Katie Bo Williams, The Hill, September 14, 2017
Anti-fascist activists, or “antifa,” increasingly mobilized in the wake of President Trump’s election, are unapologetic about what they describe as the necessary use of violence to combat authoritarianism.
“The justification [of the use of violence] is that Nazi ideology at its very core is founded on violence and on wielding power by any means,” said Mike Isaacson, who is one of the founders of Smash Racism D.C., an antifa organization in Washington.
Isaacson is unequivocal in his defense of violence as a legitimate tool to combat the creeping threat of what he deems authoritarianism.
“There is the question of whether these people should feel safe organizing as Nazis in public, and I don’t think they should,” said Isaacson.
“I don’t think anyone should think that someone who is intent on politically organizing for the sake of creating a state-sponsored genocide — I don’t think is something that we should protect.”
On Sunday, antifa protesters hurled glass bottles and bricks at police officers monitoring a far-right march in Portland, Ore.
And the University of California, Berkeley, is bracing for the possibility of more violent clashes on Thursday, when conservative political commentator and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro is scheduled to speak.
As early as 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI warned state and local officials that antifa had become increasingly confrontational and were engaging in “domestic terrorist violence.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, has condemned antifa’s use of violence.
Liberal activist Cornel West, in contrast, said that antifa activists saved him and other counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., from “being crushed like cockroaches” by alt-right demonstrators.
Antifa is also deeply mistrustful of the police and often overlaps ideologically with anarchy, a political philosophy that Isaacson defines as a society built on cooperation and mutual aid. Isaacson, who is an anarchist, argues that in order to be successful, antifascism has to operate outside of government.
Others see evidence of a disproportionate police response to antifa activists, such as those who criticized law enforcement in Portland for firing rubber bullets and stun grenades into a crowd of antifa protesters on Sunday.
“The way law enforcement has reacted to the protests far exceeds the amount of danger involved, particularly when we talk about violence at far-right protests — because there is a long and deep history of murderous violence coming out of the far-right movements that continues up to today that far exceeds anything associated with antifa,” said Mike German, a former FBI agent who works on law enforcement issues at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.
Antifa’s use of violence continues to dominate the national conversation. In January, shortly after a black-clad protester attacked the far-right activist Richard Spencer, The New York Times mused: “Is it okay to punch a Nazi?”
Isaacson, for his part, has not engaged in the use of violent tactics himself, “if for no other reason than I’m rather slight of frame,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’m not so good in a fight.”