I previously testified in the Senate on Antifa and the growing anti-free speech movement in the United States. I specifically disagreed with the statement of House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler that Antifa (and its involvement in violent protests) is a “myth.” My greatest concern remains the growing use of violence to shutdown free speech events around the country — a practice that has been going on for years on our campuses. That danger was evident in San Francisco yesterday when a conservative group gathered for a free speech rally to protest the recent actions of big tech companies like Twitter. They were violently attacked and the organizer had two teeth knocked out before the event was canceled.
A conservative group named Team Save America organized the event and were met by a violent crowd intent on preventing them from speaking. Media reported that the counter protesters carried BLM and Antifa signs. In a now familiar pattern, the counter protesters stopped those with opposing views from being heard. Philip Anderson, an organizer of the event, had his teeth knocked out by someone he identified as Antifa.
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.”
My greatest concern is that we need to take Antifa seriously as a virulent anti-free speech organization. There is a fair criticism of 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. During the prior hearing, Democratic senators refused to clearly denounce Antifa and falsely suggested that the far right was the primary cause of recent violence. Likewise, Joe Biden has dismissed objections to Antifa as just “an idea.”
What is striking is how Antifa rhetoric has become so prevalent as people claim that the act of silencing others is not only commendable or even itself a form of free speech. NBC quotes counter protester Shagoofa Khan as proudly declaring “We actually kicked them out.”
A local resident named said Carole Selignan is quoted as saying “We don’t need those types of people in San Francisco” while Kristina Lee said that this was “working class solidarity against that rhetoric that’s divisive and pits the working class against one another.” It was in fact an effort to prevent opposing views and voices from being heard. It is an example how free speech is now treated as itself a threat. That is right out of the Antifa Handbook.
Rutgers Professor Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook discusses what Antifa calls “self-defense,” including violence against police or anyone deemed a fascist. In a 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 rejects the very foundation for free speech. Indeed, Antifa Handbook starts with the following quote from Buenaventura Durruti: “fascism is not to be debated, it is to be destroyed.”