Antifa, the self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” group, caused mayhem again this past weekend, this time at an otherwise peaceful rally in Berkeley.
Its masked and armed members say they stand against hate groups such as white supremacists by hating them back and, if necessary, hitting them back – as if such tactics could ever make sense. They don’t and never will.
Regardless, ever since President Donald Trump equated antifa with the neo-Nazis and the KKK after they all clashed in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month – in civil unrest that contributed to the deaths of one protester and two law enforcement officers – the group has become a convenient shield for Trump and his followers to hide behind. They have created a narrative in which violent leftists are used to deflect blame for Trump’s equivocation on what happened there.
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On Monday, Trump doubled down on this idea, re-tweeting Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative commentator and convicted felon who alleged that the media has been downplaying the violence of antifa. D’Souza tweeted that “the truth about where the violence is coming from” was emerging, linking to a Washington Post article about antifa.
Around the same time, my email inbox began filling up with this nonsense. “Hey Marcos, don’t see you condemning your antifa buddies,” a reader wrote to me Monday. “The real Brownshirts are protected by the Left and for that matter the police.”
There were similar emails from others, all subscribing to a storyline that obscures Trump’s moral failure over who was to blame in Charlottesville. U.S. presidents used to condemn Nazis and the KKK unequivocally and without suggesting that those who fought them – no matter how misguided – could ever be equal to groups whose evil histories are without peer in our country.
So, what do we know about antifa? And how many of us had even heard of them until the last year or so?
They are left leaning. They can be violent. They are a modern version of anti-fascist groups that first cropped up in Europe and America nearly 100 years ago. They attacked right-leaning protesters in Berkeley on Sunday, turning peaceful events into melees.
Antifa descended on Sacramento last summer and attacked white supremacists at the state Capitol. That event was a fiasco, a black eye for the California Highway Patrol and Sacramento police, who didn’t move to stop the violence quickly enough.
So as not to confuse the issue, let’s be clear: Antifa members and other anti-fascists who caused violence in Sacramento, the Bay Area and elsewhere should be prosecuted and condemned. Some will be prosecuted in Sacramento. Their trial is set for October.
In the meantime, what can anyone say but that this kind of violence is always wrong. The anti-fascists we saw in Sacramento were thugs. By employing violence, they ceded any moral high ground they might have had.
And apparently, they become useful idiots employed by anyone excusing Trump for failing to firmly call out Nazis or the KKK for the violence of Charlottesville. Trump could have called white supremacists “losers” or a mocked those groups directly as he mocks many others. He could have left no doubts about where he stood morally. But instead, he confused the issue. He used antifa to a push a partisan argument that extreme rights and lefts are both wrong, when that is not the point.
The point is that white supremacists in Charlottesville were copying Nazi imagery down the night-time torch marches of pre-World War II Germany. That was when Jews began to be rounded up for slaughter, and before German troops invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia. Concentration camps followed. Millions of Jews were exterminated.
You’re going to compare antifa to that? You’re going to compare antifa to the KKK and routine lynchings and murders of African Americans across the South. You’re going to compare antifa to a group that inspired assassinations and cross burnings and campaigns of terror that hold a place in the darkest chapters of American history?
Really? What we’ve seen from antifa is that they are thugs. Their brand of activism gives activism a bad name. You can make that argument clearly while still condemning Nazis and the KKK. It’s what the president should have done. He didn’t and instead of doing so, he and his followers have created a facile three-word response to critics: What about antifa?