I recently testified on Antifa and the growing anti-free speech movement in the United States. I specifically disagreed with statements by Democrats denying that Antifa was playing a role in protests or, as House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler claimed, Antifa is a “myth.” This afternoon, FBI Director Chris Wray pushed back on similar claims and declared that “Antifa is a real thing” and that the FBI has various cases of self-identified Antifa members involved in criminal conduct.
As I have written, Antifa is more of a movement than a specific organization. However, it has long been the “Keyser Söze” of the anti-free speech movement, a loosely aligned group that employs measures to avoid easy detection or association. Wray stated “And we have quite a number — and I’ve said this quite consistently since my first time appearing before this committee — we have any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists and some of those individuals self-identify with Antifa.”
Wray was adamant: “Antifa is a real thing. It’s not a fiction” and, while it is not a conventional organization as opposed to a movement, they have arrested people who admit that they are Antifa.
I have repeatedly emphasized that extreme right groups are also responsible for recent violence and Wray made clear that far right violence still dominates in terms of a threat profile. Moreover, I have opposed declaring Antifa a terrorist organization. We have ample laws to deal with such extremist violence from the far left or far right. We do not need to rely on terrorism laws or most recently suggested sedition laws.
My greatest concern is that we need to take Antifa seriously as a virulent anti-free speech organization. There is a fair criticism of some politicians who have refused to denounce the group or even support it. Former Democratic National Committee deputy chair Keith Ellison, now the Minnesota attorney general, once said Antifa would “strike fear in the heart” of Trump. This was after Antifa had been involved in numerous acts of violence and its website was banned in Germany. His own son, Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison, declared his allegiance to Antifa in the heat of the protests this summer.
Again, I am less focused on Antifa’s role in recent rioting. It is clearly involved but there are many such groups working behind the scenes. My focus is on Antifa’s increasing presence on our campuses and faculty who are now espousing anti-free speech views or views that either support or rationalize violent conduct.
George Washington University student Jason Charter has been charged as the alleged “ringleader” of efforts to take down statues across the capital. Charter has been an active Antifa member on campus for years. Following his arrest, he claimed the “movement is winning.” It is winning. It is winning mostly since people remain silent. Silence kills free speech. Antifa knows that.