An Unholy Alliance: Who’s Behind the “Antifa are Terrorists” meme

This is back in the news again, most recently with comments by Ted Cruz.   So it’s worth examining this claim in more detail, in particular where the slogan orginates.  Before I get into that though, some context.

Antifa are not a group

It’s a tactic, at most a network. I know of two exceptions to that. There’s Antifa UK, who have been defunct for a decade and the small British antifacist group Red Antifa. Perhaps I’ve missed a group or two, but the point stands. Outside specific references to those groups anyone who talks about Antifa as some kind of organised group is either completely ignorant of the subject or they’re being deliberately misleading.

Are Antifa Terrorist?

I’m no maligned pacifist, so I’m happy to tackle this subject straight on.

What makes it complicated is the fact that “terrorism” has no universally recognised definition.

If we go with the Britannica definition that it’s “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective” it’s hard to see how Antifa could possibly qualify. Not only do they have a specific enemy (rather than the general populace) there’s no evidence they see producing a climate of fear as a tactical goal. As we’ll see, claims that Antifa has attacked people “randomly” are counter to the evidence.

If we take the term to mean “willing to use violence for political ends” then they probably do.  As does every government in existence, the Boston Tea Party, Nelson Mandela, the French Resistance and George Orwell.  And in my experience very few of the people using this definition are actually willing to apply it consistently.

Some try to get round some of the problems by clarifying that it’s non state actors only.  But that doesn’t remove any of the non governmental groups from the list of examples.  On top of that a definition of terrorism that boils down to “anyone who doesn’t believe the state should have an exclusive monopoly on political violence” is workable, but leads to obvious radical conclusions about the nature of the state not generally found among its proponents.

Really the most workable definition would seem to be that of Bruce Hoffman (no radical, Hoffman has worked for the CIA and currently teaches at the International Institute for Counterterrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel).  He says:

On one point, at least, everyone agrees: terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one’s enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. ‘What is called terrorism,’ Brian Jenkins has written, ‘thus seems to depend on one’s point of view. Use of the term implies a moral judgment; and if one party can successfully attach the label terrorist to its opponent, then it has indirectly persuaded others to adopt its moral viewpoint.’ Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization terrorist becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, an ambivalent) light; and it is not terrorism.”

(Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, 2010)

That then, is likely the key to understanding this.

If someone is ideologically antagonistic towards targets of militant antifascism they are highly unlikely to describe antifa tactics as terrorist, even if they are strongly opposed to the tactics used.

Ted Cruz.png

(Ted Cruz with the far right conspiracy theorists the Oath Keepers)

Targets of Antifa

Because of that, it’s necessary to briefly look at some targets of Antifa tactics.  Partly because critics of Antifa will frequently obfuscate whose those targets actually were. Obviously there’s not space to go into this in great details so I’ll concentrate on a couple of the more controversial incidents.

John Blum

The narrative:  Blum was merely an innocent elderly man, attacked randomly by Antifa thugs when he was trying to stop them beating up other demonstrators.

The reality: Blum had charged forward into a fight and had started swinging his baton before he was hit on the head.

Andy Ngo

The narrative: A gay Asian journalist, attacked by Antifa because he was filming the protest.

The reality: Ngo is an alt right activist with a proven history of doxxing anti fascist activists. As journalist and filmmaker Oz Katerji (normally no fan of the radical left) points out:

Two examples, but telling ones.  The more you look into these supposed incidents of Antifa randomly attacking innocent civilians minding their own business the more flimsy they always seem to be.

None of this means that people might genuinely be against these tactics of course. But anyone who describes the likes of Blum and Ngo as victims while deliberately evading what those individuals were actually up to is deliberately lying to you to try and manipulate the narrative.

“Despite Ngo’s far right beliefs I don’t think political violence is acceptable” is a political argument.

“Ngo was just a journalist doing his job” is fascist apologia.

So who is really behind the “Antifa is terrorist” narrative?

The Traditional Far Right

Unsurprisingly fascists are very keen to push this narrative. Often falsely.

The Proud Boys claimed that they were defending themselves from masked attackers.  A video that came out later showed the truth was very different.  This is a rhetorical trick, nothing more.  By claiming that it’s Antifa who are the aggressors it allows the Proud Boys to try and get away with attacks, normally on soft targets.

And the even further right Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer is very clear that the only reason the fascists haven’t moved even further in this direction is that they’re waiting for Trump to give them permission.

As well as showing that the “Antifa are terrorists” narrative is being heavily pushed by the fascists, this also shows the woeful naivety of those who believe the fascists aren’t planning violence.  You don’t have to agree with militant tactics, but in the current situation it’s fair to ask for your specific countersuggestion rather than the pearl clutching and genteel moralism we normally see.

The Assadists

The last was obvious. This bit seems to have gone less noticed from what I can tell.  The Assadists also hate Antifa.  Perhaps the most notable of these accounts is the notorious propagandist and Douma denier PartisanGirl.

It seems that unlike many of Antifa’s critics she more than recognises the work that people from that movement have done fighting for the Kurds and she’s outraged about it.

And her fellow Assadists back her on this strongly, on nationalist grounds.  https://twitter.com/tehn0mad/status/1151466026967736320

And while her reasons for hating Antifa may be somewhat different than traditional fascists they recognise a fellow traveller as her work with David Duke shows.

While PartisanGirl may be one of the most blatant Assadists around, she’s hardly the only one. Vanessa Beely is almost as dodgy, despite appearances at Beautiful Days festival and her touting by the usual suspects like George Galloway and Chris Williamson show.

Unfortunately the Beely example shows that this regurgitation of fascist propaganda isn’t just confined to self proclaimed centrists, comfortable though it might be for us on the left to believe otherwise.

Russia

I’m almost reluctant to mention this, consider that Russiagate has become the conspiracy theory it’s ok for centrists to like.

But in this case the evidence is pretty overwhelming. Not only is Partisangirl known to push a Russian line, it is categorically and provably the case that after Berkeley the narrative was primarily shaped by Russia linked accounts on social media.  And that narrative was shaped to being hostile to Antifa tactics and individuals.  (This seems to have been when “Antifa are terrorists” first became prominent outside of traditional far right circles)

There is a definite irony here; many of the liberals most prone to accusing anyone who says anything mean about Clinton or nice about Sanders of being “Russian bots” seem utterly disinterested in this far more evidence heavy skewing.

The question is why Russian interests are quite so anti Antifa.  I’m not geopolitical expert and this opinion is prone to revision if further facts come out, but I suspect a) that Russia believe a right wing President is in their interests and recognise that Antifa are a major issue for that and b) the Syrian issue.

Conclusion

To be clear, I am not saying anyone with criticism of Antifa style tactics has links to any of the following interesting parties.  That would obviously be farcial.  The Anti Defamation League have made sharp criticisms of Antifa while recognising that “it is important to reject attempts to claim equivalence between the antifa and the white supremacist groups they oppose“.  The Southern Poverty Law Center also reject antifa tactics while rejecting attempts to paint them as the real issue with right wing violence.  Even Nancy Pelosi is capable of rejecting the equivalence argument.

It will come as no suprise to regular readers of this blog that I reject all of those liberal arguments as tactically incompetent and historically illiterate. But they are still made genuinely in good faith and are a matter of political disagreement.

I am saying that anyone who uses the “antifa are terrorists” argument falls into one of the following categories.

1) Fascists, Assadists and Russian misinformation campaigns.

2) Those who aren’t technically the latter but have consciously chosen to ally with them for tactical reasons.

3) People repeating the claims of people fromthe first category without being aware of their origin.

While category 3 is arguably the least to blame they still need to watch. At the very least, they’ve shown a cavalier disregard for where they’re getting their information from. But it’s also the case that they’ve shown themselves to be ideologically susceptible to far right propaganda.  When that intellectual kinship exists it’s not beyond the realms of possibility they’ll find themselves more formally linking up with the far right in the future.

 

 

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