Kim Kelly: The grunt work of antifascism

In the months leading up to the Unite the Right 2 rally in Washington, D.C., my anti-fascist group spent untold hours preparing for the worst. Given that several of us had barely survived the neo-Nazi event’s first incarnation in Charlottesville, VA, the year prior, we expected to have to deal with violence from the rally attendees and from the police protecting them, and we planned accordingly by investing time in self-defence and offensive training, gathering medical supplies to assemble personal medic kits, getting protective clothing, planning our day-of communications strategies, researching the groups we expected to attend, and scouting the area of downtown D.C. in which we expected the fascists to march and then rally.

When, after all that, the most action we saw was less than two dozen fascists standing dejectedly in a park, then being coddled and gently led to safety by thousands of police, we were relieved – but glad that we’d been over-prepared. After having seen Heather Heyer draw her last breath, I never want to repeat that experience with another comrade. The Unite the Right 2 rally itself was a dismal failure, and should have been hailed as a massive win for anti-fascists, except the media spent all of its energy working to undermine our efforts and cast us in the most negative light possible. After a few photographers barged into the Black Bloc and tussled with several people therein, the media launched into its predictable “violent antifa” narrative, with no mention of the way our years of careful and strategic organizing have contributed to the downfall of the alt-right. Come on.

It’s a familiar tune by now: the blaring headlines, panicked pundits, and screaming sound bites howling about “antifa terror” whenever a group of protesters in masks disrupts a far-right event. Whether it’s in Berkeley or in Boston, Toronto or Tucson, the spectre of antifa haunts the far-right extremists’ efforts to organize publicly. However, despite the demonstrable impact that anti-fascist activism has had upon the extreme right wing’s ability to gain power, the very concept of anti-fascism has been vilified in the press, and reduced to a seemingly endless stream of pearl-clutching editorials and riot porn. Fox News once warned of an “antifa apocalypse” and regularly reports on “antifa violence” in their website’s “crime” section. The Washington Post ran an op-ed titled, “Yes, antifa is the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis.” Another op-ed, this time in The Hill, opined, “Antifa is not a political movement; it’s a delusional, violent outburst.”

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