Following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend, the Antifa, or anti-fascist movement, has garnered significant attention and curiosity. Although many Americans have ever heard of the far-left political ideology, it's actually older than most people realize. The origins of the Antifa movement date back nearly a century, to a strikingly similar period of global history to what the world is experiencing today.
Antifa is a movement more than a distinctly organizing group, and the movement's roots trace all the way back to the beginnings of World War II. Following the first World War, physical destruction and austerity measures took a toll on the national morale in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Spain. People turned to fascism as a way of feeling protected — strongman leaders like Hitler and Mussolini promised a better, safer world, so long as they got to make all the decisions. Not everyone was on board with fascism though, leading the Antifa, anti-fascists, to violently fight against the authoritarian government in the streets.
But after the war, a global movement away from fascism meant that the movement died down. According to The Atlantic, the Antifa survived in the British punk scene during the '70s and '80s, when neo-Nazis tried to recruit hardcore punk rockers. When the Berlin Wall came down, Nazism also had a resurgence in Germany that Antifa activists were more than happy to squash.
The movement's American history started sometime around the '80s, too, centering around music in a similar fashion as the British Antifa scene. Punk, then grunge, far-left fans travelled around with their favorite bands, trying to prevent skinheads from spreading their ideology within the community. By the 2000s when the Internet came around, the transatlantic Antifa community has all communicating and generally sharing the same name.
The origins of the Antifa movement can help people cut through some of the emotionally charged rhetoric surrounding the word in the wake of the Charlottesville protests. Many people have even been comparing Antifa activists to American WWII veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy to violently fight against a racist fascist. While the violence and physical damage that Antifa protestors have caused in recent months may seem unbecoming, it's part of a proud tradition of standing up to those who promote a racist, fascist society, through any means necessary.
Antifa is a morally complex ideology that the United States is having a difficult time talking about, as Peter Beinart wrote for The Atlantic, the modern movement in America boils down to one question: "If you believe the president of the United States is leading a racist, fascist movement that threatens the rights, if not the lives, of vulnerable minorities, how far are you willing to go to stop it?"