As we have previously discussed, there has been a bizarre denial in the face of Antifa violence throughout the country. It is particularly difficult to understand since one can acknowledge the violence of Antifa groups while recognizing the violence of far right groups. Yet, that does not fit the narrative in this political environment where every allegation seems to be part of a some zero-sum game of blame. The latest example is Professor of Criminology and Terrorism Studies at UMass-Lowell Arie Perliger, who told The Lowell Sun, that there is absolutely no evidence of organized violence by Antifa. The assertion is astonishing given the extensive evidence of such violence for years on the campuses and streets of the country.
Perliger has been marketing his new book, American Zealots: Inside Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism. When asked about left-wing violence by such groups as Antifa, Perliger is immediately dismissive: “As for Antifa, currently there is no evidence that the group was involved in any planned campaign of violent attacks.” He insisted that, while he had studied left-wing groups extensively, “if new data will show differently then, as any reasonable person does, I will need to reevaluate my views.”
I think that such a serious reevaluation in order.
I testified in the Senate on Antifa and its history of violence on our campuses and streets. As I have written, Antifa is indeed more of a movement than a specific organization, but it has members and associated groups. Indeed, 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. FBI Director Wray told Congress “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.”
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. Yet, Antifa is more than some “idea” and it has a discernible and violent organization. Indeed, the Antifa Handbook discusses how it uses an association of groups, including self-identified Antifa groups, to carry out attacks on critics and those with opposing views.
There are a variety of Antifa groups with long history of organized violence including Rose City Antifa. The RCA is arguably the oldest reference to “Antifa” in the United States was the Rose City Antifa (RCA) in Portland, Oregon. In 2013, various groups that were part of ARA, including RCA, formed a new coordinating organization referred to as the “Torch Network.” I detailed the violence of these groups in my Senate testimony”
“The signature of the group is a self-righteous, rage-fueled violence that parallels the fascistic groups that they claim to oppose. In 2002, ARA activists attacked a neo-Nazi demonstration. Twenty-eight ARA members were arrested but all of the charges were later dropped. In 2005, ARA protested National Socialist Movement (NSM) members in what became known as the 2005 Toledo Riot. Such counter protests by Antifa routinely result in violence. For example, in 2012, ARA members attacked a meeting of the Illinois European Heritage Association with hammers, bats and other weapons. Five members were convicted of assault and other crimes.That same year, almost two dozen members of the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement, part of ARA, broke into the “Fifth Annual White Nationalist Economic Summit and Illinois White Nationalist Meet-and-Greet,” a group containing white supremacists and white nationalists.The attack on the Ashford House Restaurant led to criminal convictions of five members. In 2016, a confrontation between neo-Nazi groups and Antifa counter protesters resulted in a violent brawl. Seven people were stabbed and nine others were injured. Although the exact affiliation of each of the victims is unknown, both neo-Nazis and Antifa members were among the victims. In 2017, Antifa members joined an otherwise nonviolent counter protest and attacked five neo-Nazis, kicking, punching, and pepper spraying them until stopped by police. Thirteen individuals were arrested on charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and other violations. On July 13, 2019, an Antifa member showed up at a privately owned ICE detention center and began “throwing incendiary devices at vehicles . . . and attempting to burn down buildings and a propane tank.” He was ultimately killed after pointing a gun at police. Antifa have also attacked journalists, including conservative journalist Andy Ngo, who was punched and hit with bear spray while trying to cover one protest.
Antifa mayhem is well-known to the courts. Violence between Antifa and Alt-Right protestors was addressed in Virginia, where “people were hurt and beaten on both sides” after Antifa members attacked protesters with baseball bats, mace spray, canes, sticks, bricks, bottles, and a metal pipe.The Ninth Circuit recently reversed a lower court that dismissed a battery claim against an Antifa member, who allegedly helped “unnamed assailants who attacked Plaintiff with pepper spray, bear mace, and flag poles, by participating in surrounding Plaintiff and by shining her flashlight in such a way as to enable the direct attacks,” may be liable on an aiding and abetting theory. In Arizona, Antifa members threw rocks, bottles, tear gas, an incendiary device, and a spear-like object at officers who set up a perimeter around a rally held by President Trump.”
Rutgers Professor Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook speaks proudly of Antifa’s organized violent history. He makes clear that what Antifa calls “self-defense” includes violence against police or anyone deemed a fascist. In a recent Washington Post opinion editorial criticizing President Trump’s attacks on Antifa as “delegitimizing militant protest,” Bray stated:
“I believe it’s true that most, if not all, members do wholeheartedly support militant self-defense against the police and the targeted destruction of police and capitalist property that has accompanied it this week. I’m also confident that some members of antifa groups have participated in a variety of forms of resistance during this dramatic rebellion.”
Antifa groups, including groups calling themselves Antifa like RCA, have regularly engaged in violence. Bray again describes the attacks during the Trump inauguration as a defining use of violence by the group:
“Fascists in tuxes were pelted with eggs and several MAGA hats set on fire. The next morning, an ‘anti-capitalist and anti-fascist’ black bloc – that is, a mass of anonymous, black-clad militants—set off from Logan Circle to disrupt ‘business as usual,’ while a man whom liberals had bemoaned as a literal fascist was being sworn into the White House. Some of the black bloc, though certainly not all, engaged in target property destruction of corporate enterprises to smash Trump’s ‘façade of legitimacy.’ Most notably, the glass storefronts of Starbucks and Bank of America were rapidly demolished, similar destruction forced a McDonald’s to shut down and ATMS and other corporate property spray-painted or destroyed. The most iconic moment of the day may have been when a limousine was set ablaze.”
Yet, in announcing an extensive study of violent domestic groups, Perliger could find no evidence of organized Antifa violence. It takes an impressive act of willful blindness to ignore the Antifa violence, including the arrest of Antifa supporters allegedly responsible for violent crimes like one of our own GW students.
While Antifa is a collection of groups and individuals, it is both organized and violent. The fact that Antifa regularly resorts to violence reflects its rejection of debate and dialogue with opposing views. Tellingly, the Antifa Handbook starts with the following quote from Buenaventura Durruti: “fascism is not to be debated, it is to be destroyed.”