Some Answers to Questions About Antifa (full series)
What Is Antifa? | Where Did Antifa Come From?
What Does Antifa Want? | Who Supports Antifa?
What Does Antifa Want?
Broadly speaking, Antifa is defined by opposition to an expansively defined concept of “fascism” combined with support for a comparatively narrow spectrum of far-left and anarchic ideologies.
Opposition to fascism is the essence of Antifa. The first of the Torch Network’s five Points of Unity—which it requires officially affiliated chapters to adopt—is simply that “we disrupt fascist and far right organizing and activity.” As Hemingway notes, this makes Antifa both simple as an “oppositional movement” and complex because of the obvious subjective difficulty in defining “fascism.” Bray writes that anti-fascism is “applied to fighting the Far Right, not only literal fascists.”
Rose City Antifa’s definition of “fascism” is illustrative. To them, it must exhibit a majority of 12 characteristics. Some are indeed hallmarks of genuine fascist movements—things like advocating for a racially or ethnically based concept of a “nation” and scapegoating people excluded from that “nation” as the cause of various societal problems. That’s Nazism in a nutshell. The Antifa groups that counterprotested the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis, Klansmen and other white nationalists reportedly chanted “Jews will not replace us” (among other things) and carried swastika flags, were indeed confronting actual fascists.
But other characteristics, apparently given equal weight by Rose City Antifa, would describe a vast number of decidedly non-fascist Americans. For example, “ultra-nationalism” based upon a shared cultural or historical identity (as opposed to racial or ethnic)—what some might simply term patriotism—is a “fascist” trait. So is opposition to unions and organized labor groups, an apparent black mark on at least a third of Americans.
Additional fascist characteristics like “authoritarianism, often centered around a single, charismatic leader” are highly subjective. And the characteristic of “anti-elitist populist rhetoric to appeal to the ‘common man,’ coupled with internal elitism and willingness to accept support from existing elites” is probably a fair characterization of many (if not most) American elected officials from either major party. Such politicians are many things, but “fascist” isn’t one of them.
This may explain some of the more perplexing “fascists” identified as such by Antifa. Author Shane Burley has remarked that Antifa tactics like “no-platforming” are controversial because they have “been extended to people who aren’t consensus Nazis,” though he apparently blames “the Trump effect” for this. Hemingway has written that in Portland, Antifa’s definition of fascism “includes the Republican Party.” Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s home was targeted by an Antifa group in 2018. And after Biden was inaugurated in 2021, anti-fascist rioters attacked the Portland office of the Democratic Party of Oregon, marching under the banner “We don’t want Biden.”
Indeed, Antifa’s contempt extends to much of American society as a whole, particularly governmental institutions and police. One of the Torch Network’s Points of Unity declares that “cops uphold white supremacy and the status quo. They attack us and everyone who resists oppression.” Rose City Antifa believes, “The state upholds white supremacy at every level of government.” Antifa Seven Hills—based in Richmond, Virginia—opposes “capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. We therefore stand against politicians, NGOs, and the police, all of whom have a vested interest in maintaining these structures of oppression.”
But Antifa has another dimension beyond simply fighting “fascists,” no matter how expansively that term is defined. Bray notes that “at a certain point destroying fascism is really about promoting a revolutionary socialist alternative.” As a rule, Antifa groups espouse left-wing to far-left views, though the specifics can vary. Some are more Marxist, while others are more anarchist. Antifa Seven Hills, for example, characterizes its membership as “communists and anarchists united in militant opposition.”
The Torch Network’s Points of Unity are once more instructive. Point Three affirms the goal of building “a broad, strong movement of oppressed people centered on the working class” in order to achieve a “classless, free society.” That is distinctly Marxist language. Notably, support for “abortion rights and reproductive freedom” is also a required unity point. This suggests that pro-life views are considered incompatible with Antifa, no matter how radical one’s other politics might be.
A recent and oft-cited proxy for the sort of community envisioned by Antifa was the (relatively) short-lived Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), set up in downtown Seattle for several weeks during the summer of 2020. Abandoned by police and other emergency services, the area devolved into a “lawless and brutal” attempt at real-world implementation of an anarchic radical-left vision. Although CHAZ was considerably more complex than would justify its reduction to simply an “Antifa zone,” Antifa groups had a notable presence there. Early demands submitted by some CHAZ representatives are difficult to distinguish from what one might expect from an Antifa group.
In the next installment, look at the sources of Antifa’s funding.