Lately, there has been much criticism of the activist group known as “Antifa” (short for “Anti-Fascist”) by both the Right and, surprisingly, among the Left. Cries of “violence only begets violence,” and “divide and conquer strategy” has poured out from their mouths. The world-renowned journalist, Chris Hedges, has also attacked Antifa by saying, “Behind the rhetoric of Antifa, the Black Bloc, and the so-called ‘alt-left’, about capitalism, racism, state repression and corporate power is the same lust for violence” (as the alt-right’s).
Yet, the violence that often has been associated with the group is not the entire story. Granted, Antifa’s tactics have been viewed as extreme in terms of destroying property, and aggression against other protesters, as seen in the demonstrations on the Cal-Berkeley campus. However, it should be kept in mind that the exact identity of the 150 agitators who initiated the violence is pretty inconclusive – whether it was from extreme leftists or those of the far-right. What we do know for sure, is the majority of violence initiated at Fascist rallies, has been due to Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists.
Taking a Closer Look at the Events of Charlottesville
On August 12th of this year, Neo-Nazi terrorists behaved in a most violent manner, in which they shoved and intimidated police officers, and physically assaulted counter-protesters as well as random people. While holding this riot, they knocked down police barriers, and used pipes and wooden planks as weapons, along with military grade arsenals.
Deandre Harris was attacked by a mob of Nazis, who kicked him while lying on the ground, and beat him with pipes and planks, resulting in a broken wrist and a chipped tooth, along with having his forehead sliced open, requiring 8 stitches. One White Supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one (Heather Heyer) and injuring 19 others.
Another man, who has been identified as an imperial wizard of the KKK in Maryland, fired a gun into a crowd of counter-protesters after saying, “hey, nigger.” “Those in the crowd at the time insist that police knew a man had fired a gun but did absolutely nothing to try and apprehend him… a community activist in Virginia told the New York Times about the police officers’ reaction to the shot. ‘They never moved.’” Many White Supremacists during the riot could have been easily mistaken for military personnel, as they possessed machine guns and pistols, wearing bulletproof vests, and even being clad in military fatigues.
And how was Antifa involved in this? Antifa protesters had mostly make-shift protection, as well as defensive weapons; yet they decided to go into the midst of hundreds of White Supremacists, trying to disrupt the mayhem - suffering personal assault and injuries. Antifa also actively protected civilians from the Nazis, including many members of several religious organizations.
Testimonials from Charlottesville
Brandy Daniels, a Postdoctoral fellow at the Luce Project on Religion and Its Publics at UVA, had this to say about the Antifa protesters:
“It was basically impossible to miss the antifa for the group of us who were on the steps of Emancipation Park in an effort to block the Nazis and "alt-righters" from entering. Soon after we got to the steps and linked arms, a group of white supremacists—I’m guessing somewhere between 20-45 of them—came up with their shields and batons and bats and shoved through us. We tried not to break the line, but they got through some of us—it was terrifying, to say the least—shoving forcefully with their shields and knocking a few folks over…
Some of the anarchists and anti-fascist folks came up to us and asked why we let them through and asked what they could do to help. Rev. Osagyefo Sekou talked with them for a bit, explaining what we were doing and our stance and asking them to not provoke the Nazis. They agreed quickly and stood right in front of us, offering their help and protection.
Less than 10 minutes later, a much larger group of the Nazi alt-righters come barreling up. My memory is again murky on the details… But it had to have been at least 100 of them this go around. I recall feeling like I was going to pass out and was thankful that I was locked arms with folks so that I wouldn’t fall to the ground before getting beaten. I knew that the five anarchists and antifa in front of us and the 20 or so of us were no match for the 100-plus of them, but at this point I wasn’t letting go.
At that point, more of the anarchists and antifa milling nearby saw the huge mob of the Nazis approach and stepped in. They were about 200-300 feet away from us and stepped between us (the clergy and faith leaders) and the Nazis. This enraged the Nazis, who indeed quickly responded violently. At this point, Sekou made a call that it was unsafe—it had gotten very violent very fast—and told us to disperse quickly.
While one obviously can’t objectively say what a kind of alternate reality or ‘sliding doors’–type situation would have been, one can hypothesize or theorize. Based on what was happening all around, the looks on their faces, the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so.”
Rabbi Rachel Shmelkin of the Congregation Beth Israel, had this to say about Antifa as well:
“There was a group of antifa defending First United Methodist Church right outside in their parking lot, and at one point the white supremacists came by and antifa chased them off with sticks.”
Further, Reverend Seth Wispelwey, Directing Minister of Restoration Village Arts, and Consulting Organizer for Congregate C’vile stated:
“I am a pastor in Charlottesville, and antifa saved my life twice on Saturday. Indeed, they saved many lives from psychological and physical violence—I believe the body count could have been much worse, as hard as that is to believe. Thankfully, we had robust community defense standing up to white supremacist violence this past weekend. Incredibly brave students held space at the University of Virginia and stared down a torch-lit mob that vastly outnumbered them on Friday night.
On Saturday, battalions of anti-fascist protesters came together on my city’s streets to thwart the tide of men carrying weapons, shields, and Trump flags and sporting MAGA hats and Hitler salutes and waving Nazi flags and the pro-slavery ‘stars and bars.’
Out of my faith calling, I feel led to pursue disciplined, nonviolent direct action and witness. I helped lead a group of clergy who were trained and committed to the same work: to hold space on the front-line of the park where the rally was to be held. And then some of us tried to take the steps to one of the entrance… A phalanx of neo-Nazis shoved right through our human wall with 3-foot-wide wooden shields, screaming and spitting homophobic slurs and obscenities at us. It was then that antifa stepped in to thwart them.
They have their tools to achieve their purposes, and they are not ones I will personally use, but let me stress that our purposes were the same: block this violent tide and do not let it take the pedestal. The white supremacists did not blink at violently plowing right through clergy, all of us dressed in full clerical garb…
I didn’t see any racial justice protesters with weapons; as for antifa, anything they brought I would only categorize as community defense tools and nothing more. Pretty much everyone I talk to agrees—including most clergy…”
Cornel West was at the University of Virginia on August 11th, when White Supremacists gathered carrying tiki torches. He stated that he, and others with him, “would have been crushed like cockroaches.” He also said that the police pulled back, and that the anarchists “saved our lives.”
From these testimonies of those actually engaged in the Charlottesville incidents, we understand Antifa did not initiate the violence during the riot, but rather the Neo-Nazis. From these accounts, Antifa acted in defensive protection of peaceful protesters, who were being targeted by the Fascist provocateurs.
Yes, members of Antifa have destroyed property; and from what we know, there is a minority faction within Antifa that has acted with unnecessary and unsolicited violence against police and others. However, the majority have not provocatively attacked any human being, nor taken human life; actions against persons have largely been in a defensive posture. In my estimation, comparing Antifa with White Supremacists, who have consistently and intentionally harmed human life, is a moral equivalency that cannot be justified.
One must also realize that the contemporary Antifa movement is still fairly young, and this movement, like all young movements, have growing pains. Antifa has no concrete leadership; and the centuries of rampant, un-checked racism, capitalism, and authoritarianism have awakened the ferocious zeal of many young people in this nation. With guidance, and clear direction, this young Antifa movement could have the potential to become a force to be reckoned with, in the call for peace and social justice.
This article was originally published in Rhymes Media Group.