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Should the Left Support Antifa?

By Julian Bonte-Friedheim
 Getty Images: Natalie Behring
*Updated 2020
Antifa (short for Anti-fascist Action) is a movement that divided the country during its rise to prominence in 2017. Ever since, and especially during the George Floyd protests, Antifa has made headlines, gaining the attention, suspicion and even ire of the world and US leaders. Branding itself in the image of the German anti-fascist movement, Antifa presents a positive cause. However, not all see it that way. In 2017, Antifa members were captured on video attacking right-wing protesters, which caused a stir, especially in conservative circles. Meanwhile, some liberals see the movement as a natural reaction to the recent rise of extreme-right nationalists.
So, as recent nationwide protests have turned Antifa into a household name, should the left distance itself from or support Antifa?


The Left should steer clear of Antifa


It hurts political cooperation

During the 2017 Charlottesville protests, swarms of extremists from both sides of the political spectrum came to blows with each other. President Trump stoked the tension by famously blaming both sides for the violence. Joining the blame game, conservatives responded to criticism against violent members of the alt-right by pointing the finger at Antifa. It has been argued that if it hadn’t been for the black-clad Antifa protesters bearing weapons and hiding their faces, the alt-right’s violence wouldn’t have seemed as justified. With all due respect to their anti-racist ideals, their menacing presence, contributed to dividing and not healing the country.

More recently, Antifa was blamed for the incidents of violence that erupted during the George Floyd protests. Whether justly deserved or not, the group’s past tendency for force makes it easy for political leaders and thus the public easy to associate with negative connotations. This erodes their credibility.


It weakens their own party

Even though liberals naturally seek to support people on their side of the political spectrum, siding with Antifa hurts the left politically. Every time Democrats justify Antifa’s actions, in the hopes of pulling over minority or swing voters, they risk alienating more conservatives, even those who don’t support the alt-right. The 2016 election of President Trump came in big part due to the estrangement and condescension that conservatives felt from the left. Plus, media articles that defend the movement’s excessive force are viewed by conservatives as “whitewashing” Antifa’s wrongdoings by a liberal-biased media. This makes people hesitant to embrace the left and can actually spur support among moderates or right-wing people to rally behind the right, out of fear.


Its members are extremists

Even if some Antifa activists are peaceful, violence is a large part of the movement’s agenda and public identity. Their “uniform” is being clad in black with faces obscured, presumably to prevent being recognized while committing crimes. It can be argued that no one who supports tolerance should be encouraging this kind of behavior. As some of their actions are illegal, the left should ask itself whether this is really what they stand for or want to be associated with. Most people would agree that violence is never justified, not even as a response to racist-driven violence. Not to mention that, in the past, peaceful conservative protesters have been violently assaulted by masked Antifa members. Fighting fascism is one thing but achieving Antifa’s goals by physically attacking people is counterproductive to healing a nation.


The Left should support Antifa


Fight fire with fire

Tapping into the rage of disenfranchised Americans helped the Republican party win the 2016 presidential election. It stands to reason that the left should do the same and tap into the rage on their side, which has only grown stronger since the George Floyd protests. As this strategy arguably worked, resulting in an extremely loyal fanbase who elected Donald Trump, it can be argued that liberals should use Antifa to build up a support base for the left. If nothing else, supporting Antifa is a way to stand up to those on the right who condemn Antifa yet turn the other cheek to extremism in their own party. Supporting Antifa can similarly be a way to defend it (and the left) against what some see as President Trump’s tactics of belittling and marginalizing Antifa to strengthen his own base.


Antifa’s cause is about defending humanity

Antifa is the response to an increasingly growing far-right movement that appears to embrace racist, homophobic and sexist ideals, among others. Many of the Republican party’s mainstream conservatives know this and don’t support the alt-right (though some in the GOP do). While peaceful protest is clearly the preferable option, Antifa’s violence is borne from that of the alt-right; it comes in response to this violence, and not the other way around. Waving Nazi banners and attacking minorities are two examples of things that Antifa opposes. Even if Antifa is far from perfect, its goals are ultimately good: fighting against bigotry and promoting the equal treatment of minorities. Society should understand that Antifa fights – and risks imprisonment – for the same principles most people believe in: eradicating hatred.


History shows anti-fascist violence is justified

Fighting against the rise of fascism and neo-Nazism can be seen as a noble purpose. One need only look at the historical failure to stop the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe to see the need for Antifa activists to be able to defend themselves against bullies. With a 55% rise of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in recent years in America, many could argue that Antifa activists should be cheered for interrupting, working to prevent, and fighting against the spread neo-Nazi messages – even if by violent means. Fascism aside, history does show that, at times, violence is a necessary evil that can be used to preclude continued widespread violence and to save lives.


The Bottom Line: Violence should never be the first response, no matter what the cause, but for some, Antifa is the correct reaction to excessive racism from the far-right. Given today’s growing political divide, should the left support Antifa?


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