Violence erupted between Donald Trump supporters and anti-racist protesters at the Martin Luther King Civic Center Park on Sunday in Berkeley. Thousands of anti-protesters critical of the Trump administration, as well as right-wing organizers, gathered in the streets to denounce their rivals. But if you saw photos emerge from the Berkeley rally, you might be wondering about the anti-fascist protesters, better known as Antifa, and why its members wears black masks.
You might have already seen the leftist activists at protests and rallies before. Whether it was to protest the United States' invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009 or to demonstrate against the G20 summit in 2010 or to simply raise a collective voice against the Trump administration, Antifa has been fairly active in terms of expressing its dissension with state politics. Now, the Antifa movement has gained even more prominence with its tactics against far-right white supremacist mobilization.
In terms of physical appearance, Antifa members use the Black Bloc tactic which involves wearing head-to-toe black apparel and covering their faces with black masks or balaclavas. The reason for this is fairly simple. The black masks conceal the identities of activists and also lend an element of uniformity and solidarity among members.
At Berkeley's Sunday rally, several reports of antagonism from Antifa protesters surfaced as one had apparently threatened to break the cameras of journalists for recording Antifa activists. Another reporter accused an Antifa protester of using pepper spray on him. For reasons like this, the movement has attracted quite a bit of criticism from both liberal and conservative commentators.
On the left spectrum of politics, specifically, Antifa's tactics of direct confrontation and all-black obscured identity is supported by some while rejected by others. Those in support of the movement's more confrontational strategies — such as getting into scuffles with the police and physically attacking far-right white supremacists — insist that the rise of Neo-Nazism in the United States warrants a leftist and progressive response that is not afraid to make use of judicious and collective violence. But those who criticize the movement tend to use an argument based on moral equivalency and believe that there is no difference between either side if both resort to outbursts of fury. Naturally, the debate goes on.
So now you know why Antifa members wear black masks. The movement firmly believes in anonymity and the Black Bloc tactic of full-face covering seems to be the most efficient way to obscure individual identities of protesters and provide a unified front in the form of a sea of black-clad marchers.