The protests that began Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia, have launched a radical movement to international recognition overnight. Antifa, a loosely structured movement within leftist politics, has been violently combatting the white supremacist presence in Charlottesville, inciting violence for what they claim is a just cause. Although it would be impossible to determine how big the Antifa movement is, these combative protesters have made themselves known in a big way.
Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a far-left political movement that believes in "anti-racist" violence, and it's been picking up steam since Donald Trump came into office. Earlier this year, Antifa activists were credited with vandalism at the University of Berkeley before a scheduled appearance by conservative pundit Milo Yiannopoulos, and some Antifa members allegedly caused a car fire during protests of Donald Trump's election. Some see the movement as a necessity to combat public displays of racism, while others argue that violence isn't acceptable as a means to an end.
The nature of the Antifa movement means it's almost impossible to measure how many people are actively participating. Antifa protesters often cover their faces to avoid being caught on security cameras, and participants may be traveling for different protests — in fact, there are Antifa identifiers not just in the United States, but around the world. Many Antifa activists also hide their identities online by keeping anonymous profiles.
The violence of the far right is not something that started yesterday. Their history of racist violence & racial hatred is why we fight them— New York City Antifa (@NYCAntifa) August 13, 2017
However, social media does give some indication of how many people are involved in the Antifa movement, but those numbers don't indicate a massive following. The New York City Antifa Twitter account has a little under 18,000 followers, and the account for Philadelphia only has about 6,000. The group's previously low profile has quickly dissolved — search interest in Antifa has exploded in the last 72 hours, according to Google Trends.
The question in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests is whether the Antifa movement will try to recruit new members and swell its ranks. Not many people knew about Antifa before this incident, but a whole new pool of potential activists has opened up now that the movement is receiving mainstream publicity. If Antifa chapters engage in grassroots organizing, they could create a new generation of Antifa protesters, which could theoretically, in turn, create more violence.
The fringe nature and extreme commitment required of movements like Antifa mean that they will always be limited in size. However, this feels like an unprecedented time in race relations. The Antifa movement may grow significantly in response to the events in Charlottesville as more Americans are exposed to the movement's radical perspective.