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“You know what? Antifa are the real fascists!” is a statement that has recently become something of a cliché to declare. It is a slogan that, ironically, brings left and right together, as both anarcho-communists and alt-righters seem to become offended by it in equal measure. We can speculate that this is because the former pitch their entire self-identify into opposing fascism, whereas the latter presumably don’t want centrists cheapening their brand by labelling the likes of Antifa as “fascists”. Although we who follow the ‘New Media’, and pay attention to vloggers, live streams, and the like, have all been made fully aware of Antifa’s antics over the last year, most people, until recently, were unaware of them. Violent anarchists setting cities ablaze and attacking the public were viewed as historical curiosities, not as contemporary occurrences. In fact, it seemed easy to assume that if any side was going to revel in violence, it was only going to be the Right. The last two years, however, have proven both of these assumptions to be very, very wrong.
Antifa is beginning to be seen as the embodiment of contemporary far-leftist street violence. Despite certain mainstream media outlet’s best efforts to sweep away Antifa’s more violent outbursts under the rug, certain events have understandably become etched into the public consciousness. Assaults on civilians and the press have been frequent at Antifa protests and counter-protests. Areas in cities like Berkeley and Hamburg have been wrecked, with cars and businesses smashed and set ablaze. Collections of confiscated weapons from Antifa demonstrations often resemble a medieval armory. In what must have been this year’s greatest example of real-life irony, a young adult with no obvious political affiliation had his head smashed in with a bike-lock by an Antifa-supporting Ethics professor; though whether this was done on the basis of utilitarian or deontological ethical reasons is as yet unclear. During the many clashes with right-wing groups, it has been alleged that acid was sprayed into their opponent’s eyes. In fact, eye-spraying seems to be a favored tactic of Antifa; one of the first times the public turned against them was when a woman had her eyes pepper-sprayed by a masked assailant. She didn’t seem to be causing much harm to anyone or, in fact, doing much of anything at all. Her crime? Wearing a hat sporting ‘Make Bitcoin Great Again’, a pastiche slogan derived from that of Donald Trump’s presidential marketing material.
Moreover, Antifa has also found itself as the centerpiece of the recent and ongoing controversy surrounding freedom of speech on college campuses. Photographs of Antifa activists burning ‘free speech’ placards, in addition to violently disrupting talks by Milo Yiannopolous, Ann Coulter, Jordan Peterson, Gad Saad, and, quite recently, Charles Murray, as well as others, have alerted observers to the severity of the threat to academic freedom. Around a month ago, a talk by psychology professors Jordan B. Peterson and Gad Saad, discussing free speech on campuses (held on a campus), was cancelled due to threats of violence. Now, if academics are not allowed to indulge in their freedom to speak, due to violence and administrative compliance with those who threaten violence, we have a serious problem on our hands.
Antifa’s reasoning for such extreme action was flimsy; unsurprisingly, it was to call their opponents fascists. However, Saad had already fled racial persecution in Lebanon, and Peterson has spent decades investigating and offering deep criticisms of right-wing authoritarianism, fitting into his overall model of psychopathology. Neither of these men were frothing fascists on the brink of ordering mass executions, yet, there were those who wanted to perform physical harm to them, and, in doing so, took away the rights of students to learn from two distinguished professors.
This brings us nicely to Antifa’s motivation for their seemingly tyrannical policing of others. According to their stated motivation, their assertion is that since fascists often kill and imprison people, it is a moral imperative to stop fascists from ever arriving at a point at which they take power. On the face of it, it sounds relatively sane, but if you were to observe an Antifa-linked website, it will appear that the prevalence of fascists is massively overstated. From classic conservatives like Ben Shapiro, to campy trolls like Milo Yiannopolous – fascists are always minutes away from seizing complete and total control of the world. Antifa appears to view themselves as the last guardians of the moral order.
Personally, I actually take less of a free-speech absolutist stance when compared to many others who oppose Antifa; at least, in the sense that I think that it isn’t always clear-cut where free speech ends and incitement to violence begins. I don’t actually believe that Antifa’s stated principle: “those organizing the mass killing of a certain demographic should be stopped before they can do so” is all that unjustifiable, however; it is quite clear that this isn’t how they actually operate. In reality, their modus operandi is thus: firstly, find a disliked political rival. Second, find any rationalization, no matter how poor or ludicrous, to squeeze this disliked individual into the category of “fascist”. By then performing a six-degrees-of-separation style of reasoning, hey presto! – you can now say that a center-right commentator, or Mexican father and son, are fascists on the brink of enacting a global genocide. In that case, a few punches to stop that from happening isn’t all that bad now, is it?
The same reasoning was even given regarding the Jewish evolutionary and business psychologist, Gad Saad, as mentioned above. Upon being pointed out that the ridiculousness of asserting that a Jewish academic was a closet Nazi, the response offered was “Well, some Jews were Nazis in Nazi Germany!” And thus, like that, Old Gad becomes a Nazi. And what did the Nazis do? They killed people! So, if someone uses violence to stop Gad Saad from speaking, well that’s the moral equivalent of stopping murder! Such a process is emblematic of the neurotic, whirlwind mind of Antifa. Of course, it’s also difficult to see where paranoia ends and old-fashioned adrenaline-seeking begins. Group violence seems to be an unfortunate pastime of the human species. Perhaps Antifa doesn’t want to have their favourite activity taken away, so they will continue with more and more outlandish accusations of fascism to soothe their conscience when they throw a brick at a Trump-supporter’s face.
But we should give the devil his due. I have little doubt that a desire to stop violence against the oppressed is a genuine conviction held by at least some members of Antifa. But I emphasize ‘some’. What the rest of us have been forced to understand from innumerable live streams is that most members are just eager to hurt others; that these are people who will commit violence before hand-waving a vague post-hoc rationalization about how their victim was certainly a closet crypto-fascist. If we take a look at Antifa websites and forums, we understand that they place themselves as the modern incarnations of a long line of anti-fascists, particularly of the Spanish and Italian variety. In a way, Antifa is reminiscent of an old Japanese soldier unaware that the war has ended, and are condemned to be forever looking for an enemy long since gone. Moreover, much of their talk resembles modes of speech usually associated with street gangs rather than political groups: they threw Group A out of their territory or made a show of their power against Group B. “Who’s streets? Our streets!” is their most famous slogan. An enemy crushed and defeated is a powerful human motivator, and even the self-proclaimed guardians of peace and humanism don’t appear to be immune to it. Like fascist groups, Antifa has a culture, a history, a dehumanized enemy, and a will to attack those who detract from their world-view.
Not everyone on the left agrees with Antifa’s tactics, as they are well aware. This is more apparent when Antifa members and other leftists meet online; these rationalizations that, say, “some guy in a MAGA hat is Hitler, so slashing his face with a bit of bottle is akin to attacking Hitler,” are universally rejected by true leftists and liberals. Indeed, the window that constitutes ‘fascism’ broadens weekly, as does the number of people who resent the behaviour of Antifa. Most regular leftists are keen to point out that a request to have a sober reflection on how quickly we alter society’s use of pronouns by legislation is, in fact, not equivocal to ‘phobia’, and certainly not to incitement to murder. Antifa routinely seems incapable of making such distinctions. Keen to quickly rationalize next time’s use of violence, Antifa avoids such cognitive dissonance by asserting that those leftists are in fact ‘Nazi enablers’ or ‘crypto-fascists’. At no point will Antifa question whether these alleged millions of fascists and fascist-enablers are no more than figments of their imagination. Their paranoia seems akin to an enhanced type of reverse-McCarthyism.
This brings us to our final comparison of Antifa to the fascist street gangs of bygone eras. The overarching commonality is the support of political violence, and a committed dogmatism that tells them that their worldview is uniquely correct. Because of this, Antifa shares common ground with its hated enemy, and in a different era may have even been among their numbers. Those same psychological types with a love of violence and an extreme in-group, out-group distinction, would have easily been swept up into joining the fascistic violence of times gone by. No doubt, there would even be Antifa members who would want to do violence to me for writing these criticisms. Perhaps this is an overstatement, but I wouldn’t be happy to be at a protest where Antifa are whipped up into a frenzy if they have the knowledge that I wrote a critical article about them. It wouldn’t be difficult to justify kicking my head in. An Antifa member may likely see that, since my criticism is against a group opposing fascism, I must be enabling fascism, and we all know that fascists kill people so, of course, I have to be maced and beaten to save these potential victims. Knowing this fact, alongside Antifa’s media and academic supporters, is it worth even writing a little article about them? Well, yes. In fact, if that thought crosses your mind, you really have an imperative to do so; and, at the same time, you can also remove any doubts you have that you’re dealing with an authoritarian organization.
Finally, the same justification that Antifa utilizes to justify the use of violence is, of course, also applicable to Antifa themselves. From the Siberian death-camps of the Soviet Union, to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, communists have a long history of enacting genocide. The idea that people who espouse ideas that have led to mass violence need to be treated with violence, also applies to all those leftwards of people like Jeremy Corbyn. It doesn’t matter that many members of Antifa oppose authoritarian models of socialism, because there have also been many others who’ve been seen sporting the hammer-and-sickle flag who too disregard authoritarian socialism. It is without doubt that if some members of an enemy group were seen with a Swastika flag, that would be more than sufficient grounds to do violence to that group if you believed in Antifa philosophy. But if you read about life under Communist regimes – the mass starvations, the summary executions, the unbelievable tortures, the murder quotas, the citizenry living in constant fear – it’s difficult to not take a ‘Never Again’ mentality towards it, and, in that case, why not be aggressive to those gathering under the banner of Communism if you believed in violently opposing authoritarianism?
Of course, I don’t really think anybody has the right to physically assault people just for articulating ideas, even particularly bad ones like those found in Communism and Fascism. And that’s the point. So, at risk of irritating the far-right and far-left alike, I will just offer Antifa some advice: when your group burns down businesses, attacks, maims, and assaults civilians and journalists, destroys ‘free speech’ placards, all the while expressing a strong penchant for black and red clothing – you’re going to be called fascistic, and there is a very specific, self-evident reason for that. Unless you seriously overhaul your tactics and approach, no amount of WWII and Captain America memes are going to alter people’s growing resentment of you. Hopefully, the political violence of 2016 and 2017 will soon be seen as an anomaly, and not as a resurgence of the violence we have long since wanted to leave behind, but this is by no means guaranteed yet.
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