The now infamous Antifa movement made itself known to the country in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, counter-protesting, sometimes violently, against a white supremacist rally in the historic Southern city. The counter-protesters are attracting significant criticism from nearly the entire political spectrum, and many are saying the far-left activists are just as bad as the far-right ones. But there's one significant difference between Antifa and many of the other groups represented in Charlottesville right now — Antifa is not a hate group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center outlined its criteria for hate groups in a 2016 memo on why Black Lives Matter can't be classified as such. "Generally speaking, hate groups are, by our definition, those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity," wrote Richard Cohen, the organization's president. That means that Antifa wouldn't qualify either, since the movement's focus is on ideology, not demography, just like Black Lives Matter.
The SPLC doesn't include anti-fascism on its list of extremist ideologies (the alt-right made the cut because of its core "white identity" belief, alongside the Ku Klux Klan, and Neo-Nazism). However, the FBI defines violent extremism as “encouraging, condoning, justifying, or supporting the commission of a violent act to achieve political, ideological, religious, social, or economic goals.” Antifa does seems to meet that definition of extremism.
Antifa seems like a hate group to many — a Change.org petition asking the president to declare Antifa a terrorist organization has more than 90,000 signatures. "Terrorism is, in its broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror or fear, in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim," the petition reads. "ANTIFA have demonstrated time and time again that they're more than willing and able to fill these criteria."
But for others, Antifa seems like a natural response to this extreme moment in politics that the nation is experiencing. In July, Salon writer and podcast host Chauncey DeVega spoke with members of an anti-fascist and labor organization, who said Antifa isn't a group, but an organizing strategy.
"Antifa is not a group of people," the unnamed anti-fascist representative said. "It has a long legacy in this country of people resisting white supremacy, from slave rebellions all the way to the present."
Bottom line: Opinions on whether Antifa should be classified as a hate group are certainly divided, but it does not fit the current guidelines to be described as one.