding the protestors. This isn’t new, and conspiracy theories about Soros spread by Trump and the right were cited as a motivation behind the Tree of life synagogue massacre.
The history of these groups goes back as far as the emergence of fascism itself. In the United Kingdom, the 43 Group emerged from primarily Jewish ex-servicemen after WW2 who saw the threat they were fighting in continental Europe re-emerge at home. The 43 group’s membership even included the hairdresser Vidal Sassoon who used his scissors as a weapon against black shirts. Furthermore, the 43 Group voluntarily disbanded soon after the immediate threat was passed, proving that Anti-Fascists don’t immediately jump towards targeting conservatives. Anti-fascist organising is a legitimate struggle against the far right.
Antifa however, is a nebulous movement with no official leadership. As such, it resembles more of a tactic rather than an organisation. Anti-fascist groups have sprung up across the world autonomously. Therefore, Trump’s recent rhetoric will empower law enforcement in the United States to crack down on all legitimate protest who can be labelled as ‘Antifa’.
This decentralised nature of anti-fascist organising will give law enforcement an excuse to crack down on legitimate protest. This will also deprive Black Americans of their own agency. This targeting has been seen recently with the FBI pursuing someone for posting a joke tweet about being the leader of Antifa. Trump is just providing another excuse for law enforcement to infiltrate radical movements. This has been occurring for years and most egregiously with operation COINTELPRO. This time, instead of feverish conservative dreams about communists infiltrating the civil rights movement, it is anti-fascist organising that will provide the excuse to crack down on protest groups.
Anti-fascism is a moral stance taken by people who are dedicated to preventing the horrors of fascism by any means necessary. These groups form out of a desire to combat the far-right and prevent the loss of life. For instance, after Charlottesville, the public intellectual Cornel West singled out Antifa specifically for preventing more deaths.
While there have indeed been groups who have used anti-racism protests as an excuse to promote violence, these are from the far-right. For example, the so-called ‘boogaloo’ group want to use the protests to start a race war and have been present at many of the rallies. You also have Neo-Nazi groups creating fake Antifa twitter accounts, posting fake craigslist adverts in order to turn public opinion against them.
The focus on anti-fascist organisations is clear. Trump and other politicians make false claims about protesters coming from mostly outside of state with little to no evidence. They use this trope to distract from their own failure to adequately redress protesters grievances and to prevent inflaming them further.
I believe there are legitimate conversations to be had about tactics with white protesters in Black-led movements. However, the focus of Trump’s attacks is obvious. Antifascist groups, who have been responsible for a grand total of zero deaths are combating an increasingly militant and emboldened far-right. These anti-fascists do not have the numbers or the strength to make any significant difference towards the outcome of protests.
The narrative of outside agitators infiltrating protests should be rejected. This is increasingly important as we see politicians in the UK following this trope and importing US style culture wars. This makes it even more necessary to recognise it for what it is.
I do not have space here to further explain the necessity of direct action to combat the far right. However, I will point to the example of the Battle of Cable Street. It is a good example of why the police and our political institutions cannot be trusted to combat the threat of fascism.
The Battle of Cable Street took place in 1936. Oswald Mosley’s BUF planned a demonstration in the predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods of London’s East End. They were protected and given clearance to march by the police. The march was only prevented from going ahead due to the militancy of the residents in the East End and other groups such as Irish dockers.
Fascism is not an opinion to be debated with. We are also wrong to centre discussions about Black-led movements on unfounded accusations about presumably white antifascists.
Written by Labour Writer, Jack Walton
Point of Information
A mixture of topics brought into one; a well thought out article – a Liberal Response
Jack’s article has covered a variety of aspects and ideas in a well-mannered and researched matter. Overall I understand his stance and agree with it. Trump’s actions to label Antifa as a terrorist organisation are a huge step in the wrong direction.
Jack’s analysis outlines how far-right, white supremacy groups are being given the same label as those who are trying to protect from a resurgence of fascism. This is ludicrous. We have seen the impacts of fascism in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. How can modern leaders allow these regimes back into a mostly globalised and democratic society?
Furthermore, Jack’s discussion of Antifa being a viable agency for African Americans, and other oppressed minorities in the United States, was eye-opening. I am aware of the US’ oppressive actions against minorities, despite claiming to be the ‘free world’. However, it never came to my attention how important the Antifa mindset is to these groups. Antifa’s mindset is a gateway for minorities to protest the behaviour by individuals, groups and even political leader/parties. Without this ability, we are returning to a time of great sorrow and oppression. A time I had hoped not to see in my lifetime.
The last key point that Jack brought up that struck hard within me is the role of the media. Freedom of speech is important, and we cannot pick and choose what is said (unlike in China). It is difficult to read how mainstream media outlets get to decide who the good and bad guys are. Jack mentions how top newspapers ran more opinion pieces criticising anti-fascism than white supremacy. Having less knowledge of American politics and media, I struggled to come to terms with this information.
Overall this article was somewhat tough to read. This is because of my lack of knowledge of the subject and the continued oppression of minorities in the US. I can tell that Jack has a great understanding of its importance.
Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael
Antifa & BLM: Two Very Different Groups – a Conservative Response
The death of George Floyd has incensed millions and driven many to the street to demand change. Unfortunately, the far-right and left have seen an opportunity to push their own agendas. Many senior American statesmen are recounting external influence in the rioting.
According to the American Attorney General, there are three sets of actors in the George Floyd protests: peaceful protesters (by far the majority), looters, and “extremist agitators that hijack protests”. The latter includes ANTIFA, far-right, and cartels.
Antifa the group, should not be used interchangeably with anti-fascism, the stance or tactic. Antifa does not solely want to stop fascism but seeks to reorganise society by its edict. Anything that is contrary to their ideology, including ordinary conservative speech on campuses, is to be impeded. It is a decentralised pan-radical-left who describe themselves as revolutionaries. I support non-violent anti-fascism as a behaviour: we must disavow patently disgusting ideas. On the other hand, I have a problem with Antifa.
In perhaps a Freudian slip, this article endorses the “by any means necessary” stance of Antifa. Within one of the references is the glorification of physically assaulting an alt-right member. I dislike intensely the alt-right, far-right, or any other bastion of fascism. However, my profound disagreement does not legitimise violence.
Has Trump handled the situation well? No. Are Trump’s attacks on Antifa attacks on BLM? In my opinion, also no. Black agency has currently captured the attention of the entire globe. Their message of systemic injustice is inescapably powerful. BLM has achieved all of this without Antifa, and so I do not see the link that Jack draws.
This response is not about equating far-left with far-right. Nor am I saying that BLM has gone unimpeded by the establishment. Rather, it is about delineating between BLM and Antifa. The latter is only damaging the former.
Written by Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
My beliefs in libertarian socialism were adopted gradually. Since a child I was immersed in the language of social justice and liberal politics from my membership of a progressive Jewish youth movement.
I am a second year student currently reading International Relations and Modern Languages at the University of Exeter.
Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.