Antifa (short for anti-fascist) is a broad term used for a collective group of left-wing activist types who oppose fascism. The term can also be extended to people who oppose anyone who supports their nation in an oppressive manner or anyone who thinks one race is superior to others.

Some of the groups, such as the 10-year-old Rose City Antifa in Portland, the oldest antifa group in the U.S., are particularly well-organized and active online and on Facebook, while its members are individually anonymous.

antifa information

President Trump has singled out antifa as part of what he calls the alt-left in his initial claim that “many sides” were to blame for violence in Charlottesville the weekend of Aug. 12, not just the neo-Nazis, KKK and white nationalists.

Story highlights

  • A controversial protest group, known as Antifa, clashed with right-wingers in Charlottesville
  • Some members employ radical or militant tactics to get their message across
 (AsktoHow)After protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent on Saturday, leaving one person dead and dozens injured, the world is still grappling with what happened, who was involved and why.
Hundreds of white nationalists took to the streets over the weekend to protest the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee statue. But members of a controversial opposing group, known as Antifa, also showed up to condemn hate and racism.
Here’s a closer look at Antifa protesters, who have become more visible in the past year.

What is Antifa?

Antifa is short for anti-fascists. The term is used to define a broad group of people whose political beliefs lean toward the left — often the far left — but do not conform with the Democratic Party platform. The group doesn’t have an official leader or headquarters, although groups in certain states hold regular meetings.
Antifa positions can be hard to define, but many members support oppressed populations and protest the amassing of wealth by corporations and elites. Some employ radical or militant tactics to get their message across.
Scott Crow, a former Antifa organizer, says the “radical ideals” promoted by Antifas are starting to be adopted by liberals. “They would never have looked at (those ideals) before, because they saw us as the enemy as much as the right-wingers.”
The majority of Antifa members don’t fall into a stereotype. Since the election of President Donald Trump, however, most new Antifa members are young voters.

How did the group start?

The exact origins of the group are unknown, but Antifa can be traced to Nazi Germany and Anti-Fascist Action, a militant group founded in the 1980s in the United Kingdom.

Modern-day members of Antifa have become more active in making themselves known at public rallies and within the progressive movement, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“What they’re trying to do now is not only become prominent through violence at these high-profile rallies, but also to reach out through small meetings and through social networking to cultivate disenfranchised progressives who heretofore were peaceful,” Levin said.

How is it pronounced?

“AN-tifa” with the emphasis on the first syllable, which sounds more like “on” in English than “an.”

When did it start?

Anti-fascist groups, particularly in Europe, have been around for many decades, notably in Italy, against Mussolini, and in Germany, against Hitler. In the postwar period, antifa groups resurged to fight neo-Nazi groups, particularly in Germany. In the U.S., the anti-fascist movements grew out of leftist politics of the late ’80s, primarily under the umbrella of Anti-Racist Action.

Where do they protest?

Members have been spotted at high-profile, right-wing events across the country, including Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance at the University of California, Berkeley in February. They also protested President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.
While it can be difficult to distinguish Antifa activists from other protesters, some dress head to toe in black. Members call this the “Black Bloc.”
They also wear masks to hide their identities from the police and whomever they are protesting.

What does the movement want?

The primary goal is to stop neo-Nazis and white supremacists from gaining a platform rather than to promote a specific antifa agenda. The antifa groups are decidedly anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobia, but also by and large socially leftist and anti-capitalist.

Why are they controversial?

The group is known for causing damage to property during protests. In Berkeley, black-clad protesters wearing masks threw Molotov cocktails and smashed windows at the student union center where the Yiannopoulos event was to be held.
Crow, who was involved with Antifa for almost 30 years, said members use violence as a means of self-defense and they believe property destruction does not equate to violence.
“There is a place for violence. Is that the world that we want to live in? No. Is it the world we want to inhabit? No. Is it the world we want to create? No. But will we push back? Yes,” Crow said.

How do the groups operate? 

Mark Bray, a lecturer and Dartmouth and author of the new book Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook, says the groups “organize educational campaigns, build community coalitions, monitor fascists, pressure venues to cancel their events, organize self-defense trainings and physically confront the far right when necessary.”

 A main goal is to try to deny fascists a public forum, which is why they turn out in numbers to physically confront neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists at public demonstrations. They also step in to protect counter-protesters at such events.

In addition, antifa is particularly active in “doxxing,” or  identifying neo-Nazis and like-minded individuals and disseminating that private information to the public and employers to discourage people from joining their ranks.

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