The demonstrations and protests in recent months and weeks have called attention not just to right-wing extremists but also to heavily-armed anti-fascist groups and individuals who engaged in sometimes-violent counter-protests.
Anti-fascists groups are not new to the political scene, having engaged in mob violence in Berkley, CA and whose threats caused the cancellation or disruption of numerous nationwide events. Most often these groups confront white supremacists or white nationalists, but in other instances direct their wrath merely toward politically incorrect speakers on college campuses.
Who are these anti-fascists, also known as “antifa”?
“Antifa” (an-TEE-fah) is not an organization, but a loose coalition of independent groups of anti-fascists who devote their energies to monitoring fascists and racists, resisting them, and exposing them to their local communities.
Some antifa limit themselves to non-violent resistance, but many of them endorse violence. They pursue vigilante justice because they believe democratic politics and conventional law enforcement are either unwilling or unable to deal with the perceived threats posed by fascists and racists. “In the name of protecting the vulnerable,” political scientist Peter Beinart writes, “antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not.”
Once antifa have identified a group or an individual as racist or fascist, they often use physical force to oppose the group or individual. The emergence of left-wing violence should not be surprising. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were an era of Left wing violence, including groups such as Weather Underground and the United Freedom Front. Similarly, in the 1980s, leftist extremists committed the vast majority of all acts of terrorism in the United States.
As Chris Pandolfo, Erick Erickson, and others have argued the Left has found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between conservatives, on the one hand, and fascists or white supremacists, on the other. The mainstream left sometimes lists religious liberty advocacy groups as “hate groups” alongside of the KKK and neo-Nazis. Similarly, the far-left antifa apply the label “fascist” to whatever group they deem appropriate in the moment.
A quick perusal of an antifa online media hub reveals the way many antifa undermine our nation’s democratic capitalism with anti-capitalist, anti-politics, and anti-police manifestos. Their rejection of the political process and often-thuggish tactics betray the same type of authoritarianism they decry in right-wing extremists. Like their enemies on the far right, they dehumanize and demonize the fellow citizens they oppose.
How should American citizens respond to their ideology and activism?
Americans should respond, first of all, by making clear that we oppose fascism and racism in all its forms. Against racists, should express our conviction that the American government should exercise power with an eye toward justice for all men and women within its borders, no matter what their color, religion or economic status. Against fascists, we should go further by expressing our abhorrence at their use of violence to suppress the people and groups they oppose.
But we should respond, second of all, by opposing antifa groups or individuals who, ironically, mirror their opponents through their pursuit of vigilante justice and use of physical violence. The antifa are, in effect, appointing themselves sheriff, judge, jury, and warden.
We can oppose them on the basis of our Constitution, which makes clear that legislative, executive, and judicial officials alone have the authority to make laws, enforce laws, and punish offenders. And we can oppose them on the basis of the Bible’s teaching that God has given to government alone the right to uphold law and order through the use of physical force (Rom 13:1-7).
We should respond, thirdly, by supporting our Constitutional order and the democratic capitalism that should flourish within its parameters. Socialism claims that capitalism is the source of society’s ills, but history reveals that socialism has negative and even disastrous effects on the economy. Socialism claims to be suspicious of authority, but socialist forms of government tend to be more coercive than democratic capitalist forms. It is no accident that most versions of twentieth-century socialism were authoritarian or totalitarian.
The left’s mantra today is “so much outrage, so little time.” Let’s hope it saves a little wrath and indignation for antifa, an un-American movement arising from within its own ranks. Though antifa groups and individuals are right to oppose fascism and racism, they are wrong to oppose it though vigilante justice and violence, to apply the labels “fascist” or “racist” to whomever they deem appropriate at the moment, and to undermine our democratic republic through anti-political, anti-police, and anti-capitalist agendas.
If the left cannot deal with the far-left mess in its own house, their words will ring hollow when they criticize the far-right mess in ours.