Antifa is in desperate need of a PR makeover.
Short for “anti-fascists,” Antifa is occupying a seat at the table of America’s ideological war, and it appears it is not planning on vacating it anytime soon. Claiming moral clarity, the goal of this decentralized, far-left group is to squelch the voices of those on the far right, specifically neo-Nazis and white supremacists, using destruction and intimidation tactics.
Their militant-style approach is as intimidating as it is ineffective in advancing their agenda.
While many would naturally support a campaign to condemn hate, Antifa only further promotes a culture of violence. And if members do not change their tactics, they will soon generate more chaos than they claim they are fighting to stop.
In the aftermath of the clashes in Charlottesville last month, President Trump was heavily criticized for condemning violence on “many sides.” Well, Antifa presented him with a clear opening to deflect blame away from white supremacists onto those who oppose them, thereby damaging the broader peaceful movement to fight racism and fascism in America. Whether or not Antifa is effective on the ground, newspaper headlines such as “The Rise of the Violent Left” and “The Case Against Antifa” are not a good look.
Of course, Antifa is not the moral equivalent of the neo-Nazi movement, and the Twitter campaign to “out” white supremacists on social media makes perfect sense. But blithely accusing random people on the streets of being Nazis isn’t going to convince those who are extremists to lower their tiki torches. Rather, it gives ammunition to the extreme right and allows for such a false equivalency narrative to permeate in the media.
And now, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are warning of more Antifa attacks; the DHS has even classified its activities as “domestic terrorist violence,” according to reporting by POLITICO. Unfortunately, it is the extremists with the loudest voices who tend to get their views heard. If witnesses say that both sides engaged in violence, everyone else can dismiss the progressive agenda entirely.
Antifa seems to be facing internal struggles similar to those the feminist movement is dealing with. Too many women, especially millennial women, are shunning feminism because they believe it’s too extreme and polarizing. Many of my own friends and other young women I’ve spoken with want to disassociate themselves with “modern feminism” because they believe it has morphed into a man-hating frenzy or one in which only privileged white women deserve a voice.
This is partially true, and such people exist. Once again, it is the people with the most extreme agendas who get remembered. This puts a sizable stain on the women’s movement and tends to discourage other women from participating in what has largely been a successful and progressive movement.
I very much support the women’s movement and proudly identify as a feminist who supports equal rights. But I do not support radical “feminists” on the fringes who believe women are superior to men, just like I do not believe punching Nazis will overthrow Trump or the white supremacist crusade as a whole.
Socially progressive movements are imperfect because they are led by imperfect people. But this should not excuse violence in the name of righteousness or moral clarity.
Instead, I suggest Antifa consider a heavy rebranding. Rather than acting as intimidators, its members should work to protect counter-protests.
If a white supremacist or neo-Nazi march is planned, we can expect counter-demonstrators to make an appearance as well. Antifa should replace window smashing and Nazi-punching – regardless of how retweetable those things are – with acting as peaceful protectors for those standing up to white supremacists.
Antifa demonstrators have been doing this already: a Mother Jones journalist covering the Berkeley protests said, “When black-clad protesters poured into Martin Luther King Jr. park, I heard several normally dressed protesters shout ‘Thank you.’”
Realistically, such a shift in confrontation style will be challenging, as Antifa has no specified leadership and is extremely decentralized. There’s no one official website, but many websites for local chapters.
A website called “It’s Going Down,” which describes itself as “a digital community center for the anarchist, anti-fascist, and autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements,” is an example of the issue I raise with its branding. The name, “It’s Going Down” clearly suggests that something violent is going to happen, and it won’t be pretty.
Antifa has the potential to change the narrative and become defenders of peace without raising fists. Most Americans consider themselves anti-fascist and could support an anti-fascist movement not tainted by baseless violence. But if labels like the “radical left” or “alt-left” continue to be tossed around, then, yes, something is about to go down.