Friday, August 16, 2019

If you're not antifascist, what are you?

The frequent lie repeated in mainstream U.S. media is that antifascist groups, which trace their origins back to Nazi Germany, hold violent protests or that they are a dangerous political movement. For example, it was widely reported that antifascists attacked conservative writer Andy Ngo with ‘concrete milkshakes’ at a rally of the far-right group Proud Boys in June. Following these events, a non-binding resolution co-sponsored by republican Ted Cruz was introduced into the U.S. senate on July 18 which called for antifascists to be labeled as domestic terrorists. And on July 27, U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted “consideration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others).” Widespread mis-information about antifascists by fringe right-wing groups has led to the movement being targeted by police, lawmakers, and the mainstream media.

This month, mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas tragically ended dozens of lives and caused unfathomable grief. The nation is still searching for answers about why mass shootings keep happening. It is clear however that the shooting in El Paso was motivated by racism as evidenced by an anti-immigrant manifesto posted to the internet moments before the attack.

Observers ask why Nazis keep committing mass murder without any systemic change happening -- the answer is because white supremacist terrorism is foundational to the system. Mass shootings by fascists are a feature to America, not an aberration. When asked by a reporter if he was concerned about the rise of white supremacist ideology and groups, Trump responded by including antifascists as a hate group. "I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate. I don't like it,” Trump said. "Whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy. Whether it's antifa. Whether it's any group of hate." His refusal to point out the role ideology played in the El Paso massacre echoed his controversial 2017 speech after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a self-professed Nazi killed Heather Heyer, a counter-protester. At the time Trump infamously argued that the group of white supremacist marchers included "some very fine people" and assigned "blame on both sides."

Literally no one has died or been seriously injured by antifascist action in decades. And yet, far-right white supremacist groups are not similarly criticized but given a pass because, it is claimed, they are merely exercising their first amendment rights to free speech. These groups, such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, have been inciting racist hatred and violence with increasing frequency. Why then, are antifascists vilified in media? Why, for instance, has condemning antifa become a litmus test for 2020 democratic presidential candidates?

It must be partially attributed to right-wing groups who spread misinformation that infects the media system. A key example which I will discuss below is the incident involving Andy Ngo in June in which antifascists were portrayed as being violent. Alternative media--which includes YouTubers, podcasters, and bloggers--have not adequately responded to propaganda and misunderstandings about antifa. What becomes a popular trend on social media sites is too often picked up by mainstream news organizations, creating an unjustified and counter-productive panic.

Antifa is not a terrorist organization. Antifascism is a leaderless ideology that spawned a movement consisting of groups and individuals who oppose fascist organizing in physical, cultural, and political spaces through direct action, education, and solidarity. Antifascists fight racism and right-wing terrorism because the state regularly fails to stop or gives tacit approval to fascism. Some say they oppose antifa, but what they actually oppose is certain tactics like black bloc. The goal of antifascists is oppositional. The goal is to protest and shut down what is seen as fascism including racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT behavior and politics. Antifa uses various tactics, such as the direct confrontation with people who attended the Proud Boys rally in June.


The history of the Proud Boys begins in the late 2000s with the merging of 4chan and individuals involved with Vice magazine. Both outlets had an original focus of brutal, sarcastic, and nihilistic humor/content created by so-called "edgelords." Gavin McInnes, a far-right reactionary, was a co-editor of Vice and was well-known for assaulting reader sensibilities. After he left the magazine, McInnes emerged as the head of a new right-wing extremist group, the Proud Boys. They claim to be a fraternal order of the West and their devious history is illustrated by initiation rites: some are clearly meant to be ridiculous such as reciting as many cereal brands as a person can think of or swearing off masturbation. However, the initiations become more sinister when they include getting arrested for the cause -- by fighting leftists or antifascists -- or more worrisome, committing a serious act of violence. The Proud Boys are committed to the idea of political chauvinism in the West.

Andy Ngo, a writer and editor at the right-wing website Quillette, has published numerous articles about encounters between antifa and right-wing groups in Portland, Oregon. Considered to be the ‘intellectual voice’ of the dark web, the Quillette online magazine is pseudo-journalism. In May the website uncritically published writing from Eoin Lenihan, a far-right social media user who alleged that prominent reporters were violating professional ethical standards by closely associating with and promoting antifascist groups. Despite Lenihan having no credentials as a researcher and the report having no social-scientific basis, Quillette gave this individual a platform to publish the dubious assertion that national-level reporters were following and promoting antifa, a narrative which was subsequently shared by Breitbart, PJ Media, RedState, Human Events, and RT. In an article which thoroughly discredited the data visualization methodology used in the study, The Center for Journalism Review stated that publication of the material represents "the latest example of unreliable information circulating rapidly through an ecosystem of fringe outlets without even the appearance of due diligence, such as baseless reports that tech platforms discriminate against conservatives or that leftist agitators are trying to foment a new American civil war."

Ngo is not a journalist, although he has been deemed as such by the mainstream media. He is a far-right provocateur who is deeply Islamophobic and has explicitly sided himself with Proud Boys and other far-right groups during his career in Portland over the past few years. Ngo has been involved in doxxing antifascists on his twitter account which has hundreds of thousands of followers. Doxxing is the tactic of publishing people’s names, photos, and addresses. Doxxing being used against antifascist activists has exposed them to threats, intimidation, and harassment from the far right. Conversely, the tactic was used by antifascists at the Charlottesville ‘unite the right’ rally to reveal the identities of white supremacists who participated and report those people to their employers. While the threat posed to someone on the far right who is doxxed is merely that they will lose their jobs or experience ostracization in their personal lives, an antifascist who is doxxed faces a much greater threat of actual physical violence used against them. Andy Ngo has been complicit in using doxxing to further the construction of the narrative that antifa is the far-left, out-of-control group who are terrorizing the country and threatening democracy.

In May, a melee ensued at a Portland bar between antifa and far-right reactionaries during which an antifascist person’s vertebrae was injured with a metal baton. Ngo filmed this assault and profited by it with appearances on national media, doxxed and harassed the victim, and distributed his video as propaganda to support more attacks. When the Proud Boys reconvened for a rally on June 29th, it is likely that Ngo was hoping for a repeat of the attention he garnered in May and to further capitalize on the potential for violence. Ngo and his group of far-right followers were physically stopped by antifascists from engaging in what was a coordinated and violent campaign of harassment.

Andy Ngo, after being struck by a milkshake.
Mainstream press reported that Ngo was hit over the head with a concrete milkshake and needed treatment at the hospital due to a brain hemorrhage (he continued to write and post tweets while he was being treated for minor injuries, discrediting the assertion that he suffered an actual brain hemorrhage). A crowdfunding effort set up by conservative writer Michelle Malkin raised about $200,000 to help him with ‘healing.’ The mainstream reporting of actions taken to stop Ngo are an example of right-wing disinformation as a tactic -- people were shown pictures and video clips with no context. There was willful rumor-spreading and speculation. The main rumor was that the milkshake thrown at Ngo contained a quick-drying cement that would give people caustic burns. This came from a report by the Portland police department after one of their officers was sent a recipe and saw what looked like someone mixing something into the shake. None of this should have been taken seriously. Yet when police tweeted this, the idea was jumped on by far-right conspiracy theorists and was spread through the internet. We repeatedly observe fringes of the far-right spreading misinformation slowly picked up by more legitimate right-wing thinkers and media such as Red State. The story takes on a life of its own and infects the whole media system. We observed this rumor about quick-drying cement eventually spread to The Independent (a UK news outlet) and Fox News. The left has not been able to deal with these propaganda tactics effectively. How do you convince someone that already has a tendency to accept misinformation that this particular story is untrue, especially when it has been spread by individuals such as CNN’s Jake Tapper and others that are generally regarded as legitimate sources?

The description in mainstream reporting of antifasiscm as being a violent political movement is not true. Count the number of people that have been killed by far-right shooters and terrorists over the preceding decade. How many people have been killed by antifascists? None. To draw an equivalency between having a milkshake thrown at you and killing people because of their race or religion is disingenuous to the extreme. It’s not journalism -- it is propaganda.

The troubling outcome of the events in Portland is that the far-right now claims, because of the threat of concrete milkshakes, they will need to carry firearms to rallies. Similarly, the possible outcomes of Ngo's involvement with the far-right are that he will become further entrenched in his views and actions to oppose and threaten antifascists. Alternatively, Ngo could--like Richard Spencer--disappear after being humiliated around the world. In Spencer’s case antifascist violence was effective at shutting down his speeches at universities and organizing. Doxxing people, especially spreading it among individuals with a propensity for violence, does constitute violence against another person and it invites the kind of confrontational actions Ngo faced in Portland -- certainly the practice of doxxing to invite violence against another person is far worse than having a milkshake thrown at you. Being antifascist and violent is not the same as being fascist and violent. Inflicting violence on people because of their identity is not the same as wanting to liberate people from the oppression they face because of their identity. Doxxing antifascists, who are fighting violent white supremacists, should not be tolerated. Yet liberals today have accepted ideas about who can and cannot use violence in society. Liberals will accept borders, prisons, and police -- all forms of violence in one form or another -- but they will not tolerate others who use violence outside of this basic rubric.

“The events of [June 29] are what we mean by community defense. The entire community came together, using multiple tactics, and sent a premeditated attack by the far-right packing. This is exactly what should happen when the far-right attempts to invade our town,” stated Rose City Antifa in a statement about the June 29th rally.


This summer, elected officials in the U.S. have joined in the manufactured panic about antifascism. In response to the torrent of disinformation about the events in Portland, on July 17 Pennsylvania representative Fitzpatrick wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general. It described Ngo as an “innocent journalist merely attempting to conduct his job in a professional manner.” Fitzpatrick alleged that antifascists had “traded civil protest for violence endangering public welfare and wreaking havoc on cities across America.” The letter asked the Department of Justice to designate antifa as a terrorist organization.

At a U.S senate hearing on July 23, senator Ted Cruz urged FBI director Chris Wray to use RICO statutes for investigating antifa. Those laws are typically leveraged for organized crime prosecutions. Cruz and Senator Bill Cassidy co-sponsored a resolution to designate antifascists as terrorists and stated that they represent “a left-wing anarchist terrorist organization that routinely relies on violence to intimidate and punish its political opponents.” The resolution “calls for the groups and organizations across the country who act under the banner of Antifa to be designated as domestic terrorist organizations” and refers interchangeably to “antifa” and “left wing activists.” The resolution may represent the beginning of efforts at creating the legal means of attacking leftists. These recent efforts by U.S lawmakers to attack the antifa movement are the culmination of years of misinformation about and vilification of antifa in conservative media and political groups.


If people had allowed the story of concrete milkshakes to be accepted as the truth, it would lend credence to the idea that antifascists are a terrorist group out to hurt innocent journalists. Falsehoods about the movement’s goals and tactics cannot go unchallenged. We must constantly combat and oppose mis-information -- in the media, on social websites, and in everyday interactions -- because ultimately the state is willing to include antifa in its list of terror groups. One can envision the result being harsher police oppression and an ‘antifascist scare’ much like there was a communist scare in the U.S. historically. If antifascists were broadly opposed or even imprisoned, then in their absence fascist groups would be given free reign to organize and grow stronger.

Far-right reactionary movements are increasingly aligned with violent white supremacy. Often, these movements gain visibility and influence with the tacit support of the media and police. White nationalists like the Proud Boys have drawn the lines of engagement at their rallies, demonstrating hatred and contempt for people of color, immigrants, indigenous communities, minority religious faiths and backgrounds, and anyone else who disagrees with their political vision; they implicitly and explicitly blame these groups for the consequences of neoliberal capitalism. In such an environment, there is no principled moderate position. If you are not anti-fascist, then what are you? Any individuals or groups who call themselves socialist or anti-racist must join the antifascist movement against the alt-right if they do not already consider themselves a part of it. We all must contribute to the cause by opposing mis-information and false narratives about antifascism spread through the media system and by confronting counter-revolutionary currents through direct action in the streets.


Sources & Further Reading

“Andy Ngo.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Aug. 2019,

Angerer, Drew, et al. “Ted Cruz's ‘Antifa Are Terrorists’ Resolution Seeks to Stifle the Left.” Truthout,

Beauchamp, Zack. “The Assault on Conservative Journalist Andy Ngo, Explained.” Vox, 3 July 2019,

“Cassidy, Cruz: Antifa Is a Domestic Terrorist Organization: U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.” U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, 18 July 2019,

“Democrats Refuse to Condemn Antifa, Their Own Brownshirts.” American Thinker,

Gibbons, Chip. “No, Donald Trump Can't Declare Antifa a Terrorist Group.” Defending Rights & Dissent, 31 Aug. 2017,

Holt, Jared. “Right-Wing Publications Launder an Anti-Journalist Smear Campaign.” Columbia Journalism Review,

Morton, Victor. “Andrew Yang Becomes First Democratic Candidate to Condemn Antifa Attack on Conservative Journalist.” The Washington Times, The Washington Times, 1 July 2019,

Romero, Simon, et al. “'It Feels Like Being Hunted': Latinos Across U.S. in Fear After El Paso Massacre.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Aug. 2019,

“Rose City Antifa.” About · Rose City Antifa,

“Rose City Antifa.” Statement about June 29, 2019 · Rose City Antifa,

Tarlo, Shira. “Trump Invokes ‘Both-Sidesism’ in Comparing White Supremacists to Antifa.” Salon,, 7 Aug. 2019,