As Langston Hughes said in 1936, "Fascism is a new name for that kind of terror the Negro has always faced in America."
Antifa means anti-fascist. Do you believe in and support fascism? Do you believe in white supremacy? Do you believe in organized and individual violence to maintain hierarchies, order, and the status quo? Do you believe in coercion to impose and police consent? If your answer is no, you are an anti-fascist—a simple, necessary, and urgent position to take. Fascism is a historical phenomenon with different names, ideologies, and actions to operationalize those ideologies into actions, laws, policies, and culture.
In 2017, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, white men with tiki torches paraded chanting, "you will not replace us." The next day, James Alex Fields Jr. intentionally drove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Hayer and injuring 35 others. This was not the first public gathering of white supremacists, but we should consider what it means to live in an "after-Charlottesville world." More than ever, it's a time in need of an accessible history of anti-fascist organizing.
Mark Bray explores the long 20th and 21st-century history of anti-fascist organizing in Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
This is the first book in English to examine this transnational trajectory of political movements and community self-defense: "As long as there has been fascism, there has been anti-fascism—also known as "Antifa." Born out of resistance to Mussolini and Hitler in Europe during the 1920s and '30s, the antifa movement has suddenly burst into the headlines amidst opposition to the Trump administration and the alt-right….Simply, antifa aims to deny fascists the opportunity to promote their oppressive politics, and to protect tolerant communities from acts of violence promulgated by fascists. Critics say shutting down political adversaries is anti-democratic; antifa adherents argue that the horrors of fascism must never be allowed the slightest chance to triumph again."
There's a discourse in the media about Antifa being against free speech. Yet, as a 2017 New Yorker Magazine article reports, Peter Tefft, an open white nationalist, explains, "The thing about us fascists is, it's not that we don't believe in freedom of speech," Tefft reportedly said to his father. "You can say whatever you want. We'll just throw you in an oven." NPR ran this story about the Tefft family with the headline, "After son is ID'd at a supremacist rally, his father responds publicly."
That last part, the threat of carrying out of deadly violence that has many historical examples, is why Antifa activists engage with direct action against white nationalists and the alt-right.
From the New Yorker: "Bray concedes that the practice of disrupting Fascist rallies and events could be construed as a violation of the right to free speech and assembly—but he contends that such protections are meant to prevent the government from arresting citizens, not to prevent citizens from disrupting one another's speech. Speech is already curtailed in the U.S. by laws related to "obscenity, incitement to violence, copyright infringement, press censorship during wartime," and "restrictions for the incarcerated," Bray points out. Why not add one more restriction—curtailing hate speech—as many European democracies do?"
While fascism names a particular articulation of violent domination and eugenic logics of genocide and order, as a scholar of the Black Radical Tradition, Cedric Robinson writes, "from the perspective of many non-Western people, however, the occurrence of fascism—that is militarism, imperialism, racialist authoritarianism, choreographed mob violence, millenarian crypto-Christian mysticism, and a nostalgic nationalism—was no more a historical aberration than colonialism, the slave trade, and slavery. Fascism was and is a modern social discipline [of domination] which much like its genetic predecessors, Christianity, imperialism, nationalism, sexism, and racism, provided the means for the ascent to and preservation of power for elitists."
For more on the "Unite the Right Rally," see this PBS documentary, Documenting Hate: Charlottesville. For a history of white power in the USA since the 1970s, see Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. "The white power movement in America wants a revolution. Its soldiers are not lone wolves but highly organized cadres motivated by a coherent and deeply troubling worldview made up of white supremacy, virulent anticommunism, and apocalyptic faith…, a movement that consolidated in the 1970s and 1980s around a potent sense of betrayal in the Vietnam War and made tragic headlines in Waco and Ruby Ridge and with the Oklahoma City bombing and is resurgent under President Trump." Democracy Now recently filed this story, "We are Proud Boys."
The Anti-Fascist Handbook is also a primer on what should be done to stay vigilant in the fight against fascism.