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.
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When confronting fascists, the only acceptable tactic for me is Gandhi’s satyagraha. In other words, stand your ground, let them beat the hell out of you and don’t fight back (but keep the cameras rolling, and make sure the whole world sees it). I know a few people who profess admiration for Antifa, but I’m trying to teach them the error of their ways. Nonviolence is always preferable not only on moral grounds, but because it works, at least in a society such as ours.
I’m with you, Roger. Thank you.
First, I do not support the violent group Antifa.
I can only speak to what I know. The local BLM leaders that I know, do call out against the violence that you think they should be against. It is not in their interests when violence shows up at their demonstrations.
But we have to take a reality check here. You are painting a false equivalency here. “Antifa” as bad as it is, does not compare at any scale to the violence of White Supremacy. You are right, they are not “brand spanking new to the scene”, but they are relatively recent.
These groups rise up when non violent action is not taken. For 400 years the church has participated and been complicit in the evils of racism. It is almost 50 years from Dr. MLK Jr’s assasination, and the church is only now starting to admit its role in slavery and the injustices that followed to this day.
The church needs to take seriously Jesus’ command to take the log out of our eye before we call out the splinter in another. We need to be doing what we should be doing to right the wrongs that we participated in and were complicit in.
This opinion piece has too much rhetoric, and not enough thoughtful, honest analysis.
Thank you for writing. My article does not paint equivalency. It studiously avoids such. And my article two weeks ago at Fox Opinion made the point that white conservatives need to oppose white supremacy and nationalism instead of changing the subject by talking about Antifa.
I did my best to avoid “rhetoric,” instead trying to provide a balanced, facts-driven description and critique of Antifa.
It feels like you read some things into my article that are not there.
This paragraph is the one with the false equivalence, the connection to BLM, and the rhetoric. Painting Antifa as “not new” implied they were around as long as the white supremists. Leaving out the “why” of groups like Antifa is where you left out the analysis. That was the sense of the article as I read it. Maybe that is just me.
“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.”
I just read your article “White Christian conservatives should oppose protests by white supremacists”, and I found to be very helpful. It was factual where others have not been (ie you noted that the statue was to be “moved”). You made a number of good gospel anti-racism arguments. And you called out our failures as Christians. And yes, you called the right to call out supremacists, but I do not see any mention of Antifa, or that we need to not change the subject — maybe you think that was implied, but it was not said. However, this article does not take that same approach.
We are not going to get anywhere if we are always calling out the other. We need to be calling out ourselves. Antifa would have no relevance today if Christians had done the right thing in any of the 1600’s, the 1700’s, the 1800’s, and the 1900’s. Our president is the one that has set the standard that we do not need to call out the “mess in ours”. So far Antifa has destroyed property and exhibited thuggery. When they have lynched 4000 people then we can start talking equivalences. Meanwhile, we as Christians should get to work righting our own wrongs and spend less time calling others to action.
Thank you for your comments and interactions. I gave you the wrong article by accident Here is the article where I said conservatives need to stop changing the subject. For what it’s worth: https://bruceashford.net/2017/a-better-and-more-conservative-approach-to-overcoming-racism/
To your point that the left should call out Antifa more. This author says they already are — too much so. Her quote “I see (white) liberals spending more time squabbling about alleged Antifa violence than pondering about what they’re doing to fight fascism and dismantle white supremacy. ” She also brings out the point that there is no central “Antifa” and that most are non-violent, or at most protective — which you did as well, but you say some are non-violent, and many are violent, whereas her article states that the vast majority of Antifa are non-violent. Bottom line though, her point is that the Left is distracted from the real work of anti-racism by its concern with Antifa — so there is no need for you to call the left out here, they are already doing what you are asking. Which leaves us as Christians, are we doing what we should be doing?
This is an example of what I think most people do not realize, and you would have to follow more closely anti-racist thinkers, (but you only have to read MLKs letter), and that is that the “White Liberal Progressive Left” — whatever you want to call them, also make many miss-steps on the topic of racism. Christian Evangelicals who take Jesus’ words seriously and have the redemptive power of God living in them could do much better — but historically we have chosen not to — and are barely starting to get some traction now.