Why the Media Refuses to Understand Antifa

From The Pacific Standard:  https://psmag.com/social-justice/understanding-antifa

While establishment pundits fret over civility, the antifascist movement in America is working for peace.

Aug 31, 2017

For months, the American public has debated how best to confront the fascist right as its members attempt to build power. Now, after being chased out of Boston and then the Bay Area, America’s white-power activists seem to be on their collective back foot for the first time in over a year. How did this happen, and what can we learn about how to keep them in retreat?

Among those on the broadly defined left, the main strategic split with regard to fascists has been between those who favor prevention by any means (up to and including physical confrontation), and those who think it’s best to let the marketplace of ideas take care of their worthless ideology. Call it antifa versus free speech. A lot of people have changed their position on this in reaction to unfolding events, but the poles have remained intact. Antifa still wants to bash the fash, and free-speechers still want to tease the KKK into obscurity like Superman did. Somehow, both sides still think they’re right.

It’s important to note the antifa/free speech division doesn’t split evenly between liberals and the far left. There are capital-D Democrats like former congressman John Dingell, who tweeted “I signed up to fight Nazis 73 years ago and I’ll do it again if I have to,” and there are ex-revolutionaries like Todd Gitlin who think antifascism is “alienating.”

The free speech crowd certainly does know how to speak, and their central success has been publishing articles that reinforce the idea that antifa scares away allies and emboldens the right. These pundits clearly do speak for a segment of the population, and it’s possible that black bloc outfits and videos of street fighting—touted incessantly by right-wing media—are turning them away from the antifascist cause. The more alienated these observers feel, the more correct they consider themselves in condemning antifa. But antifa isn’t trying to earn the support of 51 percent of any electorate. Our main concern is winning, and we don’t need nearly that many people to do it.

The chaos and brutality in Charlottesville showed what’s at stake, and what happens when antifascists are outnumbered. Fascists showed up hoping to hurt people, a posture that gave them a fighting advantage when both sides were equal in strength. Antifascists were able to protect other activists from further harm and possible death, while the struggle of Corey Long and Deandre Harris and the martyrdom of Heather Heyer inspired nationwide introspection—even if President Donald Trump thought about it and landed on the wrong answer. It’s hard to watch this footage and not conclude that standing up to white supremacists—literally just standing—requires conscious self-defense.

People were horrified by the white-nationalist show of strength in Charlottesville. But since then, fascists attempting to maintain their momentum have instead crashed into a brick wall. In Boston and San Francisco, thousands of antifascists flooded the streets to shut them down, leading to a reversal of the infamous torch march pictures: a few dozen white supremacists, surrounded by the outraged citizenry. Compared to Charlottesville, the violence was minimal, and that’s how it’s supposed to work. When antifa wins, there’s little fighting, and participants move on to other things, like disaster relief; when the fascists win, there are death camps.

Luckily, the free speech side is right about one thing: Fascists are not a dominant force in American politics, their West Wing access notwithstanding. If we want to make them feel deeply unwelcome and vastly outnumbered, antifascists don’t need everyone to the left of the KKK to show up ready to throw down. A 10- or 20-to-one anti-to-fa ratio is sufficient, which means we’re talking about minor-league baseball attendance numbers here, tops. And I don’t mean a 10,000-person black bloc: a small militant core can protect a broad diversity of antifascists. That’s what Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer saw in Berkeley: “Many attendees expressed surprise at the unprecedented level of coordination between groups that don’t always get along,” he wrote.

Continue reading at:  https://psmag.com/social-justice/understanding-antifa

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