Where Did Antifa Come From? The Movement's Origins Go Back To Germany

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The violence in Charlottesville has almost every politician in the country, save President Trump, denouncing the white supremacist violence that resulted in the death of one counter-protestor Saturday and the injury of dozens more. The alt-right and neo-Nazis, however, would point the finger in another direction. According to leaders like Richard Spencer, the real instigators are Antifa, or anti-fascist, protestors. Many everyday Americans know little about the group, and are wondering where Antifa came from in the first place.

The Antifa movement has origins in several European countries in the early 20th century, particularly Germany and Italy, when fascism was a real and urgent concern. In Germany, it began during the rise of Hitler and it was far from perfect in its resistance to the rise of Nazism. For one, the German communist party and the German social democratic party never came to an agreement in their attempts to fight back. In Italy, a similar movement began as a response to Benito Mussolini's regime.

There are differing interpretations of how the name came about: BBC News, for example, reports that it is short for "anti-fascist." In Germany, one attempt to unite the left during that time period was called Antifascischistsche Aktion. From it, others believe the name "Antifa" was born.

As the leftist publication Jacobin explained, the movement did not completely die out before the end of World War II. Despite the decimation of the worker's movement during Hitler's reign, there was a small group of communists and social democrats that "reactivated" pre-war networks as soon as Allies came through to liberate German cities. In some places, like Wuppertal, Antifa fighters actually fought back against the Nazi forces even before the Allies arrived.

In Germany, the Allies stopped it, halting political action and preferring to incorporate lower level bureaucrats into the new, democratic Germany — even if they had been working for the Nazi administration during the war.

Since the Second World War, there has not been much visible action of the movement, but the rise of far right politics in the United States changed that. A few existing anti-racist groups from across the country began to organize themselves under the Antifa banner in 2013.

"Our understanding of what fascism is and how it relates to other political entities such as the working class, capital, and the state had evolved," the Torch Antifa group's website reads. "We wanted to build a new network that fit our needs and politics and one that was more relevant and appealing to a new generation of anti-fascists."

Trump's election further emboldened white supremacists across the country, and that has seen an increase in Antifa actions. Some of the most blatant were the Disrupt J20 protests that were seen on Inauguration Day. Protestors fought with police, vandalized, and started fires in D.C. Another appearance came when Milo Yiannoupoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. Members of the group put the campus under siege, ultimately ending in the alt-right speaker's appearance being cancelled.

The group may be more recently established in the United States, but that won't keep it from repeating its counter-protests as seen in Charlottesville Saturday.