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Who Are The ‘Anti-Fascists’ Fighting the ‘Alt-Right’?

Protests against President Donald Trump brought a range of groups into the streets last week. Throngs of protestors wore pink “pussy hats” and chanted, “When they go low, we go high!”

Others covered their faces, smashed windows and punched white nationalist Richard Spencer in the face.

The more extreme actions are the work of anti-fascist activists, often called “antifa” for short.

What is antifa?

Activists who call themselves “antifa” proscribe to a set of tactics that have developed since the early 20th century as a confrontational response to fascists. Their practices are informed by militant left-wing politics and anarchist politics.

Organizers from anti-fascist site Antifa NYC told the progressive outlet The Nation: “Antifa combines radical left-wing and anarchist politics, revulsion at racists, sexists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes, with the international anti-fascist culture of taking the streets and physically confronting the brownshirts of white supremacy, whoever they may be.”

How do they organize?

There is no central “antifa” organization. The term can refer to a range of groups and individuals loosely associated with one another. There are dozens of groups across the country that may identify as anti-fascists.

Are they violent?

They can be. As opposed to other anti-racist organizations, like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, “antifa” activists may confront groups they identify as fascists directly — using whatever tactics deemed necessary.

The antifascist “Good Night White Pride” emblem is drawn from a 1998 confrontation between the KKK and anti-fascist organizations in Michigan.

Mark Pitcavage, a research fellow, for the ADL’s Center on Extremism said that “antifa” activists often turn out, in large numbers, to white supremacist rallies, such as those put on by racist skinheads or the Klu Klux Klan.

In those cases, “there is a very real chance of physical altercations between white supremacists and ‘antifas,’” Pitcavage said.

The ADL encourages anti-racists protestors to organize “unity rallies” held in separate locations, and discourages counter-rallies.

What does ‘antifa’ say about the “alt-right”?

While an earlier generation of white supremacists, like the KKK, would hold real world rallies or marches, the “alt-right” white nationalists are organized largely online.

“Good Night Alt-Right” recasts an earlier anti-fascist emblem and pictures a masked protestor punching the “alt-right” cartoon icon Pepe the Frog.

This has meant that “antifa” have also switched some of their tactics, too. “Antifas” have been known to “dox,” or release private identifying information, about online white nationalists who would otherwise have been anonymous.

But the “alt-right” is seeking to establish itself outside of internet forums. Spencer is mounting a campus tour for 2017 and is hoping to make a name for himself in Trump’s Washington D.C.

As the “alt-right” asserts real world influence, “antifa” are organizing in opposition.

Email Sam Kestenbaum at kestenbaum@forward.com

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