Antifa isn’t the problem the U.S. administration should be looking to address following the outbreak of violent protests. By vilifying protestors and refusing to confront and resolve deep-rooted racial inequality in the country, President Trump has clearly demonstrated just who the real threat is.
“…I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” – Walter E. Headley, the police chief of Miami, Florida at a press conference held to address his department’s response to the wave of civil uprisings that erupted in 1967.
“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” – U.S. President Donald Trump, May 29, 2020 in a tweet, in response to the furious protests convulsing U.S. cities following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Watch: Outrage follows Trump’s looting and shooting remark
When Trump declared that Antifa would be designated as a Terrorist Organization, he was unwittingly ignorant. Firstly, Antifa isn’t an organization; it is a movement shaped by a set of ideas, mostly far-left and tactics, occasionally militant. Secondly, the U.S. currently does not have legal statutes under which groups can be classified as domestic terror organizations. But it wasn’t all bark and no bite; federal law enforcement agencies do have a host of anti-terrorism laws at their disposal for use against “domestic extremists.”
But what is Antifa? And why is Trump keen on making Antifa the centrepiece of his anti-protest rhetoric?
A to Z of Antifa
Antifa is a loosely coordinated movement whose adherents remain committed to opposing the far-right, occasionally using violence to disrupt their demonstrations and meetings. The origins of Antifa can be traced to Germany and Italy before WWII when a motley group comprising communists, socialists, and other liberals took up the cudgels against fascism. Antifa resurged in the 1980s in response to the rise of Neo-Nazism in the U.K. Though several groups in the U.S. have subscribed to an anti-fascist ideology through the decades, the first group to expressly use the term “Antifa” in the country was Rose City Antifa (RCA) founded in 2007 in Portland, Oregon. Other than their shared antipathy to fascist ideologies and those of the alt-right, there is little in common among Antifa followers, who sometimes rally around environmental causes and at other times, the rights of coloured people, indigenous groups, and LGBT community. Organized into autonomous local cells, the movement is somewhat secretive with no official leaders, no coherent ideology, and no headquarters.
Antifa activity in the U.S. witnessed a surge following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, as adherents became convinced of the need to counter the threat of right-wing ideologies infiltrating mainstream American politics. Antifa followers protested Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and participated in the Berkeley protests the same year, held to prevent an alt-right provocateur from speaking at the University of California. However, they gained particular notoriety in August 2017 when adherents showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia to counter-protest white supremacists who had gathered to oppose the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Civil War-era commander who stood for slavery and opposed racial equality for black Americans. The protests took a violent turn when a neo-Nazi rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing one.
Unlike what President Trump would have us believe, Antifa isn’t the sole driving force behind the agitation, though it is undoubtedly an important element. By all accounts, members do not have the power or resources for galvanizing country-wide protestors.
Antifa isn’t the Problem
As a movement, Antifa has faced widespread flak from even left-liberal groups. Left-wing author and activist Noam Chomsky called Antifa a “fringe movement” and a “gift to militant right”, while U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for their arrest in 2017. Of late, the movement has been criticized by the left-leaning MSNBC and New York Mayor Democrat Bill de Blasio.
At the same time, it should be abundantly clear that Antifa isn’t the problem the U.S. administration should be looking to address following the outbreak of protests.
Antifa should at best be viewed as a reaction to the festering problem of racial inequality and at worst, a distraction from it.
In truth, the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd merely acted as a catalyst, sparking outrage not so much over the actual killing of one helpless black American man, but the ubiquity of such incidents and institutional apathy towards them. Police violence in the U.S. disproportionately targets African-Americans. According to data compiled by Mapping Police Violence, police in the U.S. killed more than 1,000 unarmed people between 2013 and 2019, about a third of whom were black.
17 percent of African American victims were unarmed when they were killed, the highest among all races. In more than 98 percent of the shootings, police officers were not charged – let alone convicted – with any crime. Even COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African-Americans. Despite comprising only about 13 percent of the total population, they account for 26 percent of Coronavirus cases and 25 percent of deaths caused by it. Even George Floyd’s autopsy showed that he tested positive for COVID-19.
Watch: States reporting an alarmingly large number of African American coronavirus deaths.
Race plays a decisive role in income levels, housing, access to food and nutrition, medical care, and employment opportunities in the United States. Consequently, be it a pandemic, an economic slowdown, or police brutality – historically marginalized African-Americans are at the receiving end. This is the real trouble; and not so much the violent expression of fury over it.
Master of the Blame Game
President Trump has proven himself as the undisputed master of the blame game, particularly since COVID-19 began rampaging through the country, consuming lives and livelihoods. He held the Obama administration responsible for coronavirus testing failures and scarcity of medical supplies. He blamed China for orchestrating a global pandemic. He also accused the World Health Organization of being complicit with the Chinese Government in covering up the early days of the then-epidemic in China. Every time his administration flounders, he finds a fresh scapegoat to pin blame on.
Blaming Antifa is, in fact, no different. After receiving widespread condemnation for his administration’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s popularity has seen a further dip in the wake of the nationwide stir. According to the latest poll by CBSNews and YouGov, Trump is getting negative ratings from 49 percent of Americans for his response to the protests and riots that ripped through the country following George’s Floyd’s killing.
With elections less than six months away and the unfolding of health, economic, and social crises, Trump had to think hard and fast. Predictably, Trump being Trump proffered hateful words over healing ones, issued threats of a crackdown, delegitimized the protests by making them seem fringe, and appeased his white supremacist base with his pig-headed denial of the all-pervasive blight of racial injustice in the United States.
Watch: Anderson Cooper calls out Trump
The Darkness One White Man will bring
President Trump claims he wasn’t aware that his perversely lyrical phrase “…when the looting starts, the shooting starts” which set the tenor for the hardline approach he had decided to adopt with regard to the nation-wide unrest, had been used before. Back in 1967-68, Headley ordered the use of “shotguns and dogs” against “young hoodlums” from “Negro districts” in Miami, just as Trump recently threatened to unleash “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” on protesters whom he also referred to as “thugs”. The ominous sameness of toxicity must not be overlooked.
Antifa, the fringe movement, consisting of a small number of adherents, is not so much the challenge; it is Donald Trump himself.