The Meaning Of Antifa Has Its Roots In 1930s Germany

by Kelly Tunney
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As various groups on two opposing sides clashed in Charlottesville, VA on Friday and Saturday, another group emerged in the consciousness of the left. Many who identify as progressive are aware of the various alt-right groups: extremists like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. But lesser discussed are the extremists on the left. The Antifa, or anti-fascists, have violently opposed fascist principles, and reportedly showed up in Charlottesville to counter-protest the far-right's opposition of Gen. Robert E. Lee's statue removal.

While kind of a wide-ranging philosophy, Fascism generally promotes authoritarianism and extreme national pride. Antifa, which opposes fascism, has been around for decades now. In fact, it was formed in 1932 to fight against the Nazi party itself in Germany. Now, it's been especially vocal since President Donald Trump's electoral victory sparked a resurgence. There have been multiple clashes between Antifa and the alt-right, for example, just over the past several months.

Although countless Americans heard about or participated in the Women's March following Inauguration Day festivities in January, people may not be aware that an Antifa demonstration actually took place at the same time that day. More specifically, the Disrupt J20 Inauguration Day protests took to the streets to disrupt the inaugural process. According to The Nation, members of the group formed blockades, smashed windows, started fires, and even burned a limo.

So if you read about the more than 200 arrests during Inauguration weekend, most of those arrests weren't from the Women's March, a largely peaceful gathering of women and Americans who want to stand up for those who have been marginalized. It was supposedly members of Antifa, not the Women's March, who had violently protested Trump's appointment to the presidency.

Antifa doesn't seem to have a mission beyond striking down fascism, but the fact that the group is willing to resort to violence to meet its goals has caused concern. One of the tactics they use is called "black bloc," in which they dress in black and cause chaos or violence.

James Anderson, who helps run an anarchist, Antifa site called It's Going Down, spoke with the BBC about the group's mission after Charlottesville. "This is about popular power," he said. "Sometimes that looks controversial — but this is a broad movement, and we are looking to engage a wide variety of people."

It's important to note that Antifa is anything but a standalone ideal or movement. Instead, it's a reaction to the new administration and to the feeling that democracy is in trouble.