Antifa Ain’t That

You’ve seen the scary pictures of Antifa. You’ve seen them in images from the Battle of Seattle, Occupy Wallstreet, Oakland FTP protests, outside the G20, and many more moments where a reporter nervously says to camera “Things are getting out of hand at this protest.” They’re the omnipresent Left Boogyman, ANTIFA! They break windows! They menace police! They probably do other violent and bad things!

Or maybe you’ve seen them, who knows. Protestors don’t wear uniforms or make it clear who they carpooled with.

I have known many of society’s ne’er-do-wells: a myriad of drug dealers, Venice crack den regulars, Portland gutter punks, DC tweakers, straight edge punks with more scars than skin, body modders, tattoo fiends, seattle protestors, Food Not bombs, hackers, phreakers, freegans, and yes, quite a few Antifa, as well as Black Bloc. Let’s get Black Bloc out of the way first, since that’s usually who gets mistaken for Antifa.

Oakland Black Bloc, 2011

The initiation for Black Bloc is pretty complicated, follow along carefully. 1) You show up in all black with you face covered, then 2) You throwdown with the police line.

Congratulations, you’re Black Bloc.

There’s not a particular affiliation required, except that you don’t want to be identified while fighting with the police, and you’re there to throwdown. Plenty of Black Bloc attend protests just because they want to fight someone and fighting the police is safe in a weird way. It’s very exciting, you’re probably going to lose, you might help someone, and the police aren’t really going to get hurt. Also you’re probably going to engage is some light property damage, especially if the police take too long to form a line for you to fight. For a few of the Black Bloc I’ve met, it’s definitely the healthiest way they have to get out an excess of aggressive energy. Possibly they shouldn’t be like that, but they tend to be in the demographic that doesn’t have health insurance so I figure it’s a reasonable substitute for mental healthcare, which this country isn’t going to give them.

Antifa logo. Yes, I’ve even had this as a sticker on my laptop. So subversive! Much Terrorism.

Some of the people who do participate in Black Bloc are part of a wider political affiliation coming out of post-war Germany called Antifaschistische Aktion, shorted to Antifa. They arose to oppose Fascists, the real, sign-me-up-for-the-one-party-state kind, rather than the nudge-nudge-what’s-wrong-with-a-little-genocidal-nationalism kind we have now. Antifa is one of the myriad of responses to post-war politics that made it not cool to call yourself a fascist by the end of the 20th century.

It’s worthwhile to note that most Antifa don’t do Black Bloc. Black Bloc is the kind of thing most people age out of pretty quickly and their knees age out faster. But most people don’t age out of not liking Fascism, because Fascism is awful.

Antifa tends to be leftist, though it’s not very pure about it. Some of the Democratic Socialists of America people who roll with Antifa would look downright right-wing in much of Europe, because of their willingness to compromise in the American political context on things that would not be OK in most of Europe, like expensive education, universal healthcare, and access to guns.

I’ve chatted with Stalinist Tankies who are Antifa, and registered Democrats. The thing that brought them together was being vaguely left, vaguely anti-capitalist, and strongly disliking Fascism. The other thing they all had in common is their inability to organize anything larger than local groups. Most of the Antifa groups I’ve known met up in, and to some degree lived in, squats. In Europe, those were actual squats. In America, it’s usually some crap but large apartment the one with rich parents or a tech job was renting. Honestly, most of them are trying to be good people, and all of them are dealing with difficult personal lives, in my experience. Which – no hate. Having that in common is usually how I met them.

Antifa is the perfect foil for someone like Trump. They’re small, but not too small. They’re amorphus and misunderstood. They like to take up space and be loud. They are not actually dangerous at any meaningful scale. They do punch above their weight a lot of the time, but they’re not good at translating that into expanding their base. They’re not politically powerful, and no one speaks up for them. In fact they have so little power that they can’t defend themselves from organized rightwing slander. Some of them are misguided, some of them are incredibly well-read, quite a few of them end up as academics or working in NGOs. This makes sense, they don’t want to be part of the business world they see exploiting the global poor, but they do want to grow up and participate in society in meaningful ways.

It’s likely that Trump constructing them as The Enemy is the biggest boost American Antifa have had in years, and good on them. But make no mistake, Trump’s slander is meaningless drivel and Antifa are mostly fine, if bad at doing dishes. I mean, seriously, dudes. Do the damn dishes.

Wash Your Own Dishes Crimethinc Poster

Courtesy Crimethinc, and funny af.

Bad roommates often, fucked up kids sometimes, overly abstract academics, and window breakers, sure. But terrorists? Nah, that ain’t it.

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78 replies
    • Quinn Norton says:

      Wow that was more than a little overwrought. Clandestine communication.. infiltration… They show up, and then use Signal and Discord. And severe violence is generally trash fires and broken windows, before the punching police in full riot gear. They get hurt a lot more than they hurt people. Also plenty of Gilets Jaunes fuck shit up, I’ve watched them do it in several French cities.

  1. vvv says:

    Thanks for that.

    And I propose a solution to the issues presented in the graffic: not paper plates (unsustainable, not green, etc.) – edible plates.

    Or, pita and tortillas; I love pita and tortillas.

      • Quinn Norton says:

        hey now vvv doesn’t generate many dishes that way, but your toilet point still stands.

      • vvv says:

        I feel sorry for you for the room mate experiences you apparently had/have.

        And gave/give.

    • P J Evans says:

      I use real plates for the messy stuff. Paper plates are for the not-messy stuff – they get used until they die.

  2. Mitch Neher says:

    If, in the absence of any evidence of any homicide offense having been committed by, let alone charged against, any member of Antifa, Trump and P. G. FUBARr designate Antifa a terrorist group, then no one will be able to deny any longer what a couple of swishy sissy-men Trump and P. G. FUBARr are.

    And what sort of a terrorist group refuses to take credit for its own (or anybody else’s) supposed exploits, anyhow?

    • madwand says:

      Well if you were looking at that question from the point of view of many countries out there, that would be the CIA.

  3. bmaz says:

    Lol, “Antifa” is vapor in the United States, and recognizing it as some defined group is a joke that plays right in to the Trump GOP’s hands. Painting disparate wilding punk assholes as some kind of formal group is ridiculous and counterproductive.

    • Rayne says:

      I don’t even think the black-garbed white vandals we saw this week were Black Bloc — more vaporware. They co-opted Black Bloc dress and BLM messaging in the case of the tagged Starbucks, but they had no coherency save for pissing off real protesters and triggering police action.

      • Silly but True says:

        Well-off, millennial comic book geeks whose hobby is cosplay and engaging in tribalism have had their comic conventions cancelled due to COVID, removing the avenues for their hobbies.

        The protests gave them their necessary outlet to cosplay and exercise tribalism.

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah. That. Cosplay. I think of that now looking at the little skinny white witch dressed in black while tagging the Starbucks, ignoring the pleas of black women — a big fat pink pack purse on her back. The purse was real, ignoring the black women was real, the rest was cosplay.

        • bmaz says:

          Yes, being a little rando wilding white jackass makes one “Black Bloc” or “Antifa”. I’m sorry, this is just right wing, QAnon and Channer garbage. It is all vapor.

        • Rayne says:

          That’s probably the problem with US bloc versus EU, the latter far more focused. These didn’t seem to have *any* guiding philosophy apart from “wear black” — an awfully low threshold, lower than anti-fascist ideology for antifa.

          I mean, there’s more philosophy and effort put into wearing the perfect little black dress.

          • Quinn Norton says:

            I’ve met a lot of French and German BB types over the years and meehhh kinda, maybe, I don’t know.

            It’s a young person’s game.

    • Duke says:

      Hooligan is about as formal a name should be for their membership. Maybe djt will designate Manchester United fans as a terrorist organization next.

      • Quinn Norton says:

        That said, hooligans and ultras have had a real political role to play, and have played it a lot, going back to the Nika riots.

        • bmaz says:

          Are you fucking kidding me? How far are you going to go to support abject violence in society? This nonsense makes me want to go out and buy a semi-automatic weapon to protect against the very sick assholes you blithely champion.

          You have already sloughed off burning trash cans, breaking windows and, presumably, the looting therefrom. Where is the line you draw where the actions of sick in the head punks is too much? Do you have one at all?

          • Dysnomia says:

            “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.” – Kwame Ture

            I think some of this violence is misdirected though. Police stations and banks make much better targets for smashing than local barbershops.

          • Quinn Norton says:

            The Ultras played a serious role in the Arab revolution, protecting protestors from police. I’m not for everyone who goes to the streets to beef, but there’s a lot to unpick there. There are many forms of political behavior, and many ways oppressed people have lashed out against oppressors, and hooliganism has been a really strong part of that history. That doesn’t make everything they do hunky dory, but neither are they unthinking monsters. Everything is complicated.

              • Quinn Norton says:

                the very constructions of “criminal” and “wilding” are terribly complex. When you know the underclasses from the inside, (which I do) they are as complicated as anyone else, even when they don’t have the words to express that complexity.

                • bmaz says:

                  No, it is not really “complex” at all. “Underclasses” is a cop out and an excuse. Criminal acts are criminal acts. That is true for poor to rich. That is what I know. I’m sorry, you are excusing garbage. I will not join that.

                  • Mitch Neher says:

                    bmaz said, “Lol, ‘Antifa’ is vapor in the United States . . .”

                    Don’t fear the vapor.

                    Criminal wilding punks are “garbage”??

                    That reads like Trump’s full-page screed against The Central Park Five.

                    Know thyself.

          • skua says:

            Doubtless similar, though more restrained, things were said about the very sick in the head punks who destroyed a cargo, or part thereof, of tea in Boston.

            In general such actions have been counter-, or nil-productive.

            Other times – wowee.

            I’m not seeing them killing people. Or needing your desired semiautomatic killing machine brought into play.

            • bmaz says:

              Really? If wilding punks are good to invade my neighborhood and light things up, burn trash cans and break things, then loot and plunder, and are sanctioned by authors on this blog, then fuck that. I’d just like to make a little counterpoint to the premise of this post.

                • Mitch Neher says:

                  bmaz said, “Painting disparate wilding punk assholes as some kind of formal group is . . .” [edit] . . . “a joke that plays right in to the Trump GOP’s hands.”

                  People who worry about “wilding punks invad[ing] [their] neighborhood and light[ing] things up, burn[ing] trash cans and break[ing] things, then loot[ing] and plunder[ing],” are also “play[ing] right into the Trump GOP’s hands”.

                  • P J Evans says:

                    Fox viewers are sure that every big city is full of gangs that do that, when they’re not doing random drive-bys.

                  • Molly Pitcher says:

                    I’m glad you are rich enough to blow off the temper tantrums of immature assholes.

                    This is the crime statistic for San Francisco
                    Violent Crime Projection: 6,173 total UCR Violent Crimes
                    Property Crime Projection: 48,118 total UCR Property Crimes

                    Over 30,000 of the property crimes were CAR BREAK-INS in a population of 800,000+.

                    That was one of the crime statistics sited, along with the homeless encampments on the sidewalks for people saying they don’t want to come back to visit San Francisco. The VAST majority of those car break-ins were in the cars of the working class, some times the same car getting broken into multiple times.

                    But that’s ok, I guess. You know, just some frisky young guys blowing off steam.

                    “San Francisco is the nation’s leader in property crime…Property and other supposedly low-level crimes are intensifying the destruction of the retail market. Landmark Mission District stores are shuttering, citing theft and lack of security. In April, CVS closed two pharmacies that had been ravaged by constant shoplifting. Mom-and-pop businesses, wracked by so-called minor losses, find it impossible to survive. Empty storefronts dot once-vibrant neighborhoods.”

                    And all of those closed businesses represent lost entry level jobs which are hard to come by in SF.


                    • Mitch Neher says:

                      Molly said, “I’m glad you are rich enough to blow off the temper tantrums of immature assholes.”

                      I have not one red cent to lose.

                      Playing poker with paupers is really stupid.

                      Crimes against property will never be equivalent to crimes against persons, society, nor humanity.

                    • Quinn Norton says:

                      Hello from San Francisco! I’m sitting here, counting the mad money one makes in journalism these days, and surrounded by a combination of tech bros and latino families and a few other lower income whites and asians that have been here for a minute. The homelessness and petty crime, of which I been a victim, repeatedly, comes from desperate poverty driving people to the edge in a city that has become progressively unlivable, because of how the rich behave, not the poor. They drive people trying to do for themselves out, they call the police on mentally ill locals, the latino kids at my daughter’s high school get harassed, the homeless can’t use any bathrooms, and then white people who either don’t live in this neighborhood, or, importantly, *don’t live near the ground floor* in this neighborhood, call the cops and complain about car windows getting busted. There’s things much worse than shoplifting, and I see them happening to the locals on the streets here everyday.

              • Dysnomia says:

                I don’t like the word punks. Young people who stand up for themselves, who refuse to go along with the demands placed on them by “adult” society, are called punks, kind of like how women who refuse to be doormats are called unflattering things.

                It’s a stereotype of the wild, out of control, dangerous youth, the irredeemable superpredators that Joe Biden wanted (surely still wants) to lock up. Scary teenagers are scapegoats for society’s ills.

          • Mitch Neher says:

            bmaz said, “#$%^&! . . . abject violence in society . . . burning trash cans, breaking windows and, presumably, the looting therefrom. Where is the line you draw where the actions of sick in the head punks is too much?”

            Lawyers who try to skeech up the old slippery slope from crimes against property [vandalism] versus crimes against persons [George Floyd], crimes against society [police brutality] and crimes against humanity [the peculiar institution of slavery] while at the same time minimizing the vandals as ‘sick in the head punks’ are also swishy sissy-men like Trump and P. G. FUBARr.

            [Have we met before?]

    • BobCon says:

      The old joke about CPUSA was that half of the members were informants talking to the FBI, and the other half were straight up FBI agents.

      Which is an exaggeration, but not by a lot. And today, there are Antifa message boards, get togethers, and committee meetings. But they are far fewer in numbers than Bronies or capybara fanciers, and much less organized, and articles like these in the NY Times are credulous nonsense:

    • Quinn Norton says:

      to be fair, the same was pretty much true of how Al-Qaeda was written into US terrorism law. It was also not really a structure as much as a brand or vapor affiliation. This is why many years ago, after reading the terrorism laws, I declared myself the leader of the Radical Queer wing of Al-Qaeda, and declared are bombs are glitter bomb and we bring down the house when the bass drops. Given just that declaration, I’m pretty sure it’s legal for my government to assassinate me without trial even in the US! Isn’t this timeline fun?

      • bmaz says:

        Bullshit. Al-Qaida was organized, and was a foreign threat. THAT was how the laws were written. Were said laws too expansive? Sure. And do not give me any gruff about a glitter bomb getting you extrajudicially assassinated on American soil. This is beyond ludicrous at this point.

        • Quinn Norton says:

          It was pretty obviously a parody. I don’t actually have a death wish.

          AQ was organized, but depending on where it could be non-hierarchical and emergent. Significant actors in AQ could have more in common with Anonymous in ad-hoc non-hierarchical than with something like ISIS. And, I read the laws. They were broad, and I checked with lawyers as to whether my reading was plausible. The answer was unlikely, but plausible.

    • Raven Eye says:

      Antifa is the perfect boogeyman for Trump. Only he sees it/them which means that he gets to define antifa for his faithful (to him, not in a real religious sense) followers. Antifa becomes Trump’s Harvey the Rabbit, but with malign intent.

      • errant aesthete says:

        Wonderful discussion and everyone comes at it from what they know and what they’ve observed, experienced, and lived as beginning with Quinn’s richly characterized microcosm of Antifa as a lifestyle, a look, and an attitude, while Bmaz’s take of Antifa is viewed as “a vapor in the United States,” that can’t be pinned down, identified or credited.

        Yet, all seem to be in agreement with this comment that Antifa “is the perfect boogeyman for Trump. Only he sees it/them which means that he gets to define Antifa for his faithful … Antifa … with malign intent.”

        It is the message that Trump will ultimately use that needs notice and how that message and stage crafting with the assist of masterful manipulation is received by a frightened and stressed nation who has lost the ability to recognize normal.

  4. dude says:

    Thanks for this portrait. Your AntiFa description fits my old room mate in college. Black Bloc sounds like Fight Club in ninja gear. I am curious about who “Stalinist Tankies” are though.

    • Silly but True says:

      Tankies are dyed-in-the-wool communists; believers in bona fide soviet-style communism probably best symbolized by USSR pre-1991, or communist China pre-1980. Stalinist tankies are then an extreme subset of tankies who believe in the angelic good that Joseph Stalin brought to the world through his communist leadership, all but ignoring the 94 million or so deaths attributed to the cause.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes. It could be your college roommate. It could be anybody anywhere. And lumping such disparate people into “Antifa” is ludicrous.

    • DK says:

      Tankies is the name for them because they think Soviet tanks driving into Hungary in 1956 was good. Crush the counter-revolutionaries, you know.

  5. e.a.f. says:

    Quinn, thank you for the article. Not only was it informative but funny! You really are a good writer.

    What little I knew about Antifa led me to conclude they were certainly NOT a terrorist group, more like a loosely affiliated group with no real leaders, as in political parties. My first real “exposure” to them was watching the Charlottesville march/death/riot by white supremists. What I saw of Antifa I liked.

    When articles/people started writing speaking of Antifa in negative terms I saw a number of posters which had a picture of Einsenhower in uniform, with the title, the First Antifia. Worked for me.

    Hadn’t heard of the other group, but then I do live in B.C. Canada.

    None of these groups are terrorists. Some of these demonstrations look like the hockey riots we had in Vancouver, B.C. after loosing the Stanley Cup. I think the demos we’re seeing in the U.S.A. have less property damage though than a hockey riot.

    Having watched the Civil Rights’ Marchs, through to today, people have good reason to march. Who the looters are, may well be outsiders, having lived through the RCMP infiltration of the FLQ in Quebec back in the 1970s.

    At some point people aren’t going to “take it anymore’ and peaceful doesn’t work any more, as in this case. In my opinion, Trump wants riots, he wants to send in the military, he wants the country at war so he can cancel the election. He wants to be a dictator just like his idol Putin.

    What I don’t understand is how cowardly the GOP politicians and Cabinet are. All they have to do is get together and declare him Sec. 25 and its over. As I used to explain to people, things are very bad for you right now. If you don’t fight back they will get worse, if you fight back they’ll get just as bad. by fighting back you have a chance of winning and getting rid of “whomever it was in management”.

    When it comes to terrorists, I’d say that was Trump. Some drug gangs could be classified as terrorists, but a loosely knit groups with no real structure, good luck with that. they aren’t terrorists. Breaking windows and looting are not terrorist activities. Its just a bad Saturday night after a bad hockey game. Not condoning it, but after all the racial motivated assaults, murders, etc. I understand it. Having demonstrated over the years, if I lived in the U.S.A. who knows where I’d be right now, and I’m 70

    • Dysnomia says:

      I try to avoid describing things as terrorism or people as terrorists. It’s an inherently political category. Calling somebody a terrorist is making a political statement that I’d usually rather not make. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

  6. Dysnomia says:

    That dishwashing graphic is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m only slightly exaggerating.

  7. Dysnomia says:

    Also thank you Quinn for posting this. This is a great article that puts the current right-wing/Trumpist hysteria about antifa in perspective. The right-wingers know all this too well, they know antifa is no “threat,” they’re just exploiting an opportunity to drum up an enemy so they can crack down.

  8. Brian Ed says:

    My 8 year old asked to go to a protest/demonstration here in our rural appalachian town. I cringed but acquiesced under the condition that I could make his sign.
    Front: Dear Bill Barr, I suspect my father is an Anti-Fascist.
    Back: He read the whole Mueller Report and he only showers like once a week.

  9. TJ says:

    To say ANTIFA is not violent is inaccurate. I am from the west coast and they are proudly violent. Google Antifa – Berkeley or Antifa Portland. They are not Al Qaeda, but they are not a leftist pensive think tank.

        • Molly Pitcher says:

          This is a very careful report on the chaotic visit by Milo Yiannopoulos to UC Berkeley a couple years ago.

          It was a shit show of epic proportions.

          Interviewed for the report are Milo, Antifa, Black Bloc, Campus Republicans, UC officials, undocumented students, Trump supporters. This is definitely worth a read.

            • Quinn Norton says:

              Yeah Block Bloc and Antifa kids aren’t always playing 4th dimensional chess, as it were. Though I knew some of the people there, and they felt it was a success, because they felt that it sent the message you couldn’t parade your fascism without being scared of getting a beat down. I’m not sure they were right, I’m also not sure they were wrong, thinking about things like Juggalos vs Unite the Right. I think white supremacists don’t want to deal with Juggalos in a way that Black Bloc Antifa types want to invoke.

    • Quinn Norton says:

      I don’t think I said Antifa (you don’t have to capitalize the whole thing) is non-violent as a whole, you have both Antifa that believe in small scale violence and non-violence, and then the fucking tankies, which was right there in the piece. I can understand not knowing that Stalinist tankies are advocates of violence without more context, but surely it’s possible to divine that. I mean, Stalinists who support sending in the tanks….

  10. Jan Rooth says:

    Whatever. I don’t care what they call themselves. All I know is that at at least 80% of the protests I’ve been part of in the last 35 years, there are jackasses who show up dressed all in black and wearing hoods, they run up, throw shit at the cops and run away leaving the rest of us to take the blowback. I don’t give a flying fuck if they call themselves “Black Block” or “Antifa” or whatever, I hate their fucking cowardly asses.

  11. heddalee says:

    Re: the report Jared Holt quoted from on twitter today – the place identified as ‘antifa’ HQ is the bookstore that closed two years ago. It’s the HQ for Black Lives Matter in Portland – that’s who is being targeted.

  12. sand says:

    Does anyone know which system this is?

    Brooke: I care! Alright? I care! I busted my ass all day cleaning this house and then cooking that meal and I worked today. It’d be nice if you said thank you. And helped me with the dishes.
    Gary: Fine. I’ll help you do the damn dishes.
    Brooke: Oh, come on. You know what? No, see? That’s the . . . that’s not what I want.
    Gary: You just said that you want me to help you do the dishes.
    Brooke: I want you to want to do the dishes.
    Gary: Why would I want to do dishes? Why?
    Brooke: See, that’s my whole point.
    Gary: Let me see if I’m following this. Are you saying that you’re upset because I don’t have a strong desire to clean dishes?
    Brooke: No. I’m upset because you don’t have a strong desire to offer to do the dishes.
    Gary: I just did!
    Brooke: After I asked you!

      • Adams says:

        Nah. George and Gracie were playing for laughs. For me and my 17 y/o kid it’s serious. As a heart attack.

        [Welcome to emptywheel. Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as we have several community members named “Adams” or “Adam.” Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • Rayne says:

      The system is systemic misogyny in which women’s work, both physical and emotional labor, is chronically undervalued. Their time is perceived as a common resource to be consumed but not compensated.

Comments are closed.