Matthew Whitley, August 5, 2020
We have arrived at a bizarre junction in American history; today to be an anti-fascist is to be declared a terrorist. Authorities in need of an enemy, any enemy, to justify their crackdown on the ongoing protests for racial justice have settled on anarchists and “antifa,” a shortening of anti-fascist or anti-fascist action. As an anti-fascist and anarchist organizer, I can tell you that we should never have been made the focus of the national rebellion sparked by the killing of George Floyd. But now that politicians have dragged us into the spotlight and demonized us, it’s important that we collectively confront their divisive rhetoric and stand in solidarity with each other.
Amidst a global pandemic and economic crisis, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police set off an uprising that has touched the entire U.S. and gone worldwide. A popular revolt of people of color against the carceral system, whether police violence, extractive ticketing and fines, mass incarceration or punitive lawmaking, has finally brought systemic change to the table. What were once considered utopian proposals are now being debated in earnest: defunding police forces, mass decriminalization, the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and community self-management of public security.
Status quo politicians, police chiefs, and administrators of all political perspectives are seeing their power slipping in the face of this rebellion. Rather than addressing the movement’s liberatory demands, they have embarked on a campaign to divide and subvert the movement, with warnings of supposed provocateurs and dangerous elements characterized as anarchists and antifa. A cynical strategy intended to turn the movement against itself and to provide cover for the brutal tactics employed against demonstrators.
Anyone who has been in the streets the past two months can tell you that this is a generalized youth rebellion, primarily of black and brown people, without any dominant political tendency. But we know how little politicians care about reality itself, and this is unlikely to be a shield from the repression and propaganda currently focused on the anti-authoritarian left.
Sitting legislators have tweeted about anti-fascists as “terrorists,” one suggesting “hunting them down” like “we do in the Middle East.” Congressional candidates and right-wing businesses have brandished rifles in “anti-Antifa” ads. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is treating anti-fascists “like Al-Qaeda” to allow intrusive domestic surveillance. Trump himself (along with his Attorney General) has echoed the symbology of fascist Germany while declaring anti-fascists “domestic terrorists.” At the very moment that many of the ideas anarchists and anti-fascists have been fighting for are getting a broad hearing for the first time—direct democracy, socialism and economic justice, the replacement of police with community institutions, and prison abolition—we’re being demonized as barbarian nihilists.
Serious journalists note the irony, as even the FBI acknowledges that the racist far-right is the most murderous “domestic threat” in the country. “Antifa,” in its struggle against this threat, has not claimed a single life while being remarkably effective. A fact you’d think would be celebrated by progressives who claim to stand with marginalized communities. Yet it’s anti-fascists who not only receive wildly disproportionate vitriol from law enforcement and the right, but from staunch “liberals” as well.
That the supposed political center is playing along, including many elected Democrats, is what makes this moment uniquely dangerous. Their own sordid histories with police, including “super predators” and support for the “broken windows” policy, has left them vulnerable as well. They, too, are desperate for a narrative that places them on the right side of the issue. Even Joe Biden recently found it necessary to call for the prosecution of “anarchists and arsonists,” as if the criminalization of the movement wasn’t already underway or extreme enough. Why would he do this? Because no “progressive” politician can admit they endorse what amounts to martial law lite to repress black and brown people in our country, they have instead settled on repressing “antifa.” This, they say, is the shadowy enemy sowing destruction and why they are justified in sending the military to crush demonstrations.
Antifa, however, is not an organization, “shadowy” or otherwise, but is simply a shared ideal borne of the original struggle against fascism almost a century ago, and to which any group or person may subscribe. There are, however, anti-fascist groups that dedicate themselves to exposing and countering far-right organizing. The anti-authoritarian left–anarchists, libertarian socialists, social democrats, and others–have long supported this work, in part through their presence at demonstrations and counter-actions and in part through research and information sharing. These groups are made up of real people, at real risk of violence and incarceration if we allow their demonization to continue.
As well as being used as an excuse to crack down on the George Floyd rebellion, antifa has also become a “dog whistle” to stoke racial division and divide the movement, a shorthand used by those in power for “white”: a bitter fact, since it erases not only the many anti-fascist people of color, but also their long work against supremacists of all creeds. In short, anti-fascists are people of all types, races, and ethnicities, broadly committed to an egalitarian future and the necessity of struggle against white supremacy and oppression. The Trump presidency itself has only made anti-fascism more diverse, transforming “antifa” from something you’d associate with a tight knit group of organizers into a grassroots mass movement.
Are anarchists and anti-fascists—who have always stood against Trump, police violence, and the carceral system—in the streets showing solidarity with the George Floyd uprising? Absolutely.
Are they the masterminds of this revolt? Absolutely not.
While the authorities make a show of searching for “violent anarchists,” they know very well that we organize in the open, and that we have websites, meetings, social media platforms, and mailing lists. We are only one part of a mass movement whose very purpose is to be open and to support our communities.
It’s this popular movement, and not anarchist and anti-fascist organizers, that truly scares establishment politicians—from Trump to Cuomo. Sowing division is a time-tested strategy and they hope it will work here. As part of this strategy, those of us who openly organize as anarchists and anti-fascists are now likely to be high on the list of casualties of the current repression. We ask you to extend your hand.If you take a moment to explore the diverse movements for indigenous democracy, anti-racist struggle, and women’s liberation that have been inspired by anarchist and anti-fascist principles you will likely find that our beliefs resonate. Unwillingly shoved in the spotlight, we have to speak up for ourselves and remind others that we look nothing like the portrait painted by those in power. But we don’t want to have to appeal for support right now. We don’t want to be the narrative. We would rather focus on our real objectives—building a just future of popular democracy, racial justice, and economic equality. In order to do this, however, we must not allow them to divide and demonize. We must stand in solidarity, together, in the fight against the common enemy of white supremacy.
Matthew Whitley is a writer, poet, researcher and anarchist organizer with the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council – MACC NYC. He is currently a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center. His research is focused on alternative economies in the Kurdish Freedom Movement. He also serves on the steering committee of the Emergency Committee for Rojava and co-edits the radical artists’ imprint Cicada Press.
His work has appeared in various publications and exhibitions including N+1, Syrian Democratic Times, The Brooklyn Rail, Translit (St. Petersburg), and in “Vertical Reach: Political Violence & Militant Aesthetics,” organized under Yale’s “Utopia after Utopia” research initiative. His poetry chapbook, “Do You Like the Word Crisis?”, was published by Commune Editions in 2019.