Sunday, September 03, 2017

Antifa Madness

There's something wrong with this Politico story by Josh Meyer that is getting huge play in the rightwing outlets with the claim that the so-called antifa is now officially regarded as practitioners of "domestic terrorist violence":
Federal authorities have been warning state and local officials since early 2016 that leftist extremists known as “antifa” had become increasingly confrontational and dangerous, so much so that the Department of Homeland Security formally classified their activities as “domestic terrorist violence,” according to interviews and confidential law enforcement documents obtained by POLITICO.
It's that after that opening graf you can't find any information about how that DHS "formal classification" is sourced. Interviews and documents are cited, but none of them say that. They say that
A senior state law enforcement official said, “A whole bunch of them” have been deemed dangerous enough to be placed on U.S. terrorism watch lists.
and that
recent FBI and DHS reports confirm they are actively monitoring “conduct deemed potentially suspicious and indicative of terrorist activity” by antifa groups.
and that federal officials launched an investigation in spring 2016
To determine whether the U.S.-based anarchists might start committing terrorist bombings like their counterparts in “foreign anarchist extremist movements” in Greece, Italy and Mexico, possibly at the Republican and Democratic conventions that summer.
They did show up at the Republican convention, where Alex Jones charged them rhinoceros-fashion with a megaphone in one hand and then fled in fright, but escaped with the assistance of the police, who saw no reason to arrest anybody. But there's no indication that DHS and FBI have even determined that there is a group in a coherent sense, let alone "formally classifying" it as anything.

That first paragraph is either a gross editing blunder or a silly clickbait lie, but I'm starting to think, beyond that, that there could be a lot less to this antifa story in general than meets the eye. And here's something else weird: Dr. Google finds me an instance of a government labeling antifa as "domestic terrorists", but it's not the US government: it's New Jersey, according to Kim Kelly for Al-Jazeera:
On June 12, 2017, New Jersey's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP) added a new name to its list of "domestic terrorist" threats: Antifa.
The report characterises "Antifa" as a group of "anarchist extremists" who "focus on issues involving racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, as well as other perceived injustices..."
New Jersey's OHSP doesn't seem to know that DHS has "formally classified" antifa as a domestic terrorist group, which suggests to me that it hasn't happened. The linked report, which looks sophisticated on the level of something from the Reefer Madness era, doesn't mention DHS or the FBI anywhere, though it does discuss things on a national scale, possibly because antifa doesn't do much, or actually anything, in Jersey:
  • Jersey-based anarchist groups are affiliated with the Antifa movement and are opposed to “fascism,” racism, and law enforcement. Antifa groups coordinate regionally and have participated in protests in New York City and Philadelphia. There are three loosely organized chapters in New Jersey, known as the North Jersey Antifa, the South Jersey Antifa, and the HubCity Antifa New Brunswick (Middlesex County).
  • In December 2016, a group known as the Antifascist Action-Nebraska engaged in a doxing campaign against a prominent member of American Vanguard, a white supremacist organization. The group published his personal information on several social media platforms and posted fliers on the University of Nebraska Omaha campus, calling for his expulsion.
  • On March 28, a small fight occurred between Antifa members and supporters of the US President during a rally in Seaside Heights (Ocean County).  Because of advance publicity about the event on social media, local and state law enforcement officers were able to keep altercations to a minimum.
Etc., with a total of eight incidents altogether. That trio of enemies—fascism in scare quotes, racism, and law enforcement—is a pretty cute gesture. I wonder if Politico's "senior state law enforcement official" might have been from the Garden State. Maybe it's Governor Christie!

You see where I'm going with this? I'm sure there are literally hundreds of young folk calling themselves anarchists and similar names, as there have been for decades, running around the US from demonstration to demonstration, towards whom I have a partially indulgent but critical attitude, because I think even the most systematic anarchist thinking is utopian and sentimental, but can't help admiring the fervor of their engagement; and I think some young people calling themselves anarchists or anti-fascists or what have you showing up for demonstrations have an unfortunate willingness to mix it up with anybody on the right who's looking for a fight, which I think is morally questionable and tactically messed up, a "major gift to the right", as Noam Chomsky is saying; and I know a number of people are using the word "antifa". But I'm starting to think it doesn't add up to being a thing.

Somebody wants us to think it's a thing—the same kinds of people who want us to think there's an "alt-left", as a sinister counterpart to the actually existing and formally constituted organizations of he right listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to spread fear like the Red Scare of 1919 or the marijuana terror of the 1930s, and to put the existing left, such as it is, on the defensive, building up since the Trump election and the huge anti-Trump demonstrations with some rowdiness and occasional violence on the fringes, and above all in the face of Trump's support from real Nazis and Klansmen as evidenced by the murderous rightist mob in Charlottesville.

I think it's a major gift the right is giving itself. I think rather than trying to defend "antifa" or insist that it's not as bad as the Christian Identity movement or the Ku Klux Klan, I'm going to stop entertaining the concept that it really exists.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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